Introduction In this work, I will analyse my knowledge of two keylearning theories- behaviorism and constructivism- as well as my ownunderstanding of how students learn.
I will link these two together withparticular reference to the development and learning of two students.Behaviorism Thebasis of the behaviorist theory is that learning is a passive process in wherelearning is defined as “what people do in response to externalstimuli” (Elliot, 2007, pg. 46). Learning is therefore the procurement ofnew behaviors.
According to Skinner, knowledge is not used to guide humanactions; it is the action itself (Skinner 1976. p152). Behaviorism suggeststhat in order to learn, the learner needs an active engagement and needs to bereinforced with instant rewards (Sotto, 2007: 35). The more satisfying thereward to the learner, the more the behavior of the learner is strengthened,leading to more comprehensive learning (Skinner 1974 cited in Elliott 2007 pg.
48). The idea is that if a child is rewarded for their desirable behavior, theywill be more likely to repeat that behavior. Skinner suggested that educatorsshould primarily focus on positive reinforcements and the success of thelearner rather than punishing poor behavior as this weakens the behaviorportrayed by the learner (Pritchard, p11). This suggests that a schoolsrewards/ behavior system is extremely important to a student’s development, asthe way the school looks at rewards and punishments can affect the behavior andlearning of the students.
Behavioristlearning breaks down tasks into small, progressive sequences where continuouspositive reinforcement is given. The theory suggests that without positivereinforcement, the learned responses will be forgotten. The theory relies oncontinuous repetition and use of the “skill and drill” exercise. It has beensuggested that the point of education was to present the learner with anappropriate collection of responses to specific skills (or stimuli) byconstantly repeating said behavior which is reinforced by rewards (Skinner1976) as this is the most reliable way of processing and retaining information. Theissue with this theory is that, although the learners are actively doing tasks,they are receiving the information passively, as the teacher is the transmitterof the knowledge to the learner, rather than actively looking and decipheringinformation for themselves. Farnham-Diggory (1981, p60) criticized the theoryfor the “lack of understanding” of what individual learners own learning reallyinvolves.
Pritchard argued that although positive reinforcement is anacceptable way to practice skills for some learners, for other learners, theymay not be motivated by rewards or they may not understand the logic behind it(Pritchard, pg11). In abehaviorist environment, students are required to do the same activity and workat the same pace as the rest of the class, and don’t have the option ofchoosing their activities or topics. Although this cuts down on the amount ofplanning a teacher has do to, as they can focus on one topic thoroughly, it canalso cause issues with regards to differentiation. When planning and deliveringlessons, a teacher needs to make sure that the lessons are at the right levelof understanding for each student in the class, which may influence teachingand learning as a whole (Kyriacou, p79). Somecritics claim that by constantly rewarding positive behavior and learning, itcould cause some children to lose interest in their own learning (Pritchardpg10).
He carries this on further by mentioning that using a reward systemcould have a damaging effect on students if the focus of the positivereinforcement is on only a few students, rather than the many (Pritchard,pg10). Moreover, positive responses from students following on from praise bythe teacher may not be established every time, so the desired behavior may takesome time to be established, or not at all in some cases. (Sotto, 2007, pg35.)Constructivism JeanPiaget led a new approach which was a complete contrast to the ideas of thebehaviourist theory, which had a higher focus on mental processes rather thanbehaviours that could be easily observed. This was due to the fact that hethought that mental processes couldn’t be accurately explained by behaviouralprinciples (Schunk, 1991). Piaget’s theory was that the “thoughtprocess..
. an action that has been internalised in the sense that it can be’thought’ and is reversible in the sense that it can be ‘unthought'”(Lefrancois,1995, pg. 342). In thisview, knowledge is generated by physical activities which creates ‘schemas’ (ormental maps) which are constantly developing as the student gains moreexperience. Piagetproposed that exposure to new experiences is vital in the development andconstruction of knowledge. In order to thoroughly learn, individuals need to beactive and not passive in their own development (Woolfolk, 1993). In order todevelop this knowledge, children should be given the opportunity to explore andexperience activities for themselves. There are two important processes inPiaget’s theory which lend themselves to the development of knowledge;’accommodation’ and ‘assimilation’ which combined creates equilibrium.
Accommodation can be defined as the “modification of an activity orability in the face of environmental demands” whereas assimilation can be defined as the”act of incorporating objects or aspects of objects into learnedactivities” (Lefrancois, 1995, pg. 329-330). A result of the accommodationprocess is the ‘organisation’ and ‘adaptation’ phase where new information isabsorbed and adapted into the existing schema, resulting in skills andstrategies changing and improving (Bee, p151). The culmination ofaccommodation and assimilation, ‘equilibration’, results in a more effectiveway of processing information from an individuals surrounding environment. Thisprocess has been described as the way “people maintain a balance betweenassimilation (using old learning) and accommodation (changing behavior;learning new things)” (Lefrancois, 1995, pg. 335). Equilibration has beendescribed as “a creative process of invention”, whereupon Piaget was trying toargue that instruction may deteriorate a child’s exploration and inhibit theirunderstanding (newman et al. 1989, p92).
Piagetascertained that children developed their knowledge through four stages ofcognitive development. By the end of each particular stage, the children areexpected to achieve that stages milestone. This meant each stage of a child’sdevelopment has to match their current level of understanding. (C. Wood et al.,2006, pg 202). Piaget’s theory was that each child progressed through eachstage in an ‘invariance sequence’ (Sutherland,1992). The four stages were splitinto sensori-motor, concrete operational and formal operations.
Thefirst stage is sensori-motor (where children aged 0-2 are categorised in). Inthis stage, infants are beginning to understand their environment throughmovement and touch and co-ordination between hands and mouth starts to beestablished. This stage is broken down into six sub-stages. Thefirst sub-stage is ‘Reflective Actions’ which affects infants 0-1 months.
Thisis characterised as “mere mechanical responses to outside stimuli”according to Piaget (Sutherland,1992:9). The second sub-stage is ‘PrimaryCircular Reactions’ which affects infants 1-4 months. By this point in theirdevelopment. The child has primitive responses to their environment, whichPiaget termed as ‘circular’ due to their repetitive nature. Circular reactionsare not reflexes but actual actions that are repeated due to their pleasantnessto the child. These actions are important in the accommodation process as theseactivities become embedded in the brain. This has been described as “thedawning of memory” (Sutherland, 992:9).
The third sub-stage is’Secondary Circular Reactions’ which affects infants 4-8 months. Piaget callsthis stage Recognitory assimilation as the infant is beginning to recogniseobjects and their actions are more deliberate and with a goal in mind.’Co-ordination of Secondary Circular Reactions’ (8-12 months) is the fourthsub-stage, in which the infant is able to anticipate outcomes in play, howeverisn not capable of looking for hidden objects.
Piaget termed this as ‘objectivepermanence’. This is followed on by ‘Tertiary Circular Reactions’ (12-18months). Piaget was able to illustrate the massive leap forward in cognitivedevelopment that ‘object permanence’ brings.
He was able to show that thisdevelopment allows understanding that unseen objects will still exist when theinfant is not able to see it. Trial and error is starting to be used to solveproblems. In the final stage, ‘Inventive Abilities via Mental Combinations'(18-24 months), the infant is now able to mentally represent themselves. Atthis stage his imagination is running wild, and the child is able to inventtheir own play. Play in itself becomes key to learning. Cognition starts tomove beyond sensorimotor and more towards preconceptual thought.
Piagetreferred to this as ‘Post-sensorimotor representational intelligence'(Sutherland, 1992). Thenext few stages start building up ‘Operational Intelligence’ which was a keyconcept for Piaget. He defined it at as an internalised activity subjected torules of logic (Lefrancois,1995). It is categorised by: pre-conceptialthinking, concentration and language acquitsition to name a few.
Pre-operationalthought (2-7 years) is the next stage in Piaget’s theory. It has been seen as avery egocentric stage, as the child only thinks of the world from their ownperspective and don’t think of others. At this point, they are also developingtheir language, which leads to their imagination begin developed also. Thisstage is also divided up into sub-stages. The first sub-stage is ‘preconceptualthinking’ (2-4 years), where similar objects are classified as the same thingand the child can’t hierarchically discriminate, for example all men must be’Daddy’. ‘Intuitive thinking’ (4-7 years) is the second sub-stage, wherethinking is more logical as the child has started to become more perceptive.
Some of Piaget’s experiments suggested that at this stage, a child is easilytricked by dominant and immediate perceptions- egocentrism dominates thethinking of the child, as they are still not able to understand another personspoint of view. Inthe third stage ‘Concrete Operations (7-11/12 years), the child starts todevelop an understanding of abstract idea, as well as more logical thoughtabout physical operations. The child has also started to gain the ability tomultitask- able to hold ideas in their head as well as solve problems.
Lefrancois (1995, pg. 214) categorises this as the transition from”prelogical, egocentric, perception dominated kind of thinking to a morerule-regulated thinking.” The final stage is ‘FormalOperations’ (11/12- Adulthood). At this stage, children are able to think inthe abstract as well as the hypothetical, and have the ability to manipulateideas, speculate and reason.
Piaget called this ‘hypothetico-deductive’.Sutherland (1992) states that thinking “is no longer limited to reality orpersonal experience” (p.19) as the child has enough knowledge to gothrough in a process of combinational analysis (Lefrancois,1995).