First things first

Much of education today seems to focus on knowledge and content.  However, there continues to be growing demands for abilities outcomes as the end result of an education, ie. ability to use knowledge.  In a discussion with a colleague of mine, Phil Schanely from the Cedarville University Center for Teaching and Learning, he mentioned David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction.  First principles are the irreducible minimum for teaching.  These are the elements that all educational theories seem to have in common.  He suggests that all of these elements be connected to a real-world problem or task in order for learning to be efficient and effective.

1. Activation: leveraging previous experiences, new experiences, and structure

2. Demonstration: this refers to guided practice; show the learner how to solve the problem

3. Application: let the learner solve more problems with increasing complexity and continued feedback

4. Integration: the learner begins to own the new knowledge and “make it their own” by using it in everyday life.

In looking at many different types of teaching theories and strategies, I think you will see most of these elements.  Which of these elements do you find the most challenging to incorporate?  Do you incorporate all of these in your teaching?  Test it out.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

In previous posts, I mentioned that feedback and practice are essential.  Here are two quotes from Merrill’s article:

“Gardner (1999) and Perkins and Unger (1999) both emphasized the necessity of many opportunities for performance.”

“Feedback has long been recognized as the most important form of learner guidance.”

Merrill MD.  First Principles of Instruction.  ETR&D. 2002; 50(3);: 43-59.   (He also recently published a book that you can find on Amazon.)

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Wholistic teaching

“This belief in man’s duality has other pedagogical consequences for a perennialist.”

This was a statement made in a book that I’ve been reading. Although it was published just under 40 year’s ago, some of the pedagogical paradigms are still in effect today. In fact, some of the principles still serve as the foundation of education today.

But, I digress. Let’s define a few terms before we proceed. Lapp et al. describe a worldview of man from a dualist perspective.  In other words, man is part material or physical and part immaterial or spiritual. Interestingly, this seems to align mostly with a Biblical worldview.

Next, the authors point out that this view of man has a “pedagogical consequence”. In other words, how we teach intersects with who we teach. The teaching methods or strategies and the learner are intimately related.

Finally, the author describes the teacher as a perennialist. A teacher that takes a perennialist approach emphasizes the past and longstanding principles that have stood the test of time.

What I take from this reading is that who you are as a teacher and who you are teaching strongly influence how you teach at the very core of the teacher’s and learner’s being.  When is the last time you considered the personhood of your students as you developed your teaching strategy? Does it make a difference?

I think it might.

For example, if we see the learner as an empty container to be filled, we may use a pedagogy that attempts to fill that container.  As a side note, implementation of pedagogy is critical as well.  One might immediately think of a lecture as the poster child for filling up the learner.  However, in the hands of a master teacher, the lecture can evoke critical thinking.  But, the lecturer must be limited to a few key concepts or the learner may be overwhelmed.  Back to the issue at hand,  What if you saw the learner as an apprentice?  How would this change you pedagogy?  Is there a difference between a young learner and a returning to college learner?

While we must operationalize teaching in simple terms, it is easy to see that there is a place for the scholarship of teaching and learning.  The interactions between the teacher and learner alone is complex even in the absence of content.  The next time that you set to reflect on your teaching, consider how you implement your strategy and the potential effects on the learner.  Better yet, ask your learner and do some scholarship!