As a Fine Arts teacher, I understand the importance of hands-on learning in my classroom. I believe that students learn by experiencing, exploring, creating, making connections and making mistakes. The same goes for the way I learn best. Starting out in education 19 years ago as a 2nd grade teacher, I remember creating lessons in which the students had to interact with each other, experiment, roleplay, and create. Those lessons were the ones the students were most engaged in and helped all students be successful. The way we teach students must evolve and change as we seek to reach all students and their diversity of learning.
In Dr. Dwayne Harapnuik’s Four Keys To Understanding Learning Theories, learning theories today are broken down into 3 primary ideas, Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism (Harapuik, 2016). The Behaviourism learning theory is what I relate to my early educational experience, a lot of repetition, positive reinforcement, mostly teacher centered, and still widely used in classrooms today. As a student, learning this way was really difficult for me. I consider myself a creative, free thinker, visual and kinesthetic learner. I was most successful when I was able to learn through hands-on activities, challenging situations, and freedom to explore. So, Behaviorism, although used for the most part of the last century, doesn’t quite reach all students all the time. The Cognitivism learning theory is based on having students use their cognitive skills to understand what they are learning, learning from mistakes and reflection. Finally, the Constructivism learning theory, which I myself feel I follow most, relies heavily on collaboration, inquiry based, reflection and active experience. As a teacher, I understand that learning for all students is different, so my teaching should not be stagnant in one learning theory. My teaching theory shifts with the needs of my students, but I feel my teaching is most effective when I follow the Constructivism learning theory with a sprinkle of Cognitivism, creating a significant learning environment.
Why I Am A Cognitivist
What I most relate to with the Cognitivism theory is allowing students to understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. I teach my students that mistakes are opportunities for growth. When that is understood, I believe they are more willing to be creative, take risks and ask questions. When mistakes are made, it forces them to think about what happened, reassess and try something new. In the Cognitivist theory, the student is able to build upon previous knowledge, enhance their lifelong learning, and pushes students to apply problem solving strategies.
Why I Am A Constructivist
Constructivism lends itself to a fine arts classroom, I take a more hands-on approach to my teaching. Having a learner-centered classroom, incorporating lots of opportunities for collaboration, and using real world situations, the incorporation of my innovation plan, ePortfolios will be seamless. I allow my students to collaborate as often as possible because that is a skill they will need throughout life and in their careers. My room is loud, but because the students are engaged in the learning process while sometimes out of their seats and working with others around the room. John Dewey, one of the educational theorists known for his founding of Constructivism believed that teachers should step back and be facilitators of learning. Learning is a social activity, it is something we do together, in interaction with each other, rather than an abstract concept (Dewey, 1938).
I do also think that Constructivism and Cognitivism can sometimes intersect, especially in the arts, in interpretation, thought provoking, and making connections. My district this year has asked teachers to gear their teaching through Project Based Learning opportunities. This will allow me to help teachers better connect with my ideas in my innovation plan and allow them to see the many possibilities of Constructivism in their own classrooms. Project Based Learning is something I’ve been incorporating into my classroom for years. Most often, I relate these learning opportunities to the 17 sustainability goals which allows students to make connections to the real world. Learners construct their learning through what they have experienced in real life (Jumaat, et al., 2017), ePortfolios give our students the opportunity to take charge of their learning, bring previous knowledge, and problem solve. It also allows them to learn at their own pace, which after the pandemic has proven much more effective.
I believe I am a constructivist because I’ve seen the incredible success my students have had through these opportunities. There was a student years ago in my classroom that was not as successful in most of the academic subjects, and had some socialization issues. When he was in my classroom, collaborating with other students on various projects, I saw a more confident student, willing to put himself out there, engaged, excited, and happy. Seeing that, how could you not believe in the power of this learning theory.