LEARNING THEORIES [EDCI5065]¹

Monday or Thursday, 9:00am - 3:00pm

June 1 - July 9, 2009




Introduction from your instructor GNA Garcia






Welcome to our Teaching and Learning Laboratory! We are going to spend the next six weeks together experimenting, taking sensible risks, and doing what anthropologists call “participant observation” in our own classroom. Our goal is to thoroughly interrogate one of the most important questions educators ask: How do people learn?

Today we begin what will assuredly become for you a life-long endeavor—exploring how people, especially youngsters, grow and develop. We will start by uncovering the individual experiences, rational intuition(s), and personal pedagogies we bring into the classroom as teachers and learners. Using what we "bring to the mix" as a base, over our six weeks together we will add voices of wisdom, texts, and experiences to help us build and advance our understanding of human development and learning. Our inquiry into how people learn will be guided by five broad questions.

Our Essential Questions
  1. What do I bring to the mix as a teacher and as a learner? How does what I bring to the mix impact the learning environment?
  2. What are the prevailing theories and models of learning? How are they relevant to the students, teachers, content, and contexts of schooling today?
  3. How can theories and models of learning inform my everyday practice as a teacher?
  4. What are the most prevalent teaching and learning conundrums and problems we face in the classroom?
  5. How can I apply the tools, toys, tricks, and theories of educational psychology to solve classroom dilemmas, and enhance my teaching and student learning?

Our Classroom Practices

Participant Observation

In the introductory video I discussed something called "participant observation." Basically participant observation means:
  • to observe the activities, people, and physical aspects of a situation, and
  • to engage in activities that are appropriate to a given situation that provide useful information.

As teachers we are active participant observers in our own classrooms, schools, and communities. We study learners (including ourselves). We observe learning in action. We participate and observe as students engage in minds-on activities like reading a challenging text, and while they conduct hands-on laboratory experiments like building a robotic arm. We observe their behaviors alone and in groups (large and small). We make notes (typically mental ones). We form assumptions and make claims. We test hypotheses. We participate and observe some more...we get better at it over time...with years of experience. Let's speed up the process!

Using a model of Teacher Problem Finding nested within the practice of participant observation, you will become attuned to the learning environment (ours as a starting point) in critical and productive ways. Operationally, each class session will find different individuals assigned the official role of PO (participant observer) for specific learning events throughout the day. These PO's will be encouraged to move about the learning environment shadowing me (cognitive apprenticeship), taking notes, and trying on their teacher-selves; for example, by asking a working group of peers a critical question to stimulate deeper discussion. Ultimately we will discover that the roles of Teacher and Student are not so distinct after all. As Isaac Asimov would say, "That's funny."

T2P

"Theory to Practice," or what we will refer to this as "T2P," will reign supreme in our classroom. Why? Because preparing to teach means being able to put theory (aka what you learn about teaching) into practice (aka the actual teaching of young people in schools). We will accomplish this by taking time during each class session to critically reflect upon (in writing) the teaching and learning theory and practice we witnessed during that session. I'm not talking about your typical "reflection" here folks. I'm talking about reflection with the intention of analyzing data, asserting hypothesis, and applying what you've observed and experienced to your growing understanding of how people learn–I'm talking about critical reflection. To demonstrate the importance of T2P as one of our key classroom practices, I've included two sample segments from a typical student's work (displayed with permission).

Week One T2P essay: "The classroom learning activities did a good job highlighting different approaches to solving problems and interpreting instructions and learning objectives. The scatter plot lesson was particularly interesting. Seeing the interactions of the learners, both at the board and in the group was enlightening." [Notice how this future teacher used the lens of a student to reflect upon her experience during the first class. She basically said, "Class was interesting."]

Week Five T2P essay: "If your pedagogy is to create a learner-centered classroom environment where students construct understandings, and construct them at higher levels such as analysis and synthesis, then you must be prepared to employ a variety of teaching methodologies. A methodology that is too heavy on teacher-centered direct instruction will not foster the critical thinking desired. It is important to build student engagement through group learning activities and creative, authentic assignments and assessments." [The same student demonstrated a higher level of criticality four weeks later. She employed her understanding of theory to the practice of teaching. She made observations like a teacher.]

Weekly Read & Write

Each week you will be assigned a number of scholarly tasks to accomplish prior to the subsequent class meeting. The artifacts you produce, along with the questions, critiques, and extensions you make from the material, will serve as the foundation for our course. We will count on each other to be thoroughly prepared for each class meeting. Our progress towards putting educational psychology to practice depends upon our vigilance to the "Weekly Read & Write" assignments posted on this wiki.

TCPCG2010 wiki

I created this wiki to serve as a workspace. My vision for this wiki included sharing relevant information with each other by adding documents or links germane to topics we covered in class. And extending conversations about hot issues brought up in class. And sharing ideas and innovations, or teaching and learning case studies. I envisioned this space developing into a robust community of practice while our course is in session and afterward. That said...I suspect our use of this wiki will evolve organically over time like the rest of our course.

I will use this wiki as my primary mode of communication to you as a group.
All weekly tasks, including any additional readings or resources, will be posted here in a timely manner. Your only responsibility is to check this wiki daily during our six-week course. Checking the wiki daily will ensure you have the latest information about our course. Your contributions to the content of this wiki are not mandatory.

In the grand experiment that is my teaching and learning, I'm thrilled to employ this technology for the first time with your cohort. A decision to use an information technology, like this wiki for example, is based on my prior experience, the affordances available in the teaching and learning situation (i.e., all of you have laptops and internet access), a review of scholarly literature on the use of wikis in education, conversations with colleagues, and much more. Only through your honest and critical assessment of the utility of this wiki, and any other information technology I bring to the mix, will my theory to practice evolve to meet your immediate needs (and those of future TCPCG students).

Assessment²

Each week we will focus on directing the course towards an increased understanding of how teaching and learning theories apply to your practice as an educator. Therefore, assessment of your ability to demonstrate ever-increasing agility in applying the domain-specific content of our course to practical issues of teaching and learning will be ongoing.

During each class session I will employ various types of authentic assessment. Assessments will match the tasks, many will occur on the fly, and along the way (through participant observation) you will become astute at identifying when and how you are being assessed. As you might suspect, what you produce every week e.g., your weekly Read & Write, T2P essays, and other artifacts made alone or in groups, will serve as strong evidence to your learning over time. I will collect and review all written artifacts and provide critical feedback each week (to individuals and/or the entire class).

Assessment in our class performs the task of enabling me to organically guide our work class by class, activity by activity, and student by student so that each member of our team measurably advances their ability to apply teaching and learning theory to their practice as educators. The outcome of this endeavor will be that each student deserves and earns the letter grade of "A" in Learning Theories.

Final Portfolio Artifact

After five weeks of reading, writing, and thinking; minds-on and hands-on work in class; and applying theory to practice, you will be completely ready to create a kick-ass final artifact for your teaching portfolio.

Your final artifact for this course will be a written statement—an executive summary or lab report of sorts—which responds to at least two of the five "Essential Questions" of our course (listed above).

Your essay will serve as the only public testimony to the grand adventure that will be your unique experience as student, teacher, participant-observer, scientist, apprentice, and co-conspirator in our course. The tremendous work you will have put into creating meaning of the body of knowledge and experiences to be presented throughout our time together will come together in an artifact which testifies to your ability to articulately employ the language of teaching and learning in a final demonstration of your aptitude in “Transforming Learning Theory into Practice.” You will receive detailed information about this task during week five. In the mean time you can look forward to
  • Using your weekly T2P essays as the bulk of the content of your final artifact,
  • Spending the majority of our sixth meeting together creating additional content,
  • Leaving class after our final meeting having made significant progress on your final artifact,
  • Receiving detailed, individual feedback on your final submission (until you feel it represents your best work), and
  • Feeling immensely satisfied by your ability to craft an insightful and analytical scholarly essay which will serve as a powerful statement to your advancement as a critically-minded pedagogue.


¹If you navigated here without seeing my Prezi (graphic presentation). Check it out here.
²If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability or if you have emergency medical information to share, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible.