Teaching is mostly a social activity; it begins with social interactions between teachers, students and their peers through conversation and demonstration. The information received in these social interactions is then processed cognitively in their working memory and hopefully stored in their long term memory. This learning process has two main stages the social stage and the cognitive stage which then can be broken down into many other stages. Given that that social interaction and cognition are in my opinion the most fundamental parts of learning I have gained much interest in Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory.
The true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the social but from the social to the individual’, (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 36). This idea argues that the social relationship between the teacher and learner is crucial in their cognitive development and that the information learned by the student is not simply passed down from the teacher but it is constructed internally through mutual social interactions. The importance of social interaction means that as a teacher I must use every opportunity I can to allow students to be involved socially while building their knowledge.
This will involve planning lessons which involve carefully guided class discussions. This allows students to express their views while the teacher can guide their thinking and correct them if needed. I believe learners mostly process new information by comparing it to previously stored information. In many cases the teacher may need to show the student how it is related to the new information by comparing it to what the student previously learnt. It is the teacher’s job to bridge the gap between known and unknown and I believe this is best described using Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.
Vygotsky (1986) argues that it is the teacher’s job to assist the student to build on their previous knowledge rather than just provide them with new information, turning them into passive recipients. Allowing students to process information critically with some guidance leads to better understanding and allows students to regulate their own learning. In order for this to be effective the teacher must be aware of the different ability levels of the students as if the information is placed outside of their proximal development zone they will be only memorising information without truly understanding its meaning.
In my classroom I would aim to have knowledge of all my students’ abilities so that I may pose questions within their zone of proximal development which will then deepen their understanding of the topic. There are many simple ways of doing this such as giving analogies that compare pieces of information in a way that they understand or by giving them hints about the correct method to solve the problem. Education is a lot more complex than having knowledge of relevant theories.
This is due to the huge diversity among students who may have different ethnicity, socio economic status and moral values. These are all external factors which are mostly out of the teachers control and while it is important to consider these differences I believe motivation is the key to allowing students to get the most out of their education. Current views conceptualise motivation as a dynamic and complex phenomenon comprising many cognitive, affective and social processes that instigate, direct and sustain action (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).
Given that motivation is sustaining the student’s interest in their learning it is up to the teacher to keep them motivated. A cognitive approach to motivation is achievement motivation which allows students to build on their successes by motivating them to be successful in the future. This can only be achieved if the knowledge is within the student’s ability which once again reinforces to me the importance of being aware of my students’ abilities and using their zone of proximal development to its full advantage.
Having the ability to motivate and understand students differences are traits which I believe are essential for a successful teacher but in order to possess these abilities the teacher must first be able to build a quality relationship with the students. When there are high levels of closeness and low levels of conflict and dependency, students are more likely to be motivated to succeed, to feel successful in educational pursuits and, consequently, to perform better than students without such supports (Koomen, Zee, Van der Veen 2013).
The research shows that positive student teacher relationships not only improve academic achievement but allow students to work more independently. As a teacher I will strive to build these quality relationships in which I can allow students to work independently with some guidance. This will allow more freedom in their learning and will ultimately motivate them towards better academic achievement.