Learningtheories have a great impact on the way teaching is delivered on an everydaybasis. Over the years there have been a number of different theories that have appearedand they continue to appear as more research is carried out. This essay willfocus on the ways constructivist and behaviourist learning theories impactcurrent educational practices in Wales using the backdrop of the Foundation phaseas well Higher Education educational practices in Wales. It will discuss whatappears to be a pedagogical shift in education, moving away from the essentialistviews to the more student led/ friendly philosophy of progressivism. Thischange in the philosophy of education sees a shift in power and attention fromthe teacher to the student.
TheFoundation Phase is the curriculum framework for children between the ages 3and 7 in Wales. It was first piloted in 2004 and it was fully rolled out in2011 for all primary schools and nurseries across across Wales (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). This newframework signalled a shift in pedagogical priorities from a traditionaleducational experience with the teacher at the centre to an educationalpedagogy where the child learns through active and experiential learning. Thecurriculum framework stated out 7 different areas of learning which include:knowledge and understanding of the world and creative development. There is astrong focus on the child learning first hand and outdoors in an active manner.
The Welsh Assembly Government intended for the Foundation Phase to focus on theholistic development of the child. The role of the teacher is to be afacilitator and provide support to the child (Waters,2016). This change in practice from a teacher led learning experienceto a student/child led learning experience shows a shift in educationalphilosophy.
A classroom under the Foundation Phase would have all the signs ofwhat a constructivist classroom would look like. Constructivismis a ‘psychological and philosophical perspective contending that individualsform or construct much of what they learn and understand’ (Bruning et al., 2004 cited in Schunk,2011 P.231).
Constructivismviews knowledge as being actively constructed by the the learner rather than itbeing something that learners acquire. Therefore, students learn better whenthey have constructed their own understanding (Pritchard,2017). Key theorists in this perspective include JohnDewey, Vygotsky and Bruner. Although these researchers differ in their emphasison factors that affect learning and learners’ cognitive processes, the theoreticalperspectives they espouse may be loosely grouped and referred to asconstructivism. In their research, they all tend to provide human factors asexplanations for learning and how it occurs rather than environmental explanations. John Dewey is seen as being one of the mostinfluential theorists in experiential learning he is also seen as being thfounder of this approach . Lee Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist whose workbecame influential and popular relatively recently.
Bruner was an Americanpsychologist that built upon the work of Vygotsky. This essay will mainly focus on the work ofVygotsky and social constructivism. SocialConstructivist theory places a great role on the interactions between thestudents themselves as well as with the teacher (Pritchard,2017). According to Vygotsky, student’s interactionswith their environment whether it be through support from a teacher orcollaboration with their fellow students encourages and stimulates theirdevelopmental processes as well as cognitive growth (Schunk,2011). This view is highlighted in the Foundation Phase bythe focus on active and collaborative play. In the Foundation Phase, the powerin the classroom ideally lies equally between the teacher and the student.
The importanceof meaningful collaborations between the students and the teachers are furthershown in the Foundation Phase by the improved ratio of teachers to studentsdown to 1:8 (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). Thisproves how Vygotsky’s Social Constructivist theories have influencedcontemporary educational practice. Oneof the major underpinning of the Foundation Phase was a worry about formalapproaches of learning being introduced too soon to children and a result,there was a fear of them having a negative impact on the development of thechild. The Foundation Phase expresses ‘desire to introduce more developmentallyappropriate practices into classrooms and settings’ (Taylor et. al 2016 p.3).This idea of rejection of formal and traditional educational settings forchildren happens to be constructivist in nature.
Children should be in a settingin which they can learn actively through social interactions with their peers andtheir teacher. They can also learn through the hands on manipulation ofobjects. Within the Foundation Phase, outdoor play is encouraged as a method ofactive learning. It is through active learning that children construct theirown meanings and understandings, Akey concept of constructivism is the zone of proximal development or ZPD. TheZPD is defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level asdetermined by independent problem solving and the level of potentialdevelopment as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or incollaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86 cited in Schunk,2013, p.245). It denotes the amount of learning achievable by an individualchild when they given the correct instructions.
In the ZPD, the teacher and thestudent or the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the learner work together ona task that the learner could not complete independently due to the complexityof it. Learners do not attain cultural knowledge passively from these interactions,they instead come with their own perceptions to the social interaction. Theythen construct meanings by incorporating those perceptions and understandingswith their experiences in the context (Schunk, 2013). Scaffolding is a model thatwas developed by Bruner to build onto Vygotsky’s ZPD and help further explainit. ‘Scaffolding is the process of providing support to learners at theappropriate time and at the appropriate level of sophistication to meet theneeds of the individual’ (Pritchard, 2017 p.25). It can be shown in many methodswhich include through discussions.
Talking about the task with the More KnowledgeOther will help the learner construct their own understanding of the task. Theprocesses of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development can be seen inthe Foundation Phase through the promotion and encouragement of collaborative learningbetween the students. Collaborative learning allows for students to assist oneanother if they do not understand a particular task with one of them taking upthe role of the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The layout of a classroom underthe Foundation Phase has children sitting around tables in group. This promotescooperation and collaboration between students as well as allowing them toconstruct their own insights into a variety of tasks and problems.