Mixing it up

Greetings once again, fellow ECI&I 833ers.

Today, I’m going to attempt to articulate how theories of knowledge and learning have underpinned my own teaching philosophy and classroom practice.

For starters, I’m going to admit, I haven’t spent much time putting a lot of “deep thought” into my teaching philosophy and its origins.  When people ask me to describe my teaching style, I usually say something along the lines of “I’m serious when the situation warrants it but overall I’m quite laid back, sarcastic, and self-deprecating”.  Even when I’ve been in situations where teaching philosophies have been discussed (internship seminars, for example), my contributions to the discussion have been as straightforward as the one I just mentioned.  That said, maybe it’s time to take another trip down memory lane and look at how I became this self-described laid-back sarcastic/self-deprecating teacher.

I was in the process of my internship 13 years ago and even though the memories have become increasingly distant, I’m fairly certain that my teaching philosophy consisted of something along the lines of:

“I want my students to have fun, learn as much as possible, and both like and respect me!!!!” (the excessive exclamation marks represent my youthful exuberance).

Jack Black from School of Rock.  If only I could be as “cool” as him.  Photo retrieved from: https://www.slashfilm.com/school-of-rock-tv-series-nickelodeon/

Beyond that, there aren’t many specifics that I can recall from my internship so let’s move on to my first year of “real” teaching. After a year on the sub list I managed to get my first contract teaching elementary core-French (a far cry from my university major of secondary social studies).  Since I was on a temporary contract, I knew that I had to do well in order to earn that all-mighty continuing contract.  Earning that contract was going to be a difficult task given my total lack of experience teaching both French and elementary students but I was determined to give it my best shot.  In my first year, my classroom management strategy was to try to play the nice/fun guy. Surely by being likeable (no lectures here, lectures are boring and I want to be well liked!) the students will appreciate me, fall in line, and we’ll have a grand old time! Swing and a miss.  As you can probably predict, I was largely walked all over (by a bunch of students that weren’t even half my size!)

An accurate representation of my first year of teaching.  Image retrieved from: https://www.agonybooth.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-to-kindergarten-cop-ill-be-baaaaaack-sort-of-42797

Somehow, I managed to earn a continuing contract at the end of the year and was kept in that same teaching position.  I vowed not to repeat the same mistakes of the previous year. It was at this point where one could make the argument that behaviourism became my dominant “teaching ethos”.  I figured that the best way for students to learn (and for me to keep my sanity) would be in a strict, “I say and you do” environment. Lectures, note taking, handouts, and voice raising became commonplace as I fought for my students’ respect.  Ertmer and Newby (2013) characterized the learner in a behaviourist environment as being “reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment” (p. 48) – and I believe that this accurately depicts my classroom during this particular stage of my career.

An accurate representation of my second year of teaching.  Image retrieved from: http://elmifermetures.com/kindergarten-cop-questions/collection-of-solutions-arnold-schwarzenegger-shut-up-hd-youtube-in-kindergarten-cop-questions/

I felt that my second year of teaching was more successful than the first simply because I wasn’t walked over (thus ensuring that I’d actually be able to sleep at night).  That said, did I actually become a better teacher? Were my students actually learning anything in my classroom? Maybe. But just because a classroom is silent, doesn’t automatically mean it’s an effective learning environment.

Let’s jump ahead 10 years to the present.  I’m currently in my 12th year of teaching (having experienced a wide variety of teaching placements but now in a secondary social studies/ELA classroom) so what theories of knowledge and learning have underpinned my own teaching philosophy and classroom practice? They probably all have, to an extent.  I’ve already mentioned my behaviourist leanings (which still occasionally play a role) but cognitivism certainly exists in my classroom through scaffolding. “Designers (in a cognitive setting) use techniques such as advance organizers, analogies, hierarchical relationships, and matrices to help learners relate new information to prior knowledge” (p. 52).  

Meanwhile, constructivism plays a vital role in a social studies classroom through the multiple perspectives gained in class debates/discussions.  “Learners (in a constructivist setting) are encouraged to construct their own understandings and then to validate, through social negotiation, these new perspectives” (p. 57).

The relatively recent theory of connectivism has a part to play as well with its focus on the “ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts” (Siemens, 2004).  Making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections is not only vital reading strategy but it’s also a tremendous way to demonstrate understanding of a particular topic in a humanities classroom.

Each theory of knowledge/learning has a part to play.  By staying in one particular box, you neglect the strengths of the others which is why we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the content of the learning pyramid.  Yes, assigning arbitrary numbers to knowledge retention rates is a silly exercise but each component of the pyramid has value in the classroom. Therefore, rather than assigning a specific theory to my “sarcastic/laid back/self-deprecating” teaching style, I’m more likely to borrow a line of thinking from Candice Benjes-Small and Alyssa Archer:

“Think multimodal.  People’s attention spans are short, but they do tend to retain more when the instructor mixes it up: interspersing short lectures with peer collaboration, or after reading a passage, interacting with an online tutorial.”

I like the use of “mixing it up”.  Like Joe mentioned in his blog this week, “there are merits, and drawbacks, to all of the prevailing learning theories we have discussed. On top of this, the elements of what makes one theory especially meaningful for the situation of one student I support might make that theory ridiculously inappropriate for the situation of another”.

By “mixing it up” I know that I’m doing my best to ensure that every student has an opportunity to both succeed while also improving in areas where they need the practice.


Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

3 thoughts on “Mixing it up”

  1. Mark this down as the first blog post that I had several “laugh out loud” moments. The descriptions you gave of your first two years of teaching are so relatable and hilarious to read haha. If feels as though some things we have to learn by doing and unfortunately, managing those children half of our size is one of them… I am still figuring this out. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the description of your first years in teaching! We were all there, you’re just brave enough to put it down for all to see 🙂

    As you talk about for yourself, it has only been in recent years that I have put serious, deliberate thought into how learning theory has been translating into my practice. Despite my reflection being relatively recent, it’s funny how learning theory, and my own evolving understanding of learning theory, has actually been playing a role the entire time.

    I wonder how much faster I would have come if I hadn’t have been sleepwalking through those first years …


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