Teaching and Learning

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Theories of teaching and learning and how they impact on the classroom environment

Education plays a significant role in supporting and influencing the healthy development of children. However, teaching is more than just knowing what to teach. Professional teachers must also understand how to teach their students. Therefore, in order to create an effective classroom environment which caters for the diversity of students and their various developmental levels and abilities, teachers are urged to apply a variety of teaching and learning theories (Marsh, 2008 Ch12, p163). Piaget and Vygotsky presented theories on cognitive and social development which suggested that children often construct their own learning. Bronfenbrenner and Pavlov presented theories relating to behaviour and psychosocial development. Professional teaching requires consideration and understanding of both cognitive and behavioural theories in order to create successful learning opportunities.

Piaget and Vygotsky shared the view that children actively construct their own learning outcomes (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, Ch2, p49). However, they each differed in their concept of how constructivism occurs. Piaget believed that social interaction and experience with the physical environment creates situations for individuals to experience disequilibrium of existing understanding, (cognitive and sociocognitive conflict). Lack of equilibrium encourages the learner to assimilate and/or accommodate existing mental schemes which ultimately leads to a higher level of cognition (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, Ch2, pp34-35). Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed that social interaction, cultural influences, and language (as the most important mediator), are directly responsible for influencing and fostering the construction of knowledge thereby generating cognitive growth (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010 Ch6, p211).

Piaget’ theory of intellectual development is based upon the belief that due to biological and physical experiences, qualitative changes occur in children which causes them to progress through a series of developmental stages. Piaget further theorised that humans learn by arranging similar actions/thoughts into schemes which are integrated into cognitive systems known as operations (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010, Ch6, pp195-197). Disequilibrium (cognitive and sociocognitive conflict) is the process of challenging predefined knowledge of a subject matter with conflicting information by means of social interaction or experimentation with the physical world. Equilibration occurs as the knowledge is redefined through assimilation and accommodation allowing cognition to become more sophisticated.

Vygotsky emphasised that cognitive development was best achieved through social interaction and as result of cultural influences where language is the main contributing factor. His methodology is known as a sociocultural theory and is based upon the premise that “adults in society foster children’s learning and development in an intentional and somewhat systematic manner” (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010, Ch6, p210). Mediated learning experiences such as social interaction and discussion with more knowledgeable persons (such parents or teachers), promotes language and allows the child to construct and expand on understanding and knowledge.

In contrast to Piaget’s approach and rather than focusing on what tasks a child can do on their own, Vygotsky’s theory encourages us to consider a child’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) which is the range of tasks they can do only with the assistance of others (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, Ch2, p47). Offering assistance through guidance is known as scaffolding. Scaffolding is when a student is guided to complete a challenging tasks, within their ZPD, by a more informed other, (such as a teacher, parents or other more knowledgeable students) which they could not otherwise perform on their own.

Scaffolding challenges students and...
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