"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
I first read this quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, in 2013, and it profoundly impacted the way I think about teaching and learning. At the time, I was a 4th grade classroom teacher who used mostly whole group instruction paired with small group support for students who struggled with specific standards. I loved more engaging projects, simulations, and inquiry-based learning, and back then I got to do some - after standardized testing was over for the year. I put the quote up on my classroom wall and vowed that I would do my best to not only teach the ‘tree climbers’ in my class, but the swimmers and flyers as well. It is my belief that there are as many learning styles as there are learners, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to get to know each student well enough to identify how they learn and adapt their teaching accordingly. To this point, in Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby’s article, “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective”, they conclude that no one theory should be used exclusively, but instead argue that educators should take both the learner and the task into consideration before employing a strategy. Every student is a unique individual with emotions, memories, and experiences that make them a one-of-a-kind learner. Throughout my career as an educator, my learning philosophy has gone through a few iterations. Upon entering the workforce in the early 90’s, I was a Behaviorist with some Cognitivist leanings. This makes perfect sense, as I have always been a well-behaved student and learned best through Cognitivist methods (Theories_History of Learning Theories – KB, 2018). I enjoy listening, taking notes, and organizing my thoughts into mind maps. As an introvert, the collaborative nature of Constructivism never had much appeal to me as a learner, which led me to resist it as a teacher. However, I soon discovered that the fear of group work that I had as a student did not translate into my teaching, and I found myself designing and planning more and more authentic collaborative learning experiences for my students. For example, when my 4th graders were assigned “The 12 Days of Christmas” to perform at the annual pageant, there were moans and groans. To ease the pain, I asked them to rewrite the song in another style. We ended up performing it as a rap, having learned about poetry, rhyme scheme and some music history in the process as the students were able to build on what they knew as they created something important to them. As advances in technology and societal factors have changed students, so has my learning philosophy changed, but it still includes all three main theories: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism.
Click on each picture to learn more about these learning theories.
Developed in the early 20th century by John Watson and B.F. Skinner, Behaviorism claims that behavior can be controlled and predicted by the application of external stimuli.
John Sweller's cognitivism theory is the belief that information must be presented and scaffolded in such a way that the learner can organize and incorporate it into their memory.
Constructivism builds on the ideas of John Dewey and focuses on learning as personal construction of knowledge based on real experiences.
My project-based learning innovation plan is deeply rooted in the Constructivist Theory in that student learning will be achieved through the participation in meaningful and authentic activities. After leaving the classroom to take a technology position, I was intrigued by the freedom that gave me to work with students in a less rigid, standards-run environment. I opened the STEAM lab and created a schedule that allowed classes to come twice a month to participate in engineering design challenges. Years later, I find myself in the ADL program and discover that I have been a practicing Constructivist without even knowing it! Sadly, my STEAM activities are contained within the 45-minute class period and don’t allow for deeper investigation by the students. My desire to integrate PBL into the 4-H program (and later into classrooms) on my campus is strongly influenced by that aspect of my learning philosophy. While I definitely believe that every learner is different and no teacher should employ one singular theory in his/her classroom, I do think there is a lack of exposure to Constructivist methods. My goal is to increase the opportunities students have to construct knowledge using student-led, real world projects that benefit our school and community.