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Learning theories Essay

Learning and development theories are conceptual frameworks that are looked at how information is absorbed, processed and retained during learning. Through using different learning theories you are able to teach children in the classroom and develop and strengthen them as a person not only intellectually but socially as well. Theories provide information that can help teachers influence children’s learning by providing developmentally appropriate practice. In practice theories help to improve, enable, inform, provide for and explain, but too many theories can create a very confusing picture.

Neuroscientists believed that the genes we are born with determine the structure of our brains and that with the fixed structure determines the way we develop and interact with the world. However it has since been proven that it’s not the case at all and that we are only born with the framework and what we put inside this framework is completed over time and completely our own choosing. Carol Dweck, who is widely known as one of the worlds leading researchers in the field of personality, social psychology and developmental psychology, believes that everyone has a growth or fixed mind-set.

She believed that if you have a fixed mindset you would only achieve what you think you are good at. People with a fixed mindset are usually ‘smart’ but won’t challenge themselves anymore if they think they may fail at something. Where as with a growth mindset they will challenge themselves and stretch their brains and achieve goals they at first found challenging. “So children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter” (Dweck, 2012:17).

During placement I witnessed and followed the learning theories of Carol Dweck. Growth mind-set was widely used in the Year 2 classes and children were thinking about and developing their own learning. There was a display on the wall where each child had written their own learning challenge down on how they were going to grow their own brains. These were displayed at the front of the class where the children could read them everyday. I found this to be very inspiring as the children set their own learning challenge and reflected on this quite often to see how they were developing towards their own learning challenge.

They had a challenge mountain and when a child was progressing towards their learning challenge they would climb the mountain. The children completing this were only six and seven years old. The challenges might of only been something as small as ‘learn to write smaller’ or ‘use finger spaces’ but these were challenges that they needed to develop in order to help them progress with their own learning challenges. “People in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. ” (Dweck, 2012:21) Children in the year two classes could make the choice of challenging work or work they knew they would find easy.

The children responded well to this by wanting to complete the more challenging work and you would hear them say they wanted to ‘grow their brains’. This was really pleasing to see as you could see children who wanted to learn and wanted to grow their own mindset. The children were more positive about their own learning and really enjoyed challenging themselves in order to grow their own brains. There were the children however that didn’t think they needed to challenge themselves as they already thought they were smart enough and knew everything. These children really didn’t like it when they were wrong and really saw themselves as a failure to the point they would get upset.

This really reflected what Carol Dweck had said about fixed mindsets and how they see themselves as failures unlike growth mindset where they would just learn from it and see it as a challenge of how they can improve their work next time. This is something the children would do at the end of each lesson. They would write themselves a challenge at the bottom of their work of how they would improve their work next time. “Entity theorists (fixed mindset) are performance and achievement oriented, and so they personalise failure, blaming their own lack of ability.

In future, their mindsets say, avoid any situation in which you might fail, as you will no longer look clever. They will therefore become risk-adverse in their learning, choosing options which are easily attainable so that they can continue to define themselves as clever. Failure undermines motivation for these students and achievement-related praise will only reinforce this self view. ” (Robins, 2012:55). In subjects the fixed mindset children had seen previous failure, you would see them become much quieter and fade into the back ground unlike lessons they would know they achieve more in.

The difference between the fixed and growth mindset children was that the growth mindset children would throughout any lesson thrive to learn and challenge themselves even if they did make mistakes. They would be the ones answering questions even if they were unsure of the answer and challenging the teacher with their own challenging questions. The fixed mindset children would only answer questions they definitely knew the answer too. At the end of each lesson children would mark their own work using the success criteria they had created as a class, and then set themselves a challenge to help to improve the work they had completed.

This is something that has been inspired by the work of Shirley Clarke and her formative assessment work. The work of Shirley Clarke and Carol Dweck both work well together in the classroom and go hand In hand with the development of children and their own growth mindset. With the influence of Shirley Clarke and assessing your own work and then with Carol Dweck and thinking about how you could improve and grow your brain by improving the work you have completed. These two theories really reflected the overall work that the children had completed and the results were really inspiring to see.

For some children they found this easy to set themselves a challenge, but for some they found it quite difficult as they would think their work doesn’t need improving. This is when you could see the fixed mindset children in the class. The children who already thought they were smart enough. The only down fall I found with the children writing their own challenges for their work was that they never got to act upon this challenge that they had set themselves all the time. The work would be completed but then never reviewed for improving this with the challenge they had set themselves.

One thing I did when I was teaching a lesson and I got them to write their own challenges was I got them to relook at their work and review the challenge they had written down at the start of the next lesson. This then really got the children to stretch their brains as they were actively improving their own work. The growth mindset is something I would take forward with my teaching career as I find it very inspiring that children are able to set their own challenges In order to grow their own brains. Doing this right and inspiring the children to think with the growth mindset can really help children to develop more than they thought they could.

I wish this was something that I had been introduced to in primary school as I may of challenged myself more and wouldn’t of not completed work I found to be too ‘hard’ for myself to complete. Going forward I set myself the challenge of reading and researching this theory more and going forward onto my next placement think of ways I could slowly introduce this when I am teaching a class and see if the results really do reflect how I feel this theory does work.

Behaviourism is another theory that is widely used with in primary schools day in and day out. Behaviourism (which is also known as stimulus-response) is based upon the simple notion of a relationship between a stimulus and a response, which is why behaviourist theories are often referred to as stimulus-response theories.

Behaviour can be controlled with rewards and sanctions, rules or expectations and the role of the teacher and their own behaviour. Behaviourist experts such as Bruner, Skinner and Pavlov all have different theories of controlling behaviour and these have been used within a classroom environment. “In Pavlov’s famous experiments, when a bell rang, dogs salivated. Your pupils

almost do the same. When the bell rings they instinctively pack up and try to leave the classroom, leading to the classic teachers’ phrase “the bell is for me and not for you” (TES (2014) Pavlov was born1849; his primary interests were the study of physiology and natural sciences. Pavlov used routine and using a bell with dogs to train them when it was time for their dinner. With this the dogs in time learned to salivate at the sound of the bell without even having to see the food in front of them. This is the same within a school environment to a certain degree. Children are taught that the whistle or bell used in the play ground in the morning is the start of school.

That each bell after that is a different time of day such as break time, dinner time, afternoon break or the end of school. You would have the children in year 2 asking you if it was 10. 40am yet. This is because even though they couldn’t tell the time properly they knew that at 10. 40am it was break time as this was something they had been told by the teacher. Children are taught routine of a the school week by using a diagram displayed as they come into the class in the younger classes, to the children in older classes knowing the school day by remembering.

For example they might know that on a Monday that they start with the register, then its assembly, phonics, etc. With this children know the routine of the day and week. The only thing with this is that when the routine changes the children can become confused. During the week they had their Christmas rehearsals the children really couldn’t understand why they were not completing their normal subjects of phonics or literacy etc. Skinner was born1904 and was influenced by the work of Pavlov. He took what Pavlov used and influenced the use of rewards and sanctions to reinforce positive behaviour.

“Skinner maintained that rewards and punishments control the majority of human behaviours, and that the principles of operant conditioning can explain all human learning” (Pritchard,2014). In the class of year two, they would be rewarded with their names on the smiley board if they were well behaved. You could see the children eager to get their names on the smiley board as after three ticks would result in the children having a visit to the head teacher. This was positive in the sense the children knew that with good behaviour and hard work they would be rewarded.

The use of stickers is only a small thing to an adult, but to children they are really happy to receive one for good behaviour and will show everyone who will look what they have received. I could also see the negative to this as well. The use of the smiley and grumpy board wasn’t always used to the best advantage. Some children would display the same behaviour as someone who had previously got their name on the board but then wouldn’t be rewarded the same way.

For some children this then lacked the incentive to behave in the way they should and would become less interested. Rewards and sanctions need to be consistent in order to have the impact a teacher wants to manage the behaviour and learning within the classroom. After seeing this on the first six weeks of placement I decided I needed to change the way in which I managed the behaviour of the children on my return for the last two weeks.

“Skinner argued that if pupils were consistently praised (positive reinforcement) for learning or behaving in a certain way; they would behave in the same way again, thus creating ‘conditions which are optimal for producing the changes called learning’ and allowing the teacher to influence the behaviour of pupils at will without resorting to punishment”. (Robins, 2012:22)

There was a seminar on behaviour management in the gap between placements and we were shown a video of an outstanding teacher displaying different positive techniques for controlling behaviour. He would praise good behaviour and also reinforce expectations if they were not being followed. I found this very inspiring as the teacher himself had a positive influence on the children and their behaviour not only towards him, but throughout taught lessons. I actually stole some of the techniques he had displayed and made them my own.

When returning to placement I was given the challenge of teaching the other year two class, which had a lot of lower ability and fixed mindset children in. I had a range of rewards and sanctions to help me manage the behaviour of the children. Buttons in the jar was a huge success as children really responded to the idea of a team effort and filling the jar up with buttons as a class rather than just an individual reward. Rewards need to have value to children otherwise there really is no point in them trying to achieve something they don’t really want. I asked the children what it was they would like to receive as a reward at the end of the two weeks.

This was a much better response and throughout the two weeks the children really worked together to collect the buttons in the jar. With this I wasn’t only rewarding the best in the class but also the children who had tried their hardest or had worked well with their talk partners. At the end of each lesson I would then reward these children with a raffle ticket. The more raffle tickets they collected the better the chance they had of winning a prize. This gave the element of chance to the children, meaning that even if you only had one raffle ticket you was still in with a shot of winning the prize.

This really got the children involved and throughout the two weeks the improvement in the behaviour had dramatically changed. The children would respond to me much quicker when I wanted them to look and listen to me and the way they worked together changed as well. They would really praise each other and if someone won a raffle ticket you would hear the rest of the class praising that child for their reward. Using these techniques really helped me to be seen as a teacher statues on placement and this is something I would moving forward really concentrate on, whether it’s on my next placement or in my teaching career.

Behaviourism is something that has really helped teachers control and manages the class in which they are teaching. With the use of rewards and sanctions and positive reinforcement it is very clear to see that children will respond better and the learning will improve as children are much more positive towards their own learning. Following on from this I would like to set me the targets of researching and observing theories used within the classroom. This will not only ‘grow my brain’ on learning theories but will also strengthen me as a teacher going forward into my teaching career.

I will have a better understanding of the learning styles of children and be better able to tackle the challenges teachers face everyday. Bibliography TES: Pedagogy: using theories in the classroom (2013) http://newteachers. tes. co. uk/news/pedagogy-using-theories-classroom/23183 (assessed April 2014) Gill, R (2012) Praise, motivation, and the child, Rout ledge. Dweck, S (2012) Mindset, Robinson. Pritchhard, A (2014) Ways of learning, Learning theories and learning styles in the CLASSROOM. 3RD EDITION, ROUT LEDGE. Doherty and Hughes (2009) Child Development Theory and Practice 0-11, Pearson Education LTD.


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