Learning Theories: How Did They Change My Beliefs?

18 Nov

I’ve always been interested in psychology. I love how it explains the way people think and act, making it easier for us to predict and control future behaviors to better people’s lives. But among all the subjects discussed in psychology, learning theories have always been closest to my heart.  They give teachers and students the chance to refine their approach to learning, thus fulfilling their ultimate goal of understanding the world around them.

On Intelligence, Motivation, Teaching, and Learning

 

Before I took this course, I already had pre-conceptions about human learning. I considered it as an active process wherein individuals construct their own knowledge of the world, and I believed that it is the teacher’s responsibility to help students become self-motivated learners.

Behaviorism and cognitivism, two of the major theories discussed in this class, doesn’t view students as active agents of learning. They see students as empty vessels waiting to be filled, as sponges waiting to absorb new information. It was only when the class discussed constructivism that my old beliefs about teaching were affirmed. Constructivists also made me realize that a democratic, student-centered classroom will best teach students how to learn and help them become independent learners.

Humanism is also one of the theories that changed by prior beliefs about learning. While I never really liked teachers who were overly strict, I tended to justify their actions because I thought that they just had a different approach to disciplining students. But after reading Carl Rogers’ theory on facilitative teaching, I came to realize that students will learn better if they are treated as “people first and learners second” (Juachon, 2012).

Bandura’s theories about motivation also gave me a clearer idea of what kind of teacher I should be in the future. I now know that students will have a bigger chance of succeeding in their careers once they have developed the desire to learn for learning’s sake. In line with behaviorism, I’ve realized the importance of using positive reinforcements (tangible rewards, praises) to motivate students. I’ve never been an advocate of punishments, so I was also glad to know that the using positive reinforcements properly would be more effective than administering punishments.

My previous beliefs about intelligence have also changed. Though I was already familiar of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, I had a certain bias on the types of intelligence he proposed. I initially believed that people with high levels of verbal-linguistic and mathematical-logical are more superior to those who have high visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, or musical intelligences.

But after learning more about this theory, I’ve come to realize that all students possess varying levels of these intelligences so it will be best to tap and improve each instead of merely focusing on verbal-linguistic and mathematical-logical intelligences.

Am I Evolving into a Better Learner?

 

Through this course, I was able to improve my approach to learning.  I have learned to use metacognition to my advantage by setting my own goals, evaluating whether I’ve reached my goals or not, and finding ways to improve the methods I use as I try to understand concepts that were once foreign to me.

I have also become more aware of my learning preferences, and I’ve realized the importance of going beyond the usual techniques I use. Instead of simply capitalizing on my strengths as a verbal, aural learner, I’ve tried to explore other learning strategies to make sure that I can efficiently process information regardless of how it was presented to me.

Now that I’ve become a better learner and more importantly, a better thinker, I know that I’ll exert a positive influence over my students. Once my students have noticed how motivated I am to learn new things, there’s a big chance that they would model my behavior and feel the same way about learning.

I’ve also formulated best practices for teaching that will guide me once I’ve become a licensed teacher. I’m ready to create a democratic and stimulating learning environment for students by using a combination of all the theories I’ve learned in this class. I will also focus more on helping my students become independent learners, which will eventually turn them into critical thinkers who possess the incessant urge to find out more about the world around them.

I’m glad that I took this course. Without it, I wouldn’t have changed my former beliefs about learning and contextualized how theories affect our teaching pedagogies, whether consciously or unconsciously.

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Metamorphosis: Notes on How I Became a Better Thinker

17 Nov

Critical thinking is a form of higher-order thinking that requires the ability to evaluate information, find biases and weak points in the data collected, and create conclusions or new hypotheses based on the new knowledge a person has gained. When exposed to stimulating learning environments and new information, a critical thinker asks “why,” not “what.” In an effort to understand the world around him, he quenches his thirst for knowledge by finding answers to his own questions and being open-minded about what he might find during his pursuit for “universal” truths.

Based on this definition, can I consider myself as a critical thinker?

A Journey toward Critical Thinking

When I was in elementary and high school, I felt as if I were a sponge that automatically absorbs everything my teachers say. They told me that man was shaped in the image of God, and that the Americans contributed a lot to the freedom that the Philippines are now enjoying. I never doubted these facts because even our books support these conclusions. I was young then, so I believed that everything my teachers say and everything I read in books are nothing but the truth.

When I entered college, I took subjects that shook the foundations of my knowledge. In anthropology, we were told that lots of scientific evidence support the theory that man evolved from apes. In my history classes, I learned that the relationship between America and the Philippines is neo-colonial in nature. We’re only enjoying a false sense of independence because the United States has a great influence over our economic and political conditions. As a result, even our culture is greatly influenced by the Americans until now.

I believe that these conflicts in what I already know and what I just learned helped me become a critical thinker. Though I’m a Catholic and I do believe that God created us, I’m now open to the fact that humans may have evolved from apes. As I learned more about Philippine history, I’ve come to realize that the Philippines is indeed under neo-colonialism (considering that until now, the government focuses on providing cheap labor for the United States instead of building industries and helping local businesses grow).

The University of the Philippines prides itself on one thing: its ability to shape critical thinkers who are not afraid to question mainstream knowledge. I’m very proud of this, too. Most of my college professors didn’t look at me as an empty vessel to be filled up. They saw me as an active agent in the learning process, and they opened my eyes to the importance of asking more questions and evaluating all the possible answers to arrive at accurate and unbiased conclusions.

My Learning Habits and Strategies

I admit, I used to succumb to mediocrity. When studying about new topics, I just read whatever materials my teachers assign. I rarely had the urge to go further, to investigate more about the topic on my own. I guess my lack of motivation hampered my higher complex thinking processes most. While I am capable of applying what I’ve learned in school, I had no means of making sure whether everything I learn is true because I simply accepted what my teachers told me.

I was also the kind of person who rarely asks questions in class. When the teacher calls me, I merely recite what I’ve read from the book or what I’ve memorized word for word. I focused on memorizing definitions instead of using strategies to achieve a deeper understanding of such concepts. I became trapped in this vicious cycle.

I believe that my college education emancipated me from this kind of thinking. As I adjusted to college life, I started to become more curious about everything. While reading books, I looked up unfamiliar words because I was strongly motivated to expand my English vocabulary. When I encountered information (even on the television and the Internet) that seemed dubious, I do lots of research and evaluate the data I’ve collected instead of merely accepting what I’ve seen, read, or heard. Eventually, this became a habit and my hunger for knowledge became much harder to satisfy.

I definitely hope I’d stay this way. After all, how could I expect my students to become critical thinkers if I myself am not capable of thinking out of the box, taking risks, and questioning what the society has already accepted as hard facts?

Constructivist Principles: Just How Important Are They?

3 Nov

Of all the theories discussed in our learning theories class, I admit that I liked constructivism best. It is parallel to most of my ideas of what the teaching-learning process should be. Its main goal is to shape independent learners, it emphasizes that students are active agents in the learning process, and it favors the idea of building a democratic classroom environment.

However, most schools in the Philippines still abide by traditional classroom principles wherein teachers are expected to communicate new knowledge with students who are filled up like empty vessels during the learning process. I myself wasn’t able to experience being in a student-centered classroom until I entered college and became a student in the University of the Philippines.

So how did the absence of constructivist principles affect my early years of schooling? I am going to discuss this further in this post.

Direct Transmission in Elementary and High School

 

 

When I was still in basic and secondary education, I remembered being asked to memorize a lot of things. We had to memorize the capitals of the different provinces in the Philippines, the preamble of the Philippine Constitution, the scientific names of various plants and animals, and even some passages in the Bible. I memorized all of those because I wanted to get a high score in exams so I also memorized most definitions word for word. We were rarely asked to provide explanations to most of the theories and concepts introduced in the classroom.

Our teachers acted more like authority figures than facilitators or guides. We depended on them for the correct answers and we rarely explored alternative interpretations to various texts and theories. We were expected to give answers by the book, so we rarely had opportunities to express our opinions and thoughts as well.

Though we were also asked to perform short skits, engage in classroom debates, and create projects to apply the things we learned in class, most of the time was devoted to class discussions. In a constructivist point of view, this might have been a good thing if we were encouraged to participate more and ask more questions. In our class, we were merely asked to recite some passages in our books while our teacher does all the work in explaining what we have read.

Constructivism and Critical Thinking in College

 

 

All of this changed when I entered college. Since one of UP’s main goals is to shape critical thinkers, most of my professors adopted a constructivist approach in teaching. Though they also placed emphasis on memorizing important facts, they were more concerned about making sure that we can adequately explain the concepts we’ve learned in our own words. They also assigned us several activities that hone critical thinking, such as research papers and critiques on sociological, anthropological and psychological theories.

Most of our professors also made sure that we were comfortable enough to express whatever is on our minds. We praised whenever we came up with intriguing questions, and they guided us toward finding the answers to our own questions. But I also had some professors who adopted traditional teaching strategies. I noticed that I performed better in courses where we were allowed to speak our minds and required to accomplish activities that I find interesting and relevant.

Becoming a Constructivist Teacher

 

 

Although there were some criticisms about constructivism, I still appreciate one of its biggest contributions to teaching – to shift the focus of learning from teachers to students. I believe that students learn best in a student-centered classroom because it gives them the freedom to take part in the construction of knowledge. It allows them to take ownership of their ideas and shapes them into independent learners who have learned how to learn and have developed the motivation to learn for the sake of learning.

This is exactly the kind of teacher I want to be.

Episodic Memory and Self-Identity: An Introspection

3 Nov

It is said that our memories and past experiences shape who we are. How has it shaped mine? For this post, I’d try to dig up some of my early childhood memories. Let’s just hope that my long-term memory cooperates with me this time.

Early Schooling: Did I Even Enjoy It?

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

 

When I was four years old, I kept asking my grandpa when they’ll send me to preschool. I guess the opportunity to make new friends, sing songs with my classmates, and learn to read and write excited me the most. My grandparents finally sent me to preschool when I was five. I enjoyed every minute of the class. I loved doing the most active stuff like playing with my classmates to the most trivial things like tracing dotted lines to form letters of the alphabet. I immediately became comfortable around our teacher, Teacher Julie, because she always approaches us with a smile and she never loses her temper when one of us misbehaves or does something wrong.

Our classroom was quite small, and there were only ten of us in the class. We always had programs for special occasions like Buwan ng Wika (which was still called Linggo ng Wika back then), Nutrition Month, and Christmas. We’re asked to dance, sing, or deliver a declamation piece during these programs. Teacher Julie invites our parents to watch our performances, and I remember that all of us were more than willing to show off our talents.

If I were to describe my preschool years with one word, I’d definitely use the word fun. Teacher Julie showed us that learning new things about the world around us is fun, exciting, and rewarding.

 

Long-Term Memory and Retrieval of Information

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

 

These memories are categorized into autobiographical memory, a type of long-term memory that comprises specific events, experiences and situations in our personal life. It didn’t take me a long time to remember all of these things. They just sort of flowed freely in my mind, so I was able to express them in words in an instant. I guess this proves that information stored in our long-term memory is easier to retrieve when they are marked by positive emotions and feelings. My childhood memories were generally pleasant, so I had no difficulty retrieving information about my early years of schooling.

On the other hand, those who’ve had a traumatic childhood may have difficulty retrieving this kind of information. According to Freud, we unconsciously repress painful memories to protect ourselves from guilt and anxiety. These bad memories are pushed far down our subconscious mind, so it will be hard, if not impossible, to consciously retrieve them.

I’m lucky because I’ve had a very blessed childhood. All of these memories contributed to the formation of my self-identity, so it’s no wonder I turned out to be a well-rounded and well-adjusted person.

Would I Rather Be a Computer?

3 Nov

Computers are indeed very efficient. They have all the codes needed to perform hard tasks such as computing huge numbers, storing important information, and retrieving information whenever needed. They have made our lives very convenient, allowing us to store huge bits of information for later use.

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

 

But would I rather be a computer?

No. Computers may be more efficient than us when it comes to encoding, storing, and retrieving information, but they lack one thing that we people have – rational decision-making skills. When confronted with problems, they can’t weigh pros and cons like we do. They can only execute tasks that they were programmed to do. Though I do admire computers because they never experience retrieval failure like humans do, they don’t have free will – the very thing that makes us superior to these seemingly powerful machines.

Unlike humans, computers have no emotions. They are incapable of attaching significance to the every bit of information stored in their hard drive. Heck, they aren’t even capable of communicating as fluidly as we do. You can ask Google the most trivial question you can think of, but there’s no guarantee that all of its search results would be related to what you’ve just asked.

If computers can think like we do, they’ll probably think we’re weird for doing things that they aren’t capable of doing. Why do we repress, or in computer terms, erase certain memories? Our brain was “hardwired” to do this to protect us from traumatic, painful memories. They’ll also mock us for storing information in a selective manner, but this actually works to our advantage. Why should our brains pay attention to things that don’t matter if it is in fact capable of choosing only the most important information we need to understand the world around us?

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

 

Computers may score high in terms of encoding, storing, and retrieving an impossible amount of information, but it is important to note that they were programmed to do this. We programmed computers to do this. Computers were only designed to improve people’s quality of life, so thinking that they “perform” or “think” better than us is preposterous.

Models and Mentors: What Makes Them Important?

21 Oct


Who are my models and mentors? How did they contribute to my development as a person? Here’s an in-depth review of how the social learning strategies helped me become what I am now.

 

a.)    My Grandparents

 

My grandparents took care of me because my mother had to work in Japan. The most significant lesson they ever taught me has something to do with the way I handle money. My grandma was a spender, while my grandpa preferred saving for the rainy days. I grew up observing their attitude towards money, and I noticed how their different personalities balanced each other’s spending. Thanks to them, I now know that I can treat myself to a nice dinner sometimes, but I should always save some money for later use.

 

Also, my grandparents rarely spanked me. They do punish me for bad behavior, but they made it clear why I am being punished. They never tell me they hate me; they tell me they’re angry because of something I did. I want to be this way when I get kids of my own. However, I don’t approve of spanking so I’ll probably use other forms of reinforcements (i.e. giving them the “silent treatment” and talking to them right after they’ve composed themselves to tell them what they did wrong).

 

b.)    My Mother

 

Though I didn’t exactly grow up with my mother, I was able to observe how well she treats everyone she loves (friends and family). She’s the type of person who’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness just to make sure that her family lives a comfortable life. She’s a generous person who’s willing to help any friend in need. She’s a giver—she takes pleasure in giving rather than receiving.

 

Seeing how well she treats people, I grew up to be just like her. My cousins tell me that I’m the type of friend who’s already “bordering to katangahan.” They tell me that I should set my boundaries, and that I should learn to say no sometimes. I guess my mom unconsciously modeled this behavior. Just like her, I help my friends regardless of their motives because it makes me feel really good inside. Also, I know that they’d do the same for me if I were in trouble, just like my mom’s supportive friends do when she’s the one who’s having problems (vicarious learning).

 

c.)    Teacher Cathy

 

I had the privilege of having Teacher Cathy as our class adviser from first to second grade. She was the sweetest teacher I ever had. She never scolded us, and she always uses a gentle voice when addressing the entire class. She was also a great motivator: she convinces us that we are all intelligent, and that we can complete any task she gives us as long as we put our minds to it.

 

d.)    Teacher Sallie

 

Teacher Sallie was my adviser during fourth year high school. She’s an authoritative type of teacher—she reprimands us when we do something wrong, but she never embarrasses us in front of the class. When one of us does something wrong, that person is asked to stay after class for a one-on-one talk. I was never asked to stay after class, but my friends told me that she only spoke with them about their behavior. She also imposes strict rules and makes us feel that we should follow those rules out of respect than out of fear.

 

e.)    Ma’am Balmores

 

Ma’am Balmores was one of my psychology teachers in college. Like Teacher Cathy, she’s also one of the kindest teachers I’ve ever had. Even when she’s angry at the class for misbehaving, she sees to it that she uses a gentle voice when telling us what we’ve done wrong. She’s also the kind of teacher who’s willing to repeat the same topic over and over again just to make sure that we really understood the lesson.

 

f.)     Ma’am Astudillo

 

Ma’am Astudillo is also one of my favorite college teachers. She was my teacher in Psych 140 (Behavioral Theories) and Statistics. She actually used most of the teaching strategies that we discussed in class. She gave us challenging projects and assignments, and she gave us the chance to make up for our low grades by assigning optional activities for bonus points.

 

Also, she creates exams and quizzes that measure how well we’ve learned the subject through the application of concepts instead of testing what we’ve memorized. She’s a great example of a teacher who promotes critical thinking because she didn’t just present different learning theories in class. She trained us to question all of the theories presented to us by identifying their strong and weak points.

 

The Type of Role Model I Want to Be

 

 

When I become a teacher, I want to be an authoritative model that can help students become independent learners. I want to show them how passionate I am about teaching and learning new things. Once I’ve convinced them that the subject I’m teaching is very interesting, I’m confident that I can leave them to their own devices because they’d have enough motivation to learn more about all the concepts I discuss in class.

 

Aside from helping my students become independent learners, I also want to teach them the importance of respecting each other and doing everything they can to help their fellow classmates. I’ll do this by introducing important rules such as listening attentively to what everyone in the class has to say and fostering teamwork through group activities. Instead of making my students compete for the top spot, I want to prove to them that learning will be more fun if they treat each other as “allies” rather than “threats” to each other’s growth.

 

Lastly, I want to show them that they can do anything as long as their put their minds to it. I want to prove to them that the determination and hard work is the key to success—not IQ or how well they memorize facts. I’ll do everything in my power to erase the misconception that some people were simply born smart so they have the license to exert less effort than others. I’ll do my best to make my students realize that they’re all special in different ways while finding ingenious ways to tap their different potentials.

 

Incorporating Models and Mentors in My Classroom

 

I plan to teach English and Social Science once I get my license. I’ll try to incorporate models and mentors through a number of things:

 

a.)    I’ll give everyone the chance to inspire their classmates by making them take turns when reading short stories aloud (for English) and presenting reports. After giving them honest feedback (in a nice manner, of course), I’ll thank them for trying their best to do well in whatever task I assigned. This way, their classmates will see that their hard work won’t go unnoticed and that I’m only giving them feedback because I want them to do better next time.

 

b.)    I will also invite some of my former students to class. I’ll give them time to introduce themselves and share how much they’ve learned from the subject I’m teaching. They’ll be in charge of the class for that day, so I’ll help them come up with the materials needed for the day’s lesson. I believe that this will make my students realize that they can be that person whom I entrusted the class to. By visualizing themselves as the person speaking in front of the class, they’ll be more motivated to understand every topic we discuss in class.

 

c.)    I’ll talk to the students’ parents whenever I can. I’ll teach the importance of helping their children become self-regulated learners by encouraging them to set realistic goals and motivating them to do their best in achieving such goals. Also, I’ll explain to them that it’s very important that they only guide their children when making assignments and projects. I noticed that most parents would rather do their children’s assignments just to make sure that they kids will get high grades. I’ll explain that this is not a good approach to teaching because it only makes them dependent on their parents and they won’t learn unless they do the tasks themselves.

 

Who Will Be My Education Mentor?

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

I would be honored to have Ma’am Astudillo as my education mentor. I admire her because she never punishes anyone in the class but everyone respects and loves her dearly. She always comes to class well-prepared, and she never runs out of ideas to stimulate our minds without leaving us bored to death. Also, I know that I would learn a lot from her in terms of classroom management because she can handle even the most difficult students without embarrassing them in class.

 

My ideal education mentor will be a combination of the models and mentors that I described earlier. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s willing to share everything he has learned about the teaching profession. He also provides constructive criticisms, allowing me to grow as a teacher without crushing my self-esteem. He’s not afraid to share his experiences in class, both good and bad. He will also show me that I shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes because it is just a part of the entire learning process.

Behaviorism at School: Should it be Banned or Encouraged?

14 Oct

While behaviorism is no longer the most dominant school of thought in psychology, it has long been used to modify the behavior or students at school and children at home. While some people might point out that behaviorist principles aren’t the only means of motivating students, I do believe that these techniques can be very powerful if one knows how to use them.

 

My previous post was already about behaviorism at home so I decided to focus on using punishments and reinforcements at school in this post. Based on what I’ve learned about behaviorism, here are some of the things I propose:

 

a.)    Punishments should be used only when there’s no other alternative.

 

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

 

According to Cherry K, punishments are not ideal for shaping behavior. While they might seem to be effective in decreasing the likelihood of undesirable behavior, using negative stimuli will only suppress the behavior instead of eliminating it completely. A teacher who wants to elicit positive responses from his students should focus on strengthening good behavior by using a combination of positive or negative reinforcements. This way, undesirable behaviors can be replaced with desirable ones without eliciting fear among students.

 

b.)    Reinforcements should be personalized.

 

Cherry K also mentioned that when it comes to reinforcements and punishments, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist. This means that a reward for some students may actually be punishing to others. For example, a teacher who takes his students to play outdoors might think that this is rewarding for everyone in the class. However, some students might not consider this rewarding at all because they prefer playing inside the classroom.

 

c.)    Consistency is the key to using behaviorism properly.

 

Teachers need to be very consistent when administering reinforcements or punishments so as not to confuse their students. Together with consistency, timing is also important because it gives the students an idea of why they are being rewarded (or sometimes, punished) in the first place. If good behavior is not rewarded immediately, the association between behavior and reinforcements decreases. Students might also get confused as to why they were rewarded in the first place, so teachers might accidentally strengthen behaviors other than the ones they intend to reinforce.

 

d.)    Time-outs shouldn’t be considered as punishments.

 

A time-out is an excellent way to modify the behavior of students who are not paying attention or acting out in class. However, it is important to explain to students that time-outs are not meant to punish them—it’s just a way of giving them time to regroup and divert their attention back to what’s happening in the class.

 

e.)    Take extra care when administering punishments and rewards.

 

 

Imagine this: a school principal decides to punish a student who was caught cutting classes by suspending him for a week. While this might seem like a rational thing to do, I actually find it ironic. Obviously, the student decided to cut classes because he doesn’t enjoy being in class. Wouldn’t giving him a suspension send him the wrong signal and make him think that he can spend less time in class if he behaves badly and gets suspended more often?

 

The same thing goes for the use of Premack principle. As mentioned in our module, telling students that they may use the computer after solving some math problems can actually backfire. This will only reinforce their belief that solving math problems is hard and boring, so they might end up doing the task half-heartedly just to get the chance to play computer games afterwards.

 

These are only some of the things that a teacher should remember when using behaviorist strategies in class. Like I said, positive and negative reinforcements are powerful tools for shaping behavior, but one has to use them properly to get the exact results they are expecting.