In this essay I will discuss the comparisons and differences of the three models of theory and learning as identified by MacNaughton, Conforming, Reforming and Transforming (MacNaughton, 2003). This essay will look at how these theories are explained and can be applied individually or together within the learning pedagogy. My discussion will be of a reflective nature and include how I have understood these three models in relation to the early childhood learning environment and how I may relate them to my own developing education philosophy.
Each theory will be discussed with a focus on one or two particular theorist. For Conforming I will look at theorists from both the nature and nurture perspective, Gesell and Skinner. The Reforming component of the paper will reflect on constructivist theorist Vygotsky and Psychodynamic theorist Erikson. Conforming I have defined the conforming model of learning as children learning in a traditionally accepted way where they will progress through stages of development according to either their biology or their environment.
The methods of the educator are not questioned by the children who are being instructed as passive learners on their journey through childhood to become adults who fit in comfortable to the mould that society expect. Another definition is “complying with the existing practices, rules, traditions and understandings” (MacNaughton, 2003, p. 121) There are two main developmental theories associated with the conforming model, they are Maturationism (Nature) and Behaviourism (Environment). Conforming theorists have investigated the concept of children learning due to their genetic makeup or their environment.
A theorist who conferred with the nature debate was Arnold Gesell (1880-1961) who viewed the child’s development from a biological perspective as pre-programmed according to how Mother Nature has determined after many years of evolution. Development will unfold in line with the child’s maturation and learning will be best achieved with little interference from adults. I like what Thelen, Adolph and Karen had to say regarding Gesell’s theory in relation to learning, “Society and the family must provide children with an environment that allows the inherent growth potential of each child to be fully and optimally realized.
The whole purpose of developmental norms was to identify the individual status of each child so as to guide children more suitably to optimal growth. The environment must be precisely tailored to fit the child’s capabilities” (Thelen & Adolph, 1992, p. 368). What I have taken from the nature debate is that it is a theory that still cares very much for how children are educated. It is motivated by giving children enough support within their environment that is appropriate for the child’s current capabilities.
They see a child will develop in a sequence of stages that will not be impacted by their environment. I see this approach becoming a stronger focus in education today through Naplan testing and the movement in Australia towards a National curriculum. What scope does this give a teacher to educate children outside this conformist approach? My daughters teacher made a comment to me recently about what a busy term they have had and said they really need to get down to business so they have done something concrete as it’s nearly report writing time.
Upon reflection I was very happy with what my child had done this term, with excursions to meet other students at bigger schools to experience and participate in dramatic play, a wonderful opportunity to visit a shelter for abused animals, speak with one of the traditional land owners where her school was built, participate in a cross country running event with another smaller school providing further social experiences with new people. Yet all these wonderful experiences do not allow her teacher to tick all the boxes of required learning as it seems she is required to do.
I wonder what Gesell would think of where education has come today. I find a discrepancy in what Gesell suggested that all children will develop differently depending on their maturation which will in turn impact our culture in different ways, and that culture will need to adapt to these variants in children’s development (MacNaughton, 2003). Yet so many years latter it doesn’t seem like that has happened at all. It seems to me that our culture (predominantly politically as far as I’m concerned) is demanding through Naplan testing that all students should be measurable at the same age according to their academic performance.
In contrast to Maturation theory, a Behaviourists’ approach views the child’s environment as imperative and directly related to their development – which also occurs in stages. Behaviourists believe that children are born as a blank slate, meaning their mind has no inherent structure and can be filled by their society (or environment). Learning commences from birth onwards, for example from your parents, television, friends and many other direct environmental influences. All behaviour is observable and measurable and is universal.
In stark contrast to a Psychodynamic view, Behaviourist believes the mind is not the key to acquiring knowledge; their external environment in which they live is (Faryadi, 2007). With this understanding it becomes clear why curriculum goal setting under a Behaviourist conforming profile is recommended to occur at the commencement of planning, prior to the educator even meeting the children (MacNaughton, 2003). There is no need for individualised programming based on what knowledge the children may be bringing along with them. They will learn according to what is provided under the direction of the teacher.
There have been a number of theorists that have had an influence on this approach, some that have created a learning environment for animals in their study such as Pavlov (1849 – 1936) and Skinner (1904 – 1990). Pavlov contributes to the behaviourist approach with his theory on classical conditioning and BF Skinner with operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is when people learn by association, and operant conditioning is when we learn to behave in a certain way because of either positive or negative reinforcement (McDevitt, 2002).
Again the psychodynamic approach would disagree with the behaviourists approach as it does not take into account the unconscious mind and just focuses on external observable behaviour. Now that I have a firmer understanding of both Maturationism and Behaviourism I can imagine these philosophies used in an early childhood environment. In fact I feel quite sure the conforming profile was very dominant in my own Pre-school and Primary school years. I remember being taught by rote and the feelings of inadequacies? pressure and assault on my self esteem.
These feelings were all generated when it was time for tables and I thought, what if I get it wrong, please let it be a sum I know. It took all my efforts to stop myself from crying just because I had to stand up in front of the class, I had no energy left to remember my tables. Is there an easier way to for children to learn their tables? I believe there is a place for rote learning and tables is one of them. However, the culture of the setting could adopt pedagogies that are going to reform the learning from a teacher directed one way dialogue to two way with interaction on a more personal level with the learner.
My experience of rote learning was always indoors with tables and chairs set up in pairs. The pairs were the same for the term (of course unless you were a ‘naughty’ child and would then be moved to the front row directly in front of the teachers desk). I wonder would my rote learning have been enhanced if I had more mental and physical control of my situation. I believe the answer is yes. Some temperaments may flourish in that environment, but as a child, I was not one of them. However, put me in a small group and enable peer support I truly think my learning experience would have been different.
As cited by MacNaughton Australia is one of many ‘multicultural, multiethnic and multifaith societies’ (MacNaughton, 2003, p. 145) It is concerning to me that a Eurocentric approach to learning could still be used in some schools, thereby supporting the majority at the expense of marginalising the minority. As my own teaching philosophy is emerging I think there are parts of the conforming model that I would implement. I have an interest in Skinners operant conditioning but haven’t quite thought out how I could apply it. I do have some issues with this on what is equitable for all children.
An example of this would be using rewards such as extra computer time for an anxious child who had difficulty sitting through a literacy block. If the child is able to do this he / she will be rewarded. What will the children who continuously try very hard to sit through every learning block be rewarded with? What is equitable for these children? That is my main dilemma, yet I will continue to ponder point as I sense it is something I could learn more about. I am hoping I will see some good example of this theory in use at my upcoming professional experience. Reforming
A reforming model of learning includes theories such as Constructivism, Psychodynamic and Neuroscience. For the purpose of this reflective paper I will concentrate on Constructivism and Psychodynamics using theorists Vygotsky and Erikson. The initial differences I see with this model of learning from a Conforming model are how they view the learner as an active participant as opposed to a passive one. To understand it in my own mind I define a reforming learner as someone who will put what they are learning with previous information to form their own meaning.
MacNaughton defines Reforming as “improving something through changing it” (MacNaughton, 2003, p. 40) Vygotsky was a Constructionist who saw the learning environment as essential to learning as did the Behaviourist, however Vygotsky saw the environment as the tool for learning through sociocultural experiences. Interpersonal communication experienced through social interaction necessitated the child’s thinking and behaving (Berk, 2006). Vygotsky like Gesell saw development as stage based, yet the stages may vary depending on the social environment the child is exposed to.
A child’s social interactions provide them with the learning needed to further develop language and stimulate their transition through stages of cognitive development for thought and behaviour. What appeals to me about Vygotsys theory is that it depends on children learning from more experienced members of their community (such as teachers or other students) through scaffolding (Berk, 2006). What does it imply for those children who are not given access to a high degree of social experiences and interactions?
Are the destined for a future with poor language / communication skills? If Vygotsky viewed language development as the foundation for cognitive development does this make them less intelligent or give the appearance of low intelligence? Again I must raise my earlier point about my childhood fear of standing in front of the class during rote learning. If the principles of reforming and conforming learning profiles had been amalgamated I think a more positive outcome would have resulted for me.
It comes quiet naturally for me to adopt a Vygotsky approach when working with young children so will certainly be incorporating it into my philosophy. I like that children can help children learn and that it has a strong focus on the interactions of play. Again we see a stage based theory this time from Erikson. Erikson formulated eight stages that span from birth to late adulthood. In each stage, Erikson described what made the specified ages so important, for example: the first stage is called Trust vs. Mistrust (from birth – 1 year) Second stage is Autonomy vs.
Shame and Doubt (1-3 years) Stage three is Initiative vs. Guilt (from 3-6 years old) (McDevitt, 2002). I feel quite comfortable with Erikson (yet not so with his earlier counterpart Freud) and Skinner. Unlike Freud, Erikson placed some emphasise on societies role in the development of an individual’s personality (MacNaughton, 2003). Erikson also acknowledges the individuals cultural influence will directly impact development.
For example what occurs in northwest American Indian tribes will affect the development of their children differently to other cultures (Berk L. 2008) I can relate this theory to my own personal beliefs regarding my own childhood and upbringing and that which I am trying to foster for my children. As an individual and mother I have strong opinions regarding the value and importance of my family, community and environment and how they directly impact each other and my children’s developing personalities and how they feel about themselves. A critical reflection of myself upon the completion of this subject sees me sitting within a reforming model of learning.
My personal values as mentioned above influence how I relate to Eriksons psychodynamic view as I think he is a theorist who really fosters questions like, who am I, and what is my place in society? Vygotsky supports my feelings of how I can support cognitive development through children’s environment and social world. Yet, I still don’t think these theories complete my philosophy. My life is lived through a complex network of structures so therefore I see development from an ecological systems perspective (Bronfenbrenner 1917 – 2005) as well, so will affiliate it to my philosophy too.
Another theorist that I think fits under the reforming model is Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development and Education. I know as an educator I will be concerned with the issue of moral development and will pursue further knowledge to assist my understanding. What I have initially taken from Kohlberg is that “This teaching practice is based on the assumption that there are no single, correct answers to ethical dilemmas, but that there is value in holding clear views and acting accordingly.
In addition, there is a value of toleration of divergent views. It follows, then, that the teacher’s role is one of discussion moderator, with the goal of teaching merely that people hold different values; the teacher does attempt to present her views as the “right” views” ( (Nucci, 2008, p. http://tigger. uic. edu/~lnucci/MoralEd/overview. html) Transforming My understanding of the Transforming model of learning would be defined as a theory that advocates for children’s rights for the future through challenging traditional practice.
As a transforming educator you would be prepared to take risks and endeavour to shatter opposing thoughts that are not equitable to their cause. I imagine being a transforming educator would require a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy, and resilience. A more analytical definition might refer to the model as interested in looking at the knowledge we have to ascertain if it is biased and critically questioning and assessing whose interest are being served.
This may lead to changes in the fundamental delivery of education which results in better social justice for a specified society (MacNaughton, 2003). The Transforming model is an umbrella term that incorporates three different theories, they are; Social Constructionists and Postmodernists, Feminism (including Feminists Poststructuralists), Critical race theorists and Postcolonialists (MacNaughton, 2003). For this essay I will focus on Social Construcitionists who are concerned with how behaviourist or structuralits theorist conduct their research and how it directly impacts educators.
They find criticism in the fact that these theories are dominated by male middle class men, due to the implications for marginalisation of certain aspects of society, for example women, cultural perspectives such as eastern philosophies or indigenous stories (Fenton, 2011). Of all the models looked at during my research and study in this subject I felt most confronted by Transforming. I think that’s largely because I am not very good at thinking outside the square, yet when I try to get my head around this model I am forced to look beyond my own conservative and safe nature.
As a student and a future educator I see myself as a person of compassion who doesn’t like to see social injustice or a children being marginalised, so feel like I should have been able to connect more with this model. However, with this in mind I did feel like I could relate more to Social Construcitionists theory due to their philosophy of power with not power over, which is unique to the other theories I have discussed so far. The implications of this for me as a future teacher are that I must be prepared to view myself, and show by example that I am still a learner and prepared to change as I acquire new knowledge.
As a mother there have been times when I have seen children treated unfairly by an adult (and some teachers) who holds the balance of power (and I’m sure have done so myself with my own children). I have questioned why the adult feels they don’t have to apologise to the child for this action and conclude that it would be seen as disempowering themselves. This attitude could be explained as one where the child is viewed as “becoming adult” (MacNaughton, 2003, p. 5) and therefore the adults role is one of privilege and the child’s is oppressed.
Next time I experience this I wonder will I be courageous enough to rock the boat? As a learner teacher who is still trying to establish what my philosophy will be I feel drawn to the Social Construcitionists theory as it is the first theory that I feel has really addressed the issue of children’s development having a direct correlation to and is in fact all bound together with culture and actual present time, and is therefore never static, or all learnt.
A quote from Burman explains this as “how children develop differs in different places and in different historical times because how we see development is bound by where we are (our culture) and by our time” (MacNaughton, 2003, p. 71). As I have already stated this was a very difficult theory for me to absorb. After spending some time researching and questioning my own beliefs and values I feel confident I have the ability to integrate some of what I have learnt into practice as a teacher (yet I don’t see myself as a Social Construcitionists trail blaser).
Whilst I have discussed what I like about this theory I also concur with MacNaughton (2008) when she raises equity regarding the children who are not able to function in a Social Construcitionists. Is the shy reserved child, whose parents traditional principles are being indoctrinated at home and within their ecological systems (Bronfenbrenner 1917 – 2005) going to have a voice.
Previous study has taught me about the various aspect of children’s natural temperament which leads me to wonder about the “slow to warm up child” (Berk L. , 2008, p. 260) will manage this classroom. In effect there would be equity issues for these children who are not able to function when put in a situation of co-learner with their teacher and peers. I think throughout my discussion I have expressed what has challenged me in gaining an understanding of this subject and the 3 models we have covered.
To conclude I think I would simply add that I have expanded my original knowledge on the theorist discussed through the process of looking at them more critically and reflect on how I may apply them as a teacher. I have identified my personal growth in understanding ethical issues of theory. This was something I had not done previously, most likely due to the conforming method of learning I have experienced. I am a product of being taught the teacher is always right and it is not my role to question. That was then this is now.
Courtney from Study Moose
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