Personal Theory of Teaching and Learning

“All teaching is political; whether you do or say something, or not, is a choice that you make.”
from Week 1 Day 4 EDST 610 Foundations of Teaching and Learning

I’m going to be teaching mathematics and physics. These two subjects have a known base of facts, principles, and processes. My easiest course of action would be to take a Behaviorist approach and just deposit this knowledge into my students, using rewards and punishments appropriately to get an adequate number of my students to recall enough information for a test to measure the progress. Fortunately for my students, I’m not looking to take the easiest course. My classroom will be a challenge to myself, to my students, and especially to the dominant cultural power structures.

It is in this very challenge that my students will best learn. Solutions in my classroom will not be a matter of merely recalling the correct fact for a conditioned prompt. Students will need to build on this in creative and novel ways. I will not expect this of them without some effort on my part, though, nor without occasional failure on their part. One of the challenges my students will face will be to utilize mistakes for further learning. Mistakes will be a normal course of business, a natural part of intellectual pursuits (Edwards, 1994). One of my primary roles in the classroom will be to model these processes. How does one define a problem from a set of known and unknown conditions, variables, and relationships? What is the self-talk and re-direction process when an approach does not lead one to a solution? The behaviors and cognitive processes required for success in these circumstances may come to students through trial and error, but I can provide an example to follow. The Social Cognitive concept of modelling will be a consideration in all of my classroom efforts (Schunk, 2012).

It is realistic for mistakes to happen and I do not want the reality of the world to stop at my classroom door. I see a lot of merit in Problem-based Learning approaches. By focusing on problems evident in the world outside of the classroom, students’ work becomes all the more relevant and critical (Savery, 2006). Pursuing meaningful work provides a context for informational lessons. Scaffolding, as described by Constructivist theory, is critical to this process (Schunk, 2012). Since the goal of instruction, though, is to support students’ pursuit of solutions, the focus of such scaffolding instruction will be timely and guided by student need.

While this mix of student-centered approaches will be liberating for students, it must all occur in a predictable environment where students know what is expected of them. Herein lies the merit of Behaviorist theories. To foster accountability, students will be made explicitly aware of the expectations I have of them and of the consequences of violating those expectations. By consistently applying those consequences, the expectations will be reinforced. These expectations must foster a supportive community where learning is achieved together and the success of one is the success of all. This too must be consistently reinforced (Schunk, 2012).

By challenging students to pursue their own solutions and to accept and build from their mistakes within a framework of consistent accountability, they will strengthen their own self-efficacy (Schunk, 2012). It is self-efficacy and its application in self-advocacy that is the true goal of my instruction. When students are certain of their ability to have an affect on their own lives, they may soon take it upon themselves to see that their needs are met, rather than suffering the whims of those with power. As Kohl emphasizes, teaching is a way of sharing power (1976). This is learning as a form of empowerment. Once students are empowered, they can further take control of their own learning. My goal as an instructor is to make students aware of the imbalance of power and how that affects them and what they can do about it. I want to make the hidden curriculum (Ayres, 2010) plain to see so that students might begin discussions that will be critical to their development as empowered individuals, ready for and active in the redistribution of power.

My practice will be teaching as a radical act.


Ayers, W. & Tanner, R. (2010). To teach : the journey, in comics. New York: Teachers College Press.

Edwards, H.C. (1994). Mistakes and other classroom techniques: An application of social learning theory. Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy, 6 (5).

Kohl, H. (1976). On teaching. New York: Schocken Books.

Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1).

Schunk, D. (2012). Learning theories : an educational perspective. Boston: Pearson.






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