Monday, December 7, 2009

Theory of Mind

In Pedagogy 1 this term, I introduced the concepts "theory of mind" and "folk pedagogy." The former being the ability to attribute mental states to another person and to recognize that they are different and separate from our own. Bruner's "folk pedagogy" acknowledges that we all have a theory of how people learn, often unconsciousactive learning, sometimes deliberate, that guides our teacherly interactions with each other. Perhaps conflating the two, we began to refer to our own theories of mind to get at our changing ideas about how people think and learn. So what is mine?

I think of myself as a fringe social constructivist. By fringe, I fancy myself as being non-traditional. I am guided by an overarching belief that there is not one truth only interpretations of experience and many ways of making meaning of these interpretations. (I am after all a doctoral student; we are dedicated to contemplating our navels.) I tend to question the plausibility of all explanation.

I approach learning as a social activity. By this I mean that learning is a process best engaged in with others. When people of varied levels of skill come together with commitment and energy, learning happens. While I believe the teacher has unique responsibilities, learning can be a give and take among all involved. Whether I am with 5th graders or graduate students, I learn along side my students. As teacher/lead-learner I strive to provide support for each learner. Of course this is a goal and one toward which I continue to work and often make mistakes.

I employ strategies from both behaviorism and cognitivism. From behaviorism, I like "backward chaining" (that is teaching the last skills in a sequence first so that the learner has immediate success and sees themselves completing the task. I try to reward "successive approximations" (that is, giving positive feedback for small incremental successes, rather than expecting perfection). From cognitivism, I pick and choose. I like Will's activating exercise that is like an advance organizer - a way of stimulating schema to attach new learning to. I go for Gardner's controversial multiple intelligences and believe that we had a class of intelligent students, all with exceptional strengths in divergent "intelligences." Though Sweller makes me mad (he doesn't like constructivist practice much), I think he is mostly right about cognitive load. And I think I need to work on this in my own presentation of information. I like minimalism as it relates to the visual presentation of information, but not in my expectations of what students are able to investigate, grapple with, understand.

I haven't met a constructivist I didn't like (he he). But my favorite constructivist approaches include
  • Vygotski's "zone of proximal development." - the notion that there is a sweet spot, if you will, between the learner and the thing learned. In this place the learner can perform or interact with the knowledge successfully, if s/he has the necessary support of a teacher or knowledgeable peer. Outside of the zone of proximal development the learner is over- or under-challenged and learning in inhibited.
  • Bruner's "spiral learning." Bruner sees learning as an iterative process. We come in contact social learningwith an idea, construct a schema as well we can based on our past experience and developmental state. When the concept is presented again at a later date, then knowledge can be broadened and deepened, our schema expanding.
  • Lave and Wenger's "communities of practice." A community of practice is a group of people with shared goals and practices, at various states of expertise. Within the community, a novice can learn the language, actions, traditions and skills of the practice. They can find their zone of proximal development and receive the scaffolding they need to grow.
  • Paperts "constructionism". Papert challenged the concepts of knowledge and learning because he was among the first to position them outside of the learner and discourse. Papert used computer programming as a metaphor for how students could learn together while interacting with and creating objects, first with Logo programming and later with Lego Mindstorms.
  • Scardamalia and Bereiter's "knowledge building." Knowledge building is an expansion of constructionism in that it promotes learning through the manipulation not of external objects but externalized ideas. In other words, S and B encourage students to 1) share their ideas in a public space like a wiki or the software knowledge forum and 2) rather than constructing knowledge individually building on and manipulating the ideas of others.
  • Gee's "game theory" of learning. Gee looks to video and virtual world type games for examples of how to teach. He doesn't think we need to use games, but that we need to use the qualities of games that enable the learner to be challenged and excel. Some of these qualities include clear goals, pleasant frustration, just in time information.
I am particularly excited about two uses of technology that can promshared notional worldote socially constructed learning. One is the use of well moderated forums for asynchronous discussion of ideas (community of practice, knowledge building, zone of proximal development). This is what we do in Moodle, when I structure the situation but much of the learning about a topic comes from students reading each other's ideas and challenging/expanding them. The other is the use of 3-D virtual spaces in which people from diverse locations can meet with experts, explore simulations, construct models of reality, and role play (community of practice, constructionism, knowledge building and gaming.)


Susan said...

Blog on, Girl. Your posts act as a launchpad for my imagination. I always dream bigger dreams after seeing the world through your lens.

Forever your student!

bellabug said...

Hi, Jane!

I was google-ing around and I stumbled on your blog-post here. I am extremely interested in the creative development of online instruction and one of the curriculum development projects that I'm doing right now revolves around the four of the constructivist theories you wrote about here (ZoPD, Spiral learning, Comm of Practice, and Knowledge Building), among other inspirations and theories.

I peeked around your blog and I look forward to reading more after all of my coursework is done this semester. :)