During a lecture we watched a video in which two groups of children, of different year groups, were allowed to build a bridge from a variety of wooden planks and ramps. The teacher stepped away from this learning situation and allowed the pupils to organise and carry out the task with no interruptions or input. Was this effective teaching? As a first response to this question, I felt it was obvious to say, no. There was no engagement by the teacher, no questioning or pointing in the right direction. The pupils were left to themselves, and gradually, through trial and improvement, they built a bridge, admittedly with varying degrees of success; the older students building something far more practical than the bridge of the younger students. Yet both groups did come to an end result, and were able to organise themselves effectively with a pragmatic approach. It was in fact the space that the teacher had afforded them that enabled them to build their bridges, and this learning experience seemed as effective as one where a teacher tells a class what to do. The pupils are able to explore their own motivation, and build their own understanding of why they want to learn, an important life lesson, as well as being able to learn by doing, which is an important life skill again, as they trial and improve (Phil Race, Making Learning Happen, p.30). From looking at this example I was prompted to look at a couple of other theories of teaching and learning, in order to get an overview in some of the most popular hypotheses, in particular innate and observational learning.
The first to spring to mind was that of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Also known as the observation theory, it is comprised of three influencing factors: person, behaviour, and environment (Boyce, T. Applying Social Learning Theory). This is where subjects will imitate the behaviour of someone, in our case a teacher, because they see this as correct practice. The teacher’s behaviour should set an example to pupils’ of what is expected of them, and what is deemed normal behaviour, and this is anything from the attitude towards their work, they way they speak to one another, how they behave in class, and many more.
Attached is a short clip showing the aggression model of Bandura’s theory, and children’s reaction to a doll after seeing an adult play with it. The results are eye opening and frankly, slightly disturbing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjTxQy_U3ac
In the video we watched in the lecture we did not see whether the teacher gave a demonstration of how they wanted the bridges to built, however, the initial chaotic lack of organisation, and absence of direction by the key stage one students, would suggest there was not. Bandura’s theory only posits that leaving pupils to themselves may be even more dangerous due to the behaviour of peers (Boyce, T. Applying Social Learning Theory); if a more dominant child starts behaving in a particular way, according to Bandura, others would follow suit.
Another popular thesis is that of Vygostky’s Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD for short. This theory, often likened to scaffolding, is when a teacher supports “buds of development” that a pupil is in the process of learning to use but are already in an embryonic state (Vygotsky, p.42, 1935). In essence, what the pupil can do before being helped by the teacher, and what they are able to do following intervention. Vygotsky’s theory, although preceding Bandura’s, is complimentary, in that it believes that mental processes have to be put where the majority of learning happens, in the context of social relationships (Gray, D. Griffin, C. Nasta, T. Training to Teach in Further and Adult Education, p.30).
Both of these theories deem that social relationships are important, and despite how refreshing it was to see pupils work out problems by themselves, for them to reach their full potential it seems clear that assistance by teachers is essential.
In this diagram we can see, in the dark grey circle, the level the student is currently at, and the black line surrounding it is the maximum level they are able to attain without assistance. Outside of this we see the Zone of Proximal Development. A vast area where the student can reach if they are assisted by a teacher, and beyond this, in white, is an area that is unattainable no matter what. This theory, therefore, conflicts with the original video clip we watched in the lecture, where the teacher allowed the pupils to work with no interruptions. Certainly, particularly with the older pupils, they may well have been able to reach the black circle, their maximum individual potential, but this diagram highlights the disservice to the pupils’ potential the teacher is committing by not intervening and helping the pupils build bridges. Particularly in the first clip where we saw key stage one children struggle to build an effective bridge, where intervention would have improved the learning vastly.
Boyce, T. Applying Social Learning Theory, 2011
Gray, D. Griffin, C. Nasta, T. Training to Teach in Further and Adult Education, p.30, 2005
Phil Race, Making Learning Happen, p.30, 2005
Vygotsky, L. Mind in Society, The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, pp. 33–52. 1935