As an early childhood educator, most of my experiences in college regarding how children learn were based in the teachings of Piaget and Montessori. I came out of college with a cognitive theory view, along with a Gardener-like multiple intelligences view and that has served me quite well the last 20 years. But as I’ve grown in my teaching, and society has changed over the last 10 or so years, I have had to add to my philosophy of how children learn. Looking back now, I have been using bits and pieces from all the major learning theories, along with adding in some of the different subsets of those learning ideas.
I believe that learning in general, especially among our youngest of learners, is about brain development and hitting on those right times to learn specific information. I think that it is a combination of genetics and the environment that promotes how children learn and what they are going to find easier and more difficult. I think that you have to be in the right mindset for true learning to occur, so being in distress or angry, frustrated or mad, will not serve the learning process. I believe that if we can teach children how to move themselves into their ideal learning area, we will help empower them to be the masters of their own learning. If we don’t address the hurts and hang-ups first, then we are not making the best use of the time that we have with them.
I believe that children learn by doing. This is very evident in the constructivism learning theory when they address that “learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences.” (Driscoll, 2000, p. 376) While some background knowledge is necessary and provided by the teacher, in the early childhood classroom, letting the children learn by manipulating and doing things is really the most effective way to solidify learning.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a useful tool when designing learner outcomes that include deeper level thinking skills. I use this tool in my classroom when I feel that I need to push the learner a little deeper than even I think that they can go. Some of this taxonomy stems from the teachings of the cognitive learning theory. Teaching the learners “how they learn” also comes from this style theoryand I feel it is very important, especially for our youngest learners, to understand where their learning comes from and how to increase the depth and understanding of it. It is not enough to simply explain something to them, it is more necessary to explain how they can use what they have learned to get more information in the future and how they will go about organizing all that they have learned in a way that is meaningful to them (Bates, 2014).
I use brag tags in my classroom and I feel that this approach is based in the behaviorist theory that certain responses become associated with certain stimuli. When the children reach a certain goal, such as knowing all their letters, they will get the reward of placing the brag tag on their backpack. We try to use brag tags in a variety of situations, not just knowledge-based activities, such as participation in school events, mastering curriculum, and social situations. I think that helps us feel that we aren’t just “dangling the carrot” for the rote learning but also for participation and trying to master social skills.
Gardener’s multiple intelligences are very evident in the activities I incorporate into my kindergarten classroom and in my own children’s learning. (Lane, n.d.) I believe that we all learn differently and that we are stronger in some ways of learning than in others. Both of my children are very musical, and over the years I have seen that one of the easiest ways of getting information to stay in their brains is to put it in some kind of musical format. This is much easier to see in the more rote memorization and skills, but it can be very evident when they are given options of projects to complete. My children will almost exclusively choose the project that is in their most comfortable and strongest intelligences. Rarely, will they push themselves outside what is easier for them and do a project that is outside of their “strongest” intelligences. I am not sure if it is because they feel the most comfortable in the intelligence that they have chosen or if it is truly the easiest place for them to learn and create.
I had not heard of the online collaborative theory in those terms but I feel that those are very strong ideas for how children learn. I fully believe that technology can be used by teachers to facilitate and foster collaboration in the classroom. I also believe in the concept of scaffolding, which takes into account children’s prior knowledge. Today’s kindergarteners are coming in with a big gap in their prior knowledge and teachers do not know what is to blame. Using scaffolding and prior knowledge is so very important, especially in the youngest learners, to make sure there aren’t any gaps and that they have the strong foundation on which to build all other learning. (Bates, 2014)
21st century learning was also a new theory for me. Well not so much the ides, as the title of the theory. As technology has become more prevalent in our society, I have seen many of the ideas become more important in the classroom. I believe that as teachers we do have to teach all aspects of living in a society that is so based in technology, and by not doing this we are not preparing our students for the world that they are growing into.
I think that if at all possible, authentic learning is the easiest way to “hook” our children into learning. If the learning addresses something they are interested in, and it is not just work for the sake of work, then the learners will be more engaged and ready to take the information and apply it to real world learning. (Mims, 2003)
I believe that my views on the use of different concepts of how children learn are very similar to my teaching philosophy. I take little bits and pieces from all around and use them with the children in my classroom. If something is not working for a particular child, then I look into other ways to work with them, maybe of a different style than mine, to help them learn. This flexibility in my beliefs of both how children learn and how I can teach are a result of being a teacher for the last 20 years and encountering children of all shapes, sizes, learning styles, and backgrounds.
Now, how do I learn you may ask? I am a person who will not learn if I am not doing something concrete. I am very firm in my beliefs that sitting passively while someone tries to put knowledge in my head is the absolute worst way for me to learn. I need to have technology be at my disposal during learning so I can look up information and find out what my beliefs are in what I am learning about. When I am cut off from technology, I have a hard time focusing on just the one viewpoint that I am being given. I am very much a learner who loves to learn about all the different ways that I can access information and how I can use it to make myself the best person I can be.
So, when I tried to nail down my beliefs in the the different learning theories, I began to realize that just like any great recipe, over the years I have taken bits and pieces from all areas and used what I feel makes for the best learners. There is no one way that children learn, so there is really no one way that we can teach if we want to reach all learners. By using this information, I hope to keep growing my knowledge about all the different kinds of learning and adding to my long list of strategies and practices to make me the most effective teacher that I can be.
Bates, T. (2014, July 29). Learning theories and online learning. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/07/29/learning-theories-and-online-learning/
Driscoll, M. (2000). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Needham Heights, MA, Allyn & Bacon.
Lane, C. (n.d.). Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html
Mims, C. (n.d.). Meridian Article: Authentic Learning: A Practical Introduction & Guide for Implementation. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from https://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2003/authentic_learning/
Siemens, G. (2005, January). Connectivism:A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm