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ELIZABETH OLIVER MARSH University of Connecticut NEAG School’s Two Summers Program 2012-13 • ELIZABETHMARSH@ME.COM

On Thinking and Learning Crafting a  teaching  philosophy  is  perhaps  the  most  challenging  tasks  for  a  practicing  educator.  Often  we   are   charged   with   writing   our   personal   philosophies   as   a   graduation   requirement   for   teacher   education   programs,   having   just   completed   in-­‐depth   studies   of   psychological,   philosophical,   and   pedagogical   theories,   only   to   find   that   our   beliefs   are   often   set   aside   during   our   first   year   of   practice   in   favor   of   survival  strategies.    It  is  only  with  years  of  practice  and  time  dedicated  to  true  professional  reflection  that   a   teacher   can   adequately   develop   a   learning   theory   that   reflects   their   beliefs   and   their   pedagogical   personality.   Certainly,   in   reading   my   first   attempt   at   a   teaching   philosophy   (over   ten   years   ago),   my   thoughts  have  evolved  incredibly,  for  the  better.       Of  course,  the  basic  premise  that  every  student  can  and  wants  to  learn  has  not  changed  over  time,  but  I   have   become   less   fanatical   about   a   particular   school   of   thought,   in   favor   of   developing   a   series   of   theoretical  tools  and  ‘tricks’  to  appeal  to  the  diversity  of  my  students,  as  their  needs  change  each  year  and   in   different   disciplines.   I   have   developed   these   tools   and   methods   through   years   of   reflective   growth,   collaborative   exchange   and   maintaining   a   flexibility   that   focuses   on   the   end   justifying   the   means—if   student  learning  is  the  intended  goal,  the  techniques  to  achieve  that  goal  can  be  derived  from  a  variety  of   schools   of   thought:   behavioralism,   constructivism,   developmental   theory,   social   cognition,   and   situated   cognition.   My   philosophical   default   is   finding   what   works   for   which   students   and   providing   those   experiences   as   often   as   possible   to   those   students.   Forming   a   deep   understanding   of   the   variety   of   theories  of  practice  leads  to  better  decision-­‐making  in  the  planning  and  implementation  stages  within  the   classroom.  Having  a  ‘theoretical’  tool  kit  available  to  access  when  trying  to  reach  a  student  is  quite  useful,   as  it  seems  that  each  student  has  different  needs  and  differentiating  for  each  student  is  a  huge  challenge   18 November 2012


to face.  Luckily,  teaching  is  not  all  trial-­‐and-­‐error,  as  we  can  capitalize  on  the  research,  time,  and  effort   that  theoretical  researchers  have  put  into  fleshing  out  good  practices  through  studies  and  observations.   These  theories  give  us,  as  practitioners,  a  great  starting  place,  using  what  these  experts  say  about  how   students   learn   and   putting   them   into   practice   where   and   when   they   make   the   most   sense.   Leveraging   these  theories  in  the  classroom  aims  to  create  an  environment  and  an  experience  in  which  students  learn   best.   In   addition   to   a   sound   theoretical   base,   learning   happens   best   in   classrooms   that   reflect   the   teacher’s   enthusiasm  and  personality;  one’s  teaching  philosophy  should  reflect  personal  beliefs  about  learning  and   thinking.     The   foundations   for   my   teaching   come   from   my   personal   experiences   as   a   learner,   a   sibling,   an   avid   reader,   and   an   enthusiastic   traveler.   My   guiding   principles   are   the   pursuit   of   awe   and   wonder   in   learning   and   emphasizing   and   empowering   student   independence.   For   the   last   eight   years,   I   have   displayed   two   of   my   favorite   quotes   in   my   classroom   and   work   every   day   to   implement   them   into   my   teaching:   “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder.” Gilbert K. Chesterton “To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, We did it ourselves!” -- Lao Tzu Incorporating  a  variety  of  teaching  theories  and  my  personal  philosophy,  I  believe  that  student  learning  is   best  achieved  when  students  are  fully  engaged  in  awe-­‐inspiring  material  and  content  and  when  they   believe  that  they  can  be  successful  independently  of  teacher  support.    

Engaging Learners Through Attention-Sustenance There is  little  doubt  about  the  role  attention  plays  in  learning  and  constructing  long-­‐term  memory  in  a   meaningful   way.   To   help   learners   move   information   into   working   memory,   “it   appears   that,   at   least   in   most   cases,   we   [learners]   must   pay   attention   to   it”   (Ormrod   p.   163).   Teachers,   in   an   attempt   to   ensure   18 November 2012


students attend   to   the   skills   and   content,   should   focus   on   creating   “a   variety   of   environmental   support   systems   that   enable   them   to   make   sense   of   new   situations   and   help   them   tackle   challenging   tasks   and   problems   (Ormrod   p.   155).”   After   all,   “instructional   practices   can   have   a   significant   impact   on   how   students   mentally   process   classroom   material   and   thus   also   on   how   effectively   students   learn   it.”   (Ormrod,  p.  157)     Essentially,   a   teacher   who   is   best   preparing   students   to   move   content   into   their   working   memory   will   excel   at   both   attention   grabbing   techniques   and   attention   sustaining   instructional   methods.   Some   examples  to  look  for  in  a  ‘best  practices’  classroom  are  further  detailed  below:    

Attention Grabbing: In  attempting  to  capture  student  attention,  it  is  important  that  the  teacher  choose  content  that  is  relevant   and  meaningful,  possibly  even  controversial  (Ormrod,  p.  150).  Content  should  also  include  topics  that  are   incongruous   (such   as   myth   busters)   or   mysterious,   capitalizing   the   drive   to   problem-­‐solve   or   to   tie   up   loose   ends   (Ormrod,   p.   146).   This   content   ought   to   be   introduced   using   several   pointers   from   Ormrod,   including  motion,  intensity,  novelty,  social  cuing,  emotion,  personal  significance,  and  variety  (Ormrod,  p.   181).   Paired   with   powerful,   provocative   questioning   and   constant   student   monitoring,   teachers   can   leverage  these  tips  to  capture  student  attention  (Ormrod,  p.  182).  

Attention Sustaining: However, “even  with  attention-­‐getting  and  appropriately  paced  instruction  and  activities,  learners  differ   in  their  ability  to  control  what  they  attend  to  and  consciously  think  about  (Ormrod  p.  183).”    Now  that   teachers  have  student  attention,  they  must  be  careful  not  to  lose  it  through  explicitly  modeling  effective   methods  of  using  working  memory  and  by  avoiding  activities  that  result  in  cognitive  overload.   18 November 2012


Modeling effective   strategies   for   encoding   is   vital   in   the   learning   environment.   “When   experimenters   specifically   tell   people   to   use   a   certain   encoding   strategy   to   help   them   learn   information,   learning   improves  (Ormrod,  p.  152).”    By  teaching  content  through  chunking  and  creating  activities  for  students   that   encourage   chunking,   teachers   can   help   students   begin   to   organize   information   within   working   memory   (Ormrod,   p.   168).     Moving   students   from   concrete,   more   tangible   ideas   allows   learners   to   visualize   a   concept.   From   there,   teachers   can   move   into   abstractions   (Ormrod,   p.   150)   in   support   of   schema   construction.   Explicitly   utilizing   the   law   of   Pragnanz,   wherein   “individuals   tend   to   simplify   information   for   easier   organization   (Ormrod,   p.   146)”   externally   models   for   students   the   process   to   be   internalized.   Building   activities   that   require   student   translations   or   tasks   ‘in   your   own   words’   helps   to   encourage  organization  within  working  memory.  As  in  the  Sultan  study,  time  and  instruction  should  be   provided  for  student  to  problem-­‐solve,  fail,  restructure  and  then  gain  insight  (Ormrod,  p.  147).  The  value   of  failure  leading  to  success  is  much  more  likely  to  be  retained  and  accessed  later.     Avoiding   cognitive   overload   ensures   that   teachers   do   not   lose   students   along   the   way.   To   ensure   that   students  do  not  get  overwhelmed,  constant  monitoring  and  checking  for  understanding  is  essential.  It  is   also   important   to   manage   the   students’   environment   and   introduction   to   new   material   in   a   way   that   works   with   what   students   already   know.   “People   store   information   in   long-­‐term   memory   most   successfully   when   they   relate   it   to   things   they   already   know   (Ormrod,   p.   173).”   Activating   schema   allows   students  to  access  what  they  already  know.  Pulling  that  schema  (which  can  be  complex  and  complicated)   requires  only  a  small  portion  of  the  working  memory,  allowing  other  content  and  information  to  be  plied   at  the  same  time.  This  can  help  to  avoid  cognitive  overload.         Eliminating   any   unnecessary   distractions   is   central   to   avoiding   cognitive   overload   (Artino,   p.   430).   “Regardless  of  how  we  view  attention,  one  thing  is  clear:  People’s  ability  to  attend  to  the  stimuli  around   18 November 2012


them is  limited,  such  that  they  usually  can’t  attend  to  or  otherwise  learn  from  two  complex  situations  at   the  same  time.  Thus,  learners  must  be  quite  selective  about  the  information  they  choose  to  process,  and   they   must   ignore—and   so   lose—much   of   the   information   they   receive.   (Ormrod,   p.   167)”   Teachers   can   help  in  this  selection  process  by  eliminating  competing,  ancillary  stimuli.     Teachers   can   also   honor   the   challenge   and   difficulty   of   moving   material   into   working   memory   by   providing  students  with  mental  breaks  (Ormrod,  p.  182).      Because  schema  construction  happens  within   working   memory   (Artino,   p.   428),   it   is   essential   to   use   instructional   practices   that   promote   “abstractions   and   elaborations,”   while   students   are   mid-­‐construction,   leading   to   “germane   cognitive   load”   (Artino,   p.   429).   One   effective   method   for   effective   cognitive   load   is   scaffolding   skills   and   content   to   avoid   overloading  working  memory,  such  as  providing  “pretraining”  in  prerequisite  knowledge  (Artino,  p.  431)   or  “instructional  tailoring”  (Artino,  p.  433).  Addressing  dual  modality  by  providing  content  through  more   multi-­‐modal   materials   (Artino,   p.   427).   In   essence,   the   teacher   is   “helping   the   student   ’off-­‐load’   some   essential  processing  from  the  visual  channel  to  the  auditory  channel.”  (Artino,  p.  431)     Ormrod   references   several   more   extreme   constructivists’   belief   that   the   role   of   the   teacher   is   to   be   as   minimal  as  possible.  However,  I  still  believe  that  students  (as  memory  novices)  still  require  a  great  deal   of   guidance,   as   they   construct   their   understanding   and   as   they   learn   to   store   information   for   later   use.   Although  students  may  not  have  schemas  available  for  every  content  or  skill  set,  “instructional  Guidance   can   act   as   a   surrogate   for   these   missing   schemas,   thereby   promoting   schema   construction   (Artino,   p.   432).”  

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Fostering Self-Efficacy and Personal Agency Educators often   speak   of   ‘meeting   the   students   where   they   are’.   Traditionally,   this   phrase   refers   to   differing   levels   of   numeracy   or   literacy,   but   it   can   also   be   used   to   describe   students’   affinity   for   (or   dread   of)  learning  opportunities  and  the  skills  that  they  have  developed  over  time  to  fully  engage  in  and  own   their  learning.   To  encourage  student  success  in  the  classroom,  it  is  important  to  foster  their  feelings  of   self-­‐efficacy.  According  to  Ormrod,  “not  only  do  people  with  high   self-­‐efficacy   try   harder   and   persist   longer   but   they   also   employ   more   effective   study   skills   and   are   better   able   to   delay   gratification   when   their   immediate   efforts   don’t   pay   off.   As   a   result,   people   with   high   self-­‐efficacy   tent   to   learn   and   achieve   more  than  those  with  low  self-­‐efficacy”  (Ormrod,  p.129).  

(Figure from Ormrod, 2012, p.118)

As self-­‐efficacy  is  central  to  student  empowerment  and  independence,  fostering  the  development  of  self-­‐ efficacy  and  personal  agency  should  be  central  tasks  to  learning.  To  scaffold  for  students  whose  levels  of   self-­‐efficacy   are   low,   it   is   essential   to   provide   personal,   behavioral,   and   environmental   supports   to   promote  growth  and  confidence  in  their  learning.   Perhaps when considering personal agency as a set of teachable skills, as integral as literacy and numeracy, students can become their own greatest agents. Capitalizing on Bandura’s personal agency (Ormrod, p. 113), I have always believed in empowering students to view their education as their own, as an extension of themselves, and to advocate for it as they would any other right. To support students in developing a sense of personal agency, it is necessary to build my teaching practices around the frame of reciprocal causation (Ormrod, p. 118). With that framework in mind, I can make informed pedagogical decisions that foster a supportive environment, clearly define self-advocating and self-regulating behaviors, and allow for students to reflect on their personal growth and development.  

Personal: Meeting Students where they Are 18 November 2012


Many factors impact a student’s self-efficacy and ability to self-advocate (Ormrod, p. 129-130). Previous successes and failures (wherein consistent failure leads to lower efficacy), current emotional state, messages they receive from others (possibly unintentionally inhibiting success), and observations of others (peer influence) can have a detrimental impact on student self-perception. Lack of self-confidence usually exhibits itself in lack of engagement and weak personal agency. Students get into a cycle of not succeeding, and then choose to disengage, because if I try, I won’t succeed anyhow, so why bother? In an attempt to scaffold students towards self-efficacy, students should be in the practice of self-regulation. Self-regulatory activities include setting standards for oneself, participating in reflective observations for self-awareness, and evaluating personal performance. Self-regulation gives students some realistic perspective on their own successes and failures and the level of required support from the teacher should vary, depending on how successful a student proves to be in reflection and evaluation of their own performance. The theoretical basis for this practice is steeped in cognitive theory, where self-regulated learning is viewed as an extension of metacognition.

According to Gagné et al, another theoretical approach appropriate in developing personal self-efficacy can be through attitude learning. A direct method of attitude learning is through the behaviorist establishment of contingencies of reinforcement (Skinner, 1968). New learning, in this case the display of self-regulatory behavior would be rewarded positively. If the behavior continues to be reinforced, then it will eventually be rewarding in itself and therefore lead to habitual self-regulation (Gagné, 96).

An alternative approach is the more indirect modeling theory, popularized by Bandura (Gagné, 97). To ensure that modeling is most effective, the model must be both appealing and credible to students. If the teacher serves as this model, it is vital that a previously established and meaningful relationship exists between the student and the teacher. In attitude learning, the desired attitude is best shown through a series of choices and actions. Therefore, the effective model would be based on a series of choices wherein each opportunity within the choice allows for the desired attitude to be exhibited. The model would weigh each choice aloud, explaining the 18 November 2012


pros and cons for each choice and the possible resulting consequences for each choice. This direct modeling could eventually be replaced by simulated experiences, role-playing, and other interactive experiences (Gagné, 99), providing an opportunity for students to experience the choices and weighing pros and cons in an arena that allows for reflection and self-observation. Most important to this approach to modeling is that the teacher continues in the role of a good model, long after the learning target or activity geared towards attitude learning. Do as I do is much easier to model than Do as I SAY, and certainly garners (and ensures) more student respect.

Behavioral: Modeled and Reinforced According to Rushton’s research (Ormrod, p. 124), wherein altruistic behavior was modeled for, then imitated by children in the study, it is possible to learn altruistic, pro-social behaviors within the social cognitive approach. It stands to reason that other behaviors like self- advocacy, self-regulation, and self-efficacy could be learned within the same context. In pursuit   of   personal   agency,   target   behaviors   include   risk-­‐taking   (choosing   the   tougher   option),   goal-­‐setting,   effort   and   persistence   (not   getting   derailed   by   setbacks),   and   learning  and  achievement  (just  because  I  can’t  today,  doesn’t  mean  I  can’t  tomorrow).  (Ormrod,  p.  128)   These  behaviors  should  be  constantly  modeled  and  positively  reinforced  when  exhibited.  

“[S]chool should be a place where a student encounters more success than failure.” (Ormrod, p. 45) In that  light,   using  positive  reinforcement  of  a  social  nature  works  best.  My  experience  is  that  personal  relationships   are   the   most   effective   way   (beyond   well-­‐crafted,   engaging   activities   and   assessments)   to   garner   appropriate   behavior   and   habits   of   work   within   the   classroom.   According   to   Ormrod,   positive   social   reinforcers,  such  as  “teacher  attention,  approval  and  praise”  (Ormrod  p.  54)  are  especially  effective,  but   without  a  meaningful  connection,  how  much  can  a  teacher’s  approval  really  mean  to  a  student?  There  is   no  doubt  that  social  reinforcement  within  peer  groups  works  as  a  method  of  shaping  behavior  amongst   students   (and   adults),   so   it   makes   sense   that   it   would   translate   into   the   classroom/school.   Within   the   classroom,   acknowledging   positive   behavior   and   habits   of   work   is   essential,   and   honoring   them   aloud   18 November 2012


with specific  praise  is  also  important.  I  often  use  a  student’s  name  and  then  say  something  to  the  effect  of,   “Johnny   has   really   discovered   an   effective   way   to   organize   his   learning.”   Knowing   the   student,   I   will   either  share  his  thought  with  the  class  or  ask  him  to  share  and  then  praise  again,  very  specifically.  I  also   use  generalized  praise,  “I  like  the  way  that  we  came  back  together  from  group  work  so  quickly-­‐-­‐  I  can  tell   you  guys  are  ready  to  keep  moving  on  with  our  learning.”  I  usually  couple  grouped  praise  with  a  thank   you,  to  further  illustrate  that  positive  behavior  is  a  conscience  act.  I  also  use  non-­‐verbals  like  signaling,   thumbs  up,  pats  on  the  back.  I  am  careful  to  avoid  using  positive  reinforcement  in  a  way  that  is  too  vague   or   addresses   minimally   positive   behaviors,   as   I   think   that   can   undermine   the   value   of   the   positive   reinforcement.   I   believe   the   most   effective   positive   reinforcement   happens   immediately   and   often.   It   must   be   meaningful   and   specific,   but   it   should   not   be   administered   in   a   miserly   fashion.   When   you   see   great  behavior  (academic  or  social),  you  should  praise  it.  If  you  can’t  do  so  right  then,  follow  up  on  it  later   with  the  specific  student.  This  practice  helps  students  to  see  that  you  are  watching  and  monitoring,  and   that  you  notice  when  they  get  it  right.       Because   the   consistency   of   positive,   social   reinforcement   plays   such   an   important   role   in   modeling   appropriate  behavior,  one  might  mistake  the  theoretical  basis  for  the  practices  above  as  behaviorist.  In   fact,   social   learning   theory   has   elements   of   reinforcement   and   punishments,   especially   vicarious   reinforcement  (Ormrod,  p.  114).  As  in  Bandura‘s  (and  Professor  Artino’s)  example  of  aggressive  behavior   towards  the  punching  doll,  this  element  of  social  learning  is,  in  essence,  learning  from  the  mistakes  (or   successes)  of  others.  Certainly,  there  is  an  element  of  desired  behavior  leading  to  a  reward,  which  then   results  in  the  continuation  of  the  desired  behavior,  but  because  students  can  exhibit  the  desired  behavior   continuously   after   having   seen   a   peer   or   model   receive   the   reward,   they   can   assume   that   when   they   exhibit  that  behavior,  they  can  also  be  rewarded  like  the  model.  

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Environmental: Shared Success and Modeling A behavioral approach to modeling can create an influential environment. After clearly defining self-advocacy, modeling it is essential. “I ‘need’ to hear one of you at a time (I can’t listen to more than one of you at once)”, or “I ‘need’ hands raised before shouting out an answer (I use it to get feedback and give thinking time)” models expectations within the learning environment. To clarify ‘needs’, it is one’s best learning situation. When students then display appropriate advocacy, I encourage positive choices (Ormrod, p. 114) through frequent, positive reinforcement (Ormrod, p. 119). I model peer-to-peer feedback (mostly positive), so I expect third-person reinforcement to continue. As students see that imitation of behaviors brings praise (Ormrod, p. 114), they internalize these habits, even if imitation is delayed and pay-off isn’t immediate (Ormrod, p. 116).

Building from social learning theory, students can also receive support from the teacher and from their peers. When students feel they have the proper support to succeed, they are more likely to feel a greater sense of efficacy. Additionally, building group learning opportunities for achievement provides less risky learning opportunities for more tentative learners, provided activities are designed to avoid authoritarians and coattailers. This builds a wealth of successes upon which to reflect.

Cognitive theory plays a major role in motivation, wherein the amount of social support students believe they have has a major impact on their sense of personal motivation and agency. To ensure that students feel supported socially, it is important that students experience an atmosphere of “mutual caring, respect, and support among all class members” (Ormrod, pg. 499). To foster this kind of environment, it is essential to create situations in which students feel comfortable taking academic and social risks, and are greeted with affection and respect when taking those risks. It is through these risks that students experience success, and as each success builds on the previous success, students begin to build the confidence that is integral to self-efficacy.

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Works Cited

Artino, A.R. Jr. (2008). Cognitive load theory and the role of the learner experience: An abbreviated review for educational practitioners. AACE Journal, 16(4), 425-439. Ormod, J. E. (2012). Human Learning, Sixth Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall. Gagne, R. (1992) Principles of Instructional Design. (Fourth Edition). Belmont, CA: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York. Freeman Duffy, T.M. & Jonassen, D. H. (Eds.) (1992). Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction: A Conversation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Elrbaum Associates, Publishers.

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