Behavioural and Constructivist theory in relation to learning Essay

Education Studies AssignmentWithin this assignment I am going to discuss Behavioural and Constructivist theory in relation to learning, drawing attention to my own experiences as a practitioner and learner. I will draw attention to their relationship to the Early Years Foundation Stage and will attempt to explain the importance of play in relation to these concepts. This will lead me to discuss the role of the practitioner both in keeping up with current legislation and initiatives and incorporating these concepts into planning and assessment. I will relate this to my own experiences and pedagogy and reflect on the importance of being a ‘Reflective Practitioner’ and what that entails.Behavioural Theorists believe that genetics and intelligence have no part to play in the construction of a human being’s mind, but rather that its construction is solely due to our life experiences (Potter, 2003). This view inspires an unprejudiced view of others and entails a society where anyone can achieve anything, given the correct upbringing and a specific set of opportunities. Behaviourist theory was central to learning theory right up until the 1960’s and its influence is still apparent in schools today.Behavioural theory suggests that psychology shouldn’t use words such as ‘feeling’ or ‘mood’ to investigate the human mind, but should, instead, focus on what can be observed from the subject externally.

Due to the complex ethics involved in human ‘experimentation’ many Behavioural Theorists gathered their external observations through experiments on animals. One of the first Behaviourists to do so was Pavlov. His work involved study into ‘Classical Conditioning’ which explores the relationship between stimulus and response or ‘reflex.’ Through his experiments with dogs Pavlov determined that:…Differential association of a neutral event with one which reliably elicits an unconditioned response leads to the development of a conditioned response to the previously neutral stimulus.

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(Blackman, 1984, p.3)Skinner further developed Pavlov’s research into conditioning by developing his ideas on what is known as ‘Operant Conditioning.’ Where Pavlov had identified the relationship between ‘Stimulus’ and ‘Response’, Skinner, through his work with animals, developed a theory of the role in learning of “Stimulus, response, reinforcement and consequence” (Pollard et al, 2005, p.144).One of Skinner’s experiments is referred to as a ‘Skinner Box.

‘ Skinner placed a mouse in a box with a lever inside. When the mouse pressed the lever it would be rewarded with food. The mice quickly recognised the relationship between the lever and the food and began to push the lever repeatedly. Many theorists of the time likened the ‘Skinner Box’ to the classroom because the classroom has the stimulus in the shape of the work, the lever in the form of the correct answers and a reward in the form of good results and praise. I remember this approach being used on me when I was learning my times tables.

In the 1960’s, the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget’s views on Constructivist learning were being heralded as a welcome contrast to the Behaviourist approach. Piaget’s revolutionary concept was that human beings create their individual understanding of the world they live in and must internally ‘construct’ their own knowledge rather than ‘receive’ it, by interacting with their environment through either the process of ‘assimilation,’ where new knowledge is incorporated into an already existing view of the world, or ‘accommodation,’ which is when that view of the world has to be changed in order to incorporate the new knowledge. (Moore, 2000) This emphasis on ‘discovery learning’ was promoted intensely in the Warnock Report (Warnock, 1978, cited in Moore, 2000, P.8) and still influences how we view educational theory especially in the Early Years.Piaget also defined three stages of development he believed all children go through at roughly the same age (Jacques and Hyland, 2003). This idea that children perceive the world in a variety of different ways during their development is an important one and is reflected in the National Curriculum through the Key Stages. (National Curriculum, 1999) It is not hard to draw connections with Piaget’s ideas and those of the modern education system as they had a vast influence on how we approach education. The importance of the self-motivated, active learner is something made clear to me through observation of children’s learning both inside and outside the classroom.

Piaget’s idea that knowledge must be discovered or ‘constructed’ through interaction with the environment became apparent to me during my time spent working in an Early Years environment. During ‘free play’ I observed a child at the sandpit. He was using a small plastic spade to fill a bucket. He began to get frustrated at how long the bucket was taking to fill and decided to search for a larger scooping device.

He returned to the sandpit with a plastic cup from the kitchen role play area and continued to fill the bucket, saying “This is much better.” Through interaction with his environment and recollection of his past experiences with capacity he was able to independently come to the conclusion that a bigger tool would have more capacity than a smaller one and would therefore be more appropriate for the task at hand.Since learning more about being a reflective practitioner, I am able to realise that from this understanding of his knowledge I would have been able to develop his ideas by appropriately ‘scaffolding’ (Potter, 2003, P.68) future activities to develop his understanding further. This could have been achieved by, for example, moving the idea away from the sandpit and into another medium such as water, rice or pasta.

The concept of ‘Scaffolding’ was developed by Lev Vygotsky as a way of bridging the gap, which he named the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’, that lies between what he called the child’s ‘Actual Development’ – what level the pupil can reach under their own steam – and their ‘Potential Development – what level the child can reach given the appropriate tools and learning environment.’ The scaffolding model put forward by Vygotsky suggests that in the early stages of the child’s learning the teacher needs to be very encouraging and helpful but as the child begins to grasp the concept the support can be gradually withdrawn, leading to the child’s independence. (Potter, 2003, P.68)The Constructivist way of teaching is aimed at finding out what the children know and building from there, whereas the Behaviourist approach is more geared towards eliciting the correct response. Although they produce similar results they are both not necessarily appropriate in all circumstances. While it is true that the Behaviourist approach can elicit the correct response, I don’t personally believe this is a good way to teach because rather than the child learning a reasoning behind an answer such as why 2+2=4 (relational) they are simply taught that it does (instrumental). The problem with this is that the child is then not able to use this knowledge for anything else apart from that particular sum whereas if you use the Constructionist method of learning and teach a child what 2 is and why two of them equal 4 they can apply that to other sums. Of course, teaching is an eclectic art and so some teaching, such as times tables, may have to take place in a Behaviourist vein.

At this stage in my teaching career I have not had enough experience to know how I would approach teaching times tables in a constructivist way this would involve further reading and research, as well as discussion with teacher’s whilst in a school setting. Whilst teaching at a nursery I noticed a child behaving aggressively towards another. I interceded and separated the children. After the incident, when I had a moment for reflection, I realised I had not addressed the issue at hand, rather I had simply attempted to ‘fix’ the problem. I discussed with a more experienced colleague what strategies I could employ to ensure that all issues were resolved should a similar incident occur in the future. By reflecting on my practice and trying to develop it further through consultation and personal reflection I was able to resolve the situation in my own mind and gain useful insights for future reference.Central to Constructivist theory is the notion of the importance of ‘Play’ in learning.

‘Play’ is considered to be any child initiated activity and is the concept that the entire Early Years Foundation Stage Framework is based around (EYFS, 2008). It is widely accepted that children need plenty of time and space to play in both an indoor and outdoor environment. This is because children have different responses to the two environments and both of these must be nurtured. The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework states that being outdoors has a positive impact on the child’s sense of well being and gives the child a chance to do things in a different way to when they are indoors. (EYFS, 2008, Principles into Practice Card 3.3). The adult’s role,therefore, is to create and support an environment where play is encouraged. Although play comes naturally to all children, some may require additional support and this may need to involve an adult.

Also by supporting the children’s play you are able to harness its many educational opportunities such as developing the children’s language skills through sensitive intervention (EYFS, 2008, Principles into Practice Card 4.1).It is because play is so important in the Early Years that observation is a key factor in planning. Putting the child at the centre of your practice can give you an idea of how a child will respond to a particular task (Clarke, 2008).

It will also give you an opportunity to observe what makes a child passionate. Being able to elicit and harness that passion is something that is thoroughly aided by observation and planning. It is important that your planning incorporates into it some form of opportunity for assessment because you cannot observe everything. It is important to be aware that the four themes of the Early Years Foundation Stage cannot be assessed in a ‘tick-box’ fashion and so assessment must be approached in a more creative way (Kyriacou, 2007). Through experience in schools I have seen that in a busy classroom environment there is always a lot of learning going on at any particular time with a limited number of people able to observe. This, to me, highlights the need for appropriate planning and assessment.

Hall and Burke suggest that one of the most fundamental concepts of thinking of children as learners is that:Learners strive to make sense of new ideas by relating them to their prior knowledge and to the expectations that they construe, from the task or activity, about their role. (2003, cited in Clarke, 2005)This emphasis on where the child has been and what experiences, educational or otherwise, they have had in their lives is their Learning History. Knowledge of an individual’s Learner History is essential to appropriately facilitate a child’s learning. Hutchin states that as the teacher learns more about the child’s Learning History through observation and discussions with ex-teachers/ parents/carers, they will begin to better understand thesupport required for the child and will be able to better adapt the environment to suit the children’s individual learning needs. (Hutchin)It is important to remember that observation does not always have to be an external act, but can also be an internal one used for self reflection. This concept of being a ‘Reflective Practitioner’ is incredibly important because the ability to develop your pedagogy is essential in teaching.

As a ‘Reflective Practitioner’ you must be able to assess how you deal with issues that arise in the classroom and question your practice. Gibbs’ ‘Model of Reflection’ (Gibbs, 1988) is a helpful tool in the aid of this and takes you through your thoughts on the issue from the description of the incident through to what you would do differently if the issue arose again. This gives you a chance to assess what you learned from the experience and to make future decisions based on your analysis of the conclusions. However, being a Reflective Practitioner also involves keeping up to date with latest government initiatives, schemes and legislature. For example the Every Child Matters agenda placed new requirements on teachers to update their understanding of legal requirements concerning pupil’s well-being and how best to support pupils who are being affected by changes or difficulties in their lives (Kyriacou, 2007). A ‘Reflective Practitioner’ must also be constantly honing current classroom skills and developing new ones, giving them more tools to aid the children’s learning.In discussing the Behaviourist theory, I notice the merits for planning and assessment but I have concerns about the implications that a lack of conceptual knowledge may have for the child’s future learning.

This leads me to the more flexible, learner based Constructivist theory. As a developing practitioner, with an interest in the Early Years, I find myself leaning more toward this approach, particularly due to its focus on the importance of existing knowledge and, therefore, play. The malleability of play makes it an ideal medium for practitioners to gain insight into children’s understanding and would, therefore, scaffold future learning. The ever-changing classroom environment has many outside influences both on a local and national scale. An effective practitioner must be aware of these changes and must use them to inform classroom practice.

The role of thereflective practitioner is to consider all these aspects and apply them to the classroom. This can only be achieved through a strict process of planning and self evaluation.Word Count: 2,253Reference List(1999). National Curriculum. London Department for Education and Employment ; Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.(2008). Practice Guidance For the Early Years Foundation Stage. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.

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