Conclusion: Principles of Teaching

Just recently a good friend of mine resigned — or rather, stepped down — as one of the executive assistants of a well-known Undersecretary in the Department of Education. I had always known her to be of the ideal teacher type and who had the capability to make it as one of the best frontliners of the delivery of basic education in the country, yet somehow her circumstances have led her in the same direction but- not as an educator but an education professional in policy. I can somehow understand her perspective — she took four years to finish her undergraduate degree in Secondary Education — and she saw that the profession may be stable and secure but real institutional change needed to support our teachers comes from the top and not from the bottom.

“EDS 111: Principles of Teaching” has helped me contextualize the teaching profession not just on the ground but with how DepEd works and should work as a bureaucracy. It also helped me understand how it is situated within the broader socio-economic context of society and what individual teachers, schools, divisions, and institutions must do to ensure that they exercise critical reflective practice.  The concepts and principles in the course can help in educational policy and in the teaching practice. After taking the course, I  hope to pursue more research on teaching and teachers as part of the scholarship of teaching and learning as a student and as a researcher in the field of development.

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Conclusion: Principles of Learning

Most of the time, the challenge in writing essays – whether a final exam or assignment – is demonstrating one’s understanding of a concept or a group of related concepts in one topic. Oftentimes, we are used to producing lengthy pieces just to prove the depth of understanding and mastery of concepts. If we use the constructivist and cognitivist perspective in learning, writing becomes an application in two ways: (i) articulating the basic concepts of the many schemas constructed in the mind throughout a period of time and trying to connect them to one another and (ii) processing information in the long-term memory using skills that are not directly taught but required (i.e. critical thinking, writing).

Yet in the final exam of “EDS 103: Principles of Learning”, the challenge is different: it is demonstrating depth of understanding and application in the most precise and concise way possible. So how does one simplify a few months of accumulated learning without losing depth in just two pages? At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed with the task because its instructions were very broad and dependent on one’s own understanding. Yet when I went back to review the content of the modules I appreciated how the task served both as a refresher and a synthesis of what I and my fellow students have been learning for the past few months. Another aspect that I appreciated was that it went hand-in-hand with “EDS 111: Principles of Teaching”, wherein the principles of learning apply to the teacher as a learner and the teacher as a facilitator of learning.

Overall, I feel happy at this conclusion, but certainly this is not the end of learning as learning is not the end itself but is the process.

Epistemology

Ah, how do you further dissect something that is already in your head and in others’? It’s quite the same as looking at yourself in the mirror and trying to look at others looking in the mirror as well – its uncomfortable, it’s abstract, and it takes a whole lot of thinking to get around the fact that we’re thinking about the knowledge our thinking is part of and where it comes from.

Epistemology and its doctrines are not new to me as they were present throughout college and graduate studies. I have come to a realization that different epistemological dimensions of learning depends on the discipline itself. Back in graduate school, our knowledge in demography and population studies are highly empiricist and positivist because we deal with demographic data and quantitative analysis. In this sense, a person has the ability to learn and apply demographic concepts and analysis with much effort over time. Certainly, basic demographic concepts and sub-concepts under migration, fertility, and mortality form the complex network of knowledge under demography, but the knowledge of its practical application comes as isolated concepts because of its empirical nature (i.e. regression, correlation, chi-square, odds-ratio, etc). Certainly, demographic data is assumed to be generalizable to the larger population and hence statistical analysis can prove the probability of an assumption to be true yet in some aspect it is relative because there are always outliers that do not fit in with population.

Moving from my personal experience and analysis of my discipline to the epistemological dimensions of learning, I believe that an individual must have the ability to control his learning (with no limited ability) and knowledge is a complex network of concepts. I think it would then depend on the nature of the subject matter whether the speed of learning is quick or a gradual acquisition over time and if knowledge is fixed or relative.  For example, once basic concepts are learned in mathematics, it can automatically lead to faster processing of more advanced concepts. Additionally, mathematics is a universal language and can be translated into reality. In contrast, history and other subjects that are built upon human experience require more time for learners to be able to construct, co-construct, and understand the concepts behind relative knowledge (it may not be true because it is socially constructed).

 

Creativity in the Time of Present Education

The role of an educator is not only to teach but also to deliver quality education for all. We must create a learning environment that is conducive and inclusive of learners from different backgrounds. How well do education institutions provide inclusive and quality education for Filipino learners? How well do teachers, the school administration, government and community provide for their needs?

It is said that creative teaching becomes essential in the face of diversity because it entails developing and utilizing different methodologies and approaches to facilitate the learning process for all learners. Despite the many materials, information and trainings out there about how to employ creativity in the classroom so that learning is different and useful, teachers still would have to overcome two barriers: an unsupportive institutional structure and themselves. In the case of the public school system, anecdotal evidence points to teachers overloaded with teaching, administrative and extra-curricular work that simply gives them no time to reflect and that puts them into the position that they are frontliners but adhere to the policies of a centralized bureaucracy. Outside of this black hat of being devil’s advocate, I would like to assume that the limited resources, time and support has helped public school teachers be more creative in their practice (i.e. social media for support and admin work, the Internet for materials and information) and collaborate with their peers for support and pedagogical knowledge.

One thing that I think must be strengthened, in the quest to create creative and innovative teachers (and learners), is that they must be given enough time and space to critically reflect upon their practice and to share with others. Second, critical thinking and problem-solving also entails that teachers must be trained to engage and appreciate Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). Given that a Bachelor’s Degree in Education normally does not have students write a dissertation or thesis, it is normal for them to be intimidated by the intricacies of academic language, which describe the nature of instruction in which most SOTL are written in. How can we verify the effectiveness of our teaching-learning practices and its impact on our learners if we do not appreciate and engage in scholarly work? In the US, author bell hooks has been able to transgress the academic language and to speak of transformative education in layman’s terms – perhaps this should also happen in the Philippines. While education professionals in DepEd provide support for academic research and provide support for professional learning communities (via LAC) in public schools), it is important to ensure that these really enhance teacher effectiveness and translate into better learner outcomes.

***

The principles of effective teaching – critical reflexive practice, creativity, strong knowledge bases, professionalism/professionalization – ties in well with the conclusion of the principles of effective learning. From the broader “-isms” on how we learn, the teacher becomes both a learner and a facilitator of learning by being theoretically grounded in his/her practice and by being critical and open about applying learning concepts in the classroom. How else can we create critical, reflective, and creative individuals if we ourselves do not practice what we preach or do not give them the opportunity, venue, and time to do so? How can we facilitate higher-order thinking if their foundations are weak and if so, how can we make it so that they can learn? At the end of the day, successful learning and successful teaching is not about having good grades and giving good grades – at this day and age, it should be equipping them with the life skills and concepts they need to survive in a dog-eats-dog world and ensuring that they have the intrinsic motivation to do good for themselves and for others.

 

Professional Development

What makes an individual a “professional”? In an earlier think piece I had delved into what teaching means as a profession and what a teacher is a professional. In essence, teaching is a profession that provides an important public service which requires that teachers have theoretical and ground expertise and a distinct ethical code of practice. They are also under an organization or structure for regulation and disciplinary purposes, which compromises their individual autonomy or judgement in their practice.

Teachers and teaching are not isolated from the entire social, political, cultural system that we are part of, which has an impact on policies that affect the teaching-learning process and our learners. One criticism with teaching, particularly for public school teachers under the large bureaucracy of the Department of Education, is that it is semi-professional because teachers have no full autonomy – while they can decide how they will and what they will teach in the classroom, they are governed by the curriculum, school policies, and directives from the division, regional, and central offices.

Yet if we want to be critically reflective in teaching practices and if we want teachers to grow personally and professionally, there must be opportunities or spaces in the school and in the system for us to individually reflect and to bring critical reflection to action so that it can transform teaching and learning. Research and studies show that continuing professional development improves the knowledge base and skills of educators and ensures that learners are given quality education. For this reason, it becomes also the responsibility of policy-makers and education leaders to ensure that teachers are given collaborative professional development.

In the Philippine context, I have yet to observe one of the venues for these learning communities in the public school setting. The Learning Action Cell (DO. No. 35, s. 2015) and the Teachers’ Quality Circle are opportunities for basic education teachers to come together to share content, experiences, and pedagogical knowledge aside from the various seminars or trainings focused on enhancing their skills. However, based on my own observations and researches, the very barrier to far-reaching changes and transformations in the classroom are some of the teachers themselves – some are comfortable in their own zone and routine, some have long graduated and are not familiar with new content and pedagogical knowledge, and some simply do not have the time or capacity to apply what they learn in various trainings and it becomes a matter of compliance and performance bonus. Yet for some of the teachers I have interviewed, sharing and reflecting with their colleagues have had a far more powerful influence over them in their practice than any other training or seminar. Simply put, without the support of the leadership, fellow teachers, and structures in place, we cannot expect teachers to grow to their full potential as critically reflective educators and subsequently, we cannot expect students to be critically reflective learners.

From Traditional to Contemporary

How would you describe your teaching perspectives prior to your reading of the
module resources? How would you compare your prior conceptions about learning and teaching to the ideas discussed in the resources of this module? What factors influenced your conceptions about teaching and learning?

Back in college, we had gone through an overview of the different main theories in learning in behaviorism and cognitivism. In EDS 103: Principles of Teaching, we had already discussed the different theories in learning from behaviorism to social constructivism. By college, we were introduced to different critical theories to use to analyze mass media and society and this included a discussion on critical theory and pedagogy. From then on, I viewed teaching as a facilitating process to help connect learners and their prior knowledge/experience to new content so that they could make more sense of the world and act upon what they understand; in the same way, the learners are active agents who make meaning within themselves and with others. The readings in this specific module helped strengthen and articulate what I already know and what I am familiar with into something that is more tangible, digestible, and grounded in teaching practice.

Have your perspectives’ changed after studying the module resources? How or how not?

It has not changed because I was already familiar with the content, but it has given me more ideas on different types of strategies to use in the classroom. It has also reminded me that teaching does not adhere to one or two theories of learning, but combines them to suit the learner’s needs and the subject matter. What is different now is that there is an element of the social-emotional development of the learner, which is not tackled even in social constructivism…but even the elements of being emotionally and socially healthy differ from culture to culture.
How willing or open are you in challenging your prior conceptions about teaching and learning, and applying contemporary teaching perspectives and approaches that would better serve the need of the students for more holistic and active learning? Knowing your inclination for specific teaching perspectives, how can you ensure that you will not fall into the trap of a one-size-fits-all teaching and that you will observe the teaching principles as intellectual and varied work – “adopting appropriate teaching roles to support learning goals” (Eberly Center, 2015)?

I have always been a fan of Paolo Freire and bell hooks and their advocacy has always been to educate as a practice of freedom from oppression. Of course, their theories are rooted in Marxism and critical social constructivism but it has always been a challenge in how to translate this in the classroom because it is still part of the larger society.  Yet recognizing the learners’ individual differences due to gender, class, religion, personality is one step forward in engaging them and providing a better learning environment so that at the end of the day, they can be able to decide for themselves and to help others even if there are structural limitations.
Which among the contemporary teaching perspectives and approaches discussed in this module resonates with you? Why?

What struck me the most was seeing learners’ differences as resources instead of a problem. As Wilson and Peterson (2006) argued, the one-size-fits-all traditional approach in the classroom was suited more for the teachers’ convenience in measuring learning (i.e. tests) and outliers were dismissed as deficits because they don’t quite fit the bill. As teachers realize that students bring their own experience, knowledge, and understanding to the classroom, instruction can be modified so that most are able to learn even if it is not quantifiable.

 

REFERENCE

Wilson, S. M., & Peterson, P. L. (2006). Theories of learning and teaching: What do they mean for educators?. Washington, DC: National Education Association. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED495823.pdf

 

Critical Pedagogy

Back when I was in college, I went through a phase when I would question everything. It began slowly with our theory class that introduced us to the Frankfurt school of thought, Gramsci, and Althusser, and as I tried to make sense of the industry and system of the mass media (for where could a Broadcast Communication graduate go?) I became disenfranchised and discouraged to join such an oppressive occupation judging by the political-economy and power relations of the system.

My last year of college was peppered with a lot of debates and disagreements with my classmates and teachers as I sought to break the silence and to assert an alternative view on media content and theory. I found myself caught up in the crossroads of accepting the status quo or challenging it, particularly since the real world awaits after graduation.  For this reason, I found solace in one theorist who would be able to give a theory on what I was experiencing. I could resonate with feminist author bell hooks (1994) when she wrote in “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom”,  “My commitment to learning kept me attending classes. Yet, even so, because I did not conform – would not be an unquestioning, passive student – some professors treated me with contempt. I was slowly being estranged from education.” Both of us found Paolo Friere and his work, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, as a way to understand the limitations of our education (or schooling, perhaps as what Ivan Illich would argue) and to discover alternative strategies for learning as a student.

Freire’s work can very well be considered to be aligned with constructivist theories of learning, as these theories posit that individuals are actively involved in the construct of knowledge (as cognitive constructivists like Jean Piaget would argue) and that knowledge is socially constructed and embedded within socio-cultural contexts (much like what Lev Vygotsky woud posit). However, Freire argues that the very nature of traditional education as a practice of domination, which oppresses and silences the masses, can be transformed to a practice of freedom and critical reflection that considers people in their socio-economic and political reality. The first step towards this change is through problem-solving education and critical consciousness through meaningful dialogue in the classroom.

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself entrenched in another line of work that is vastly different than expected from a graduate of Mass Communication (which wouldn’t matter anyway). Throughout the discussion about constructivism and instructional design in this week’s course, there is still the underlying assumption that the teacher is still the key source of information and guidance in the process of learning – well, Vgotsky would point out that peers or co-students can also be the More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) in the process of learning – which brings us to examine more closely the power relations in the classroom. There is also the lack of discussion on the teacher as a learner in the discourse – how do these roles interact with one another and how does critical reflective practice play into the classroom when the MKOs can possibly be the students themselves? How do teachers, as a perceived frontliner in knowledge reproduction and ideology, be able to work within the system in order to create critical thinkers?

Hence, I end with bell hooks (1994) call for hope in the midst of the prevailing power and ideological structures within society: “The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations,
remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to
move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”

REFERENCE:

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge. Retrieved from https://academictrap.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bell-hooks-teaching-to-transgress.pdf

All Alone With the Memory

♫ Of my days in the sun ♫

I remember very well our classroom when I was in Kindergarten and Grade 1. It was a small and cozy room, with blue carpeted floors and three large whiteboards affixed to the walls of the room. At the entrance were are our little cubbyholes, small wooden shelves marked with our name that was our own little space for our items. To the left of the entrance was the bathroom. Walk a little further inside and desks are neatly arranged in the right side of the room facing the whiteboard and to the left is an area full of large wooden building blocks. At the back was a play-area full of toys for us to entertain ourselves and a long shelf full of books we chose from during reading time. I remember a lot of activities during that time. First, was our reading time – once a day for an hour, we would settle down on the floor with our pillows with the lights out and either nap or engage ourselves in a book of our choice. Second, we used to have different stations set up around the classroom – a listening station (you can listen to a story through headphones and cassette tape), an arts and craft section where you can create any art, and others which I can’t recall. We would rotate the activities as a pair or as a group after a while, and I remember distinctly creating a greeting card.

That was two decades ago. It took me quite a while to retrieve this memory from my long-term memory storage and it was tied to myriad of senses and experiences of the place and the people in the classroom that had allowed me to recall. As Lutz & Huitt (2003) wrote, memory is the combination of all mental experiences and is multi-faceted and multi-staged system of representations that embody our lifetime accumulation of perception.

♫ If you’ll touch me… ♫

Some cognitivist theorists would posit that our memory works and processes information like a computer and its hard-drive. We have limited capacity at different points in the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information and that there is a type of control system for dealing with stimuli. However, the drawback of likening our mental processes to the processes of technology seems to reduce our humanity. We are not computers that can accurately retrieve and spew information. Case in point, my memories of Kindergarten and Grade 1 may have been inaccurate to some extent but that shows the very nature of our memory and humanity. Winn & Snyder (as cited in Lutz & Huitt, 2003) said that memory is somewhat inaccurate and is retained, manipulated, and modified when new knowledge is acquired.

There are many factors that influence my ability to remember information. For one, I learn best while doing, manipulating or emulating; I memorize best when listening and visually absorbing new information. In other words, experiences or information that I have prior knowledge to or have produced or reinforced positive/negative memories mostly stick with me in the long-term, while unrelated information which does not connect to any of my existing schema is stored in the short-term for use until its ready to be discarded . For example, back in college we had an exam about behaviorist theories which discussed all those theories in the first module of EDS 103. Of all the information I memorized back then for that exam, the one that stuck with me until now was Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory because I can relate it to my previous concepts (dog, food, saliva) and process their relationship (conditioning). The more grounded it is in my experience (actual or observed), the more it is retained and referred to in the future.

Well, five years later and my learning strategies and goals haven’t evolved that much. For one, I am a perennial procrastinator and much of the information stored in the short-term memory has been used and disposed of. However, the construction and modification of schemas since elementary have contributed well into my ability to have a deeper understanding of new information or to connect old but familiar information so that it is more codified into a “usable” nugget of memory. Again, learning by doing and seeing its application in the real world makes learning easier so that I do not have to resort to rote memorization for single use.

♫ You’ll understand what happiness is ♫

So now what? What are the implications of cognitivist theories on teaching practice, learning strategies and instructional design? Memory is a complex mental construction and knowing how our minds work can help us design lessons and structure activities that facilitate the processing of information so that it can be combined or modified in relation to existing schema. From there, learners will be able to have a deep sense or understanding of what we teach them so that they can apply it or use it in real life.

Memory connects us yesterday to today to tomorrow, so as long as we live there is always a chance to learn. As Barbara Streisand sung:

♫ Look a new day, has begun… ♫

The Basis of the Bases

Last week’s lesson was about teacher professionalism and how a certain set of criteria would make a teacher a professional and teaching a profession. This week’s lesson is about teasing out one certain aspect that makes a teacher a professional: the theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge needed in practice. Indeed, Koehler  and Mishra (2006) stated, “Teaching is a complicated practice that requires at interweaving of many kinds of specialized knowledge…requiring teachers to apply complex knowledge structures across different cases and contexts…[and] to shift and evolve their understanding.”

These different types of knowledge, called knowledge bases, form the foundation through which a teacher practices his or her craft. There’s the knowledge of what to teach and why (content knowledge), the knowledge of how to teach it (general pedagogical knowledge), the knowledge of what the state wants students to learn (curriculum knowledge),  the knowledge of how to blend pedagogy and content in order to adapt to learners (pedagogical content knowledge), knowledge of the learners and their characteristics, the knowledge of the educational contexts, and the knowledge of the educational ends, purposes and values. For me, this knowledge can be acquired from different sources: the academe, the school, and actual practice.

With this in mind, I echo Schulman’s (1987) reasoning that teaching is comprehension, reasoning, transformation, and reflection rolled into one. Hence, teacher education is not training teachers how to behave in prescribed ways, but to educate them on how to reason and to justify their teaching once they are in the classroom. To do this, they must be able to employ critically reflective practice and to build an adequate base of facts, principles and experiences from which they can justify using their knowledge bases and theoretical knowledge.

I remember back in college, a good friend of mine studying Bachelor in Secondary Education shared her thoughts after observing at one “Center of Excellence in Education” institution in Metro Manila (at that time, the UP College of Education was not yet recognized as one). She shared that this particular teacher education institution was well-known for producing graduates that are well-trained in producing educational materials and lesson plans for the classroom but lack the theoretical knowledge needed to justify their pedagogy and subject content in the classroom. What does this imply? Perhaps, this would translate to poor teaching practices in the classroom and poor pupil performance.

Coincidentally, recent LET results reveal that only one in ten passed at the elementary level while only one-fourth passed at the high school level. While the LET certainly has its limitations in measuring teacher capability and efficiency, it is a means of standardizing the profession. Maybe perhaps it is high time to look into the quality of education graduates in the country and see how they can build up their knowledge bases, strengthen critical reflexivity, and absorb theoretical knowledge – so that it can translate into good teaching practices and better learning for the students in the classroom.

REFERENCES:

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2006). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Schulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-21.

Social Learning in Reality and in Distance Education

Social Learning Theory in Reality

Life never ceases to remind me that as a parent, I have obligation to be a good role model to my daughter. Just the other day, my husband pointed out that Wyona is not as friendly as often to other people as before, and he attributed this to my natural tendency to be shy around people. “Learn to smile and say ‘Hi’,” he joked. “Kaya napagkakamalan kang mataray eh (That’s why people mistake you for being snobbish).” I shrug off his suggestion and laugh, but deep inside I am reflecting. Why would I expect Wyona to be friendly if I don’t show her how to be friendly? No matter, at least her father’s friendly.

Kidding aside,  modeling behavior and observing such behavior are important aspects of the learning of a toddler. Everything she sees, she imitates from social interactions (clapping, smiling, laughing, saying goodbye, kissing) to movements that require motor skills (opening the cabinet, putting things inside and outside the box, opening the zipper of a bag, putting a phone against the ear). The ones she repeats are mostly the ones she is exposed to everyday, which she picks up from my husband and I’s habits and daily routine. She also learns new movements from the daily commercials she watches on TV. Yet she also has the agency to choose not to act, depending on her current environment and mood.

Count on Albert Bandura to put a name to what a toddler (and I) was going through. Combining cognitivist and behaviorist theories, Bandura posited that not all types of learning come from direct reinforcement or experience, but also from observation of others in person and in media (Cherry, 2017). And to me, Wyona embodies all the components in social learning theory: observation, imitation, and modeling.

Distance Learning and Social Learning Theory

Yet how does learning work if technology is factored in? Bandura’s theory on social learning was significantly used in explaining behavior among viewers (i.e. aggression) yet it did not consider yet that the forms of interaction would change through media — from face-to-face to online. So how would social learning occur if there is no one to observe?

The best thing about online learning is that it is asynchronous and independent, yet everyone is on the same page. Therefore, one particular behavior that online learners should have and is required in this type of learning environment is time management. This is to ensure that there is enough time to study the resources, participate in the discussions, and write.

The first step is to learn through a verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior. How can you manage your time well, given the available modules and resources? How do you organize and manage knowledge? Second, internal mental states are important. Extrinsic reinforcement through interaction through the forums can help boost self-efficacy as other learners affirm or recognize opinions and thoughts. Most importantly, intrinsic reinforcement like the satisfaction of finishing a module within time and see other learners complete their own tasks contributes to better time management.

As of now, with the completion of social theories of learning, I have to go back to the reality that my toddler has managed to open the drawer in the room, empty its contents, and climb into it. Where she learned that she can do that, Bandura cannot fully explain since no one in the family climbs into a drawer to play…but I am happy to know she’s making connections among what she knows (the drawer can be opened in the way the adults open it and it is big to accommodate her), her potential behavior (she can climb into the space and can explore), and the responses from her environment (being told that she could be hurt in the process or being observed for consequences). Ah, learning is never this interesting in the classroom.

REFERENCE

Cherry, K. (2017). What is Social Learning Theory? Verywell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/social-learning-theory-2795074.