What part(s) do I play in learning (2.0)

Taken from: Glendale inquiry (image licensed for reuse).

I can’t fathom learning being static. Learning cannot be acquired, we can never completely know something. Learning is a process, a way of being, it is in progress. 

From a phenomenological perspective I’ve always (rather I’ve always thought that I) corrected my thinking and changed what I believed to be true based on new evidence or encountering new people.  For instance, when confronted with a new idea that fills me with tension, or that I want to explore, others have told me I can be argumentative.  My desire is not to fill people with anxiety or to initiate conflict, but I want to deconstruct new ideas, and sometimes I ask questions a little too passionately in order to make sure I fully understand these new concepts.  During my Master’s courses one of my fellow learners suggest I paid more attention to my “dark side”.  She argued that by understanding the ideas I didn’t want to explore I would improve my ability to argue what I believed.  We had a passionate conversation where I tried to deconstruct her thought process in order to understand the benefits.  After hearing her arguments, I decided that her way of thinking could be very beneficial to my work.  When we talked about it afterwards she thought I was being far too aggressive in my arguments, so after that day I tried to change both my thinking and my practice.  Just because I have a way of being now, my ontology is one that can change (and should change) in order for me to continue learning and growing.  As this example illustrates, I believe I may be a constructivist with my thinking as this quotation resonates deeply with me; “For the most part, constructivist accounts are not much concerned with assembling or building as they are with discarding and revising” (Davis & Sumara 2003, p. 126).  When working with others, or on my own I reflect on my beliefs and why I believe something. After thought and conversations I am able to rebuild or remodel my thinking in order to become a (hopefully) more effective learner and person.

Going through this course has been an eye-opener for a number of reasons.  While I’ve always considered myself more of a dynamic learner and a teacher, it was interesting for me to see what aspects of behaviourism, situated cognition and expert knowledge resonated with me.  Certain aspects of constructivism have also irked me in some way, and as a result, I’ve been feeling this tension to be better able to describe my own epistemology and ontology as well as inquire into how this relates to my dissertation.  When I think about the ideas from the papers that have filled me with tension, it is not solely because I disagree with the concepts.  Some of the points on the table (see attached), that have made me prod deeply into myself are because I disagree with them.  Others are there because they resonate too deeply within me and I want to embrace and embody different values.  Some of the points make me feel as though I’m looking into a mirror and I’m not completely happy with what I see.

When first confronted with Skinner’s (1958) article, I thought I would disagree with everything he said.  Behaviourism is a bad word in the International Baccalaureate world, and I thought there would be little I could relate to.  However, it seems like Skinner was trying to gamify education.  He wanted immediate results that students could apply directly to their learning.  From a motivation perspective he thought, “In the light of this present knowledge a school system must be called a failure if it cannot induce students to learn except by threatening them for not learning.” (Skinner 1958, p. 977) I wonder how often we make small threats in class.  As a teacher who is outside most of the time, I know that boundaries are important.  At times there have been threats to stop the engagements if people could not respect the places we were occupying.  In hindsight, I am worried that these kinds of threats are really me making up for my lack of engaging the students properly.  If I have to resort threats instead of motivating students to learn, have I failed our students?  This idea strongly resonated with me, I believe that if we can think about how students learn, and what they want from the learning we are better able to “induce students to learn”.  

When at school we are often far removed from what real people are doing.  “Archetypal school activity is very different from what we have in mind when we talk of authentic activity, because it is very different from what authentic practitioners do” (Brown, Collins & Duguid 1989, p. 34).  When teaching, I am often guilty of removing students from natural and authentic learning opportunities.  If I identify as a socio-constructivist I should be looking at how the culture and society play a part in our learning, but I feel that I (and many of my colleagues) unintentionally remove students from authentic opportunities.  Situated cognition has reminded me that it is important to critically think about the places and parts students will learn in authentically.

Glasser (1992) suggests that, “To optimise teaching, we need to design practice in which learners are encouraged to make connections between principles and procedures” (p.270).  Experts in the community, and expert environmentalists, are systems thinkers. They are able to see patterns and make suggestions for improvements or draw conclusions based on these patterns.  Although I am hesitant to be an expert in class, expert thinking feels like something I agree with.  If we can teach students to think about the patterns they see and wonder about how these patterns are connected, I believe we will help them learn more effectively.

Vygotsky’s ideas surrounding socio-constructivism have always resonated with me.  I don’t believe (and I find it hard to understand that others believe) things are isolated.   As an environmental educator, I believe things are connected.  I look for systems and wonder how they work.  “A final impetus to understanding how social and cultural factors influence cognition is the perspective that thought, learning and knowledge are not just influenced by social factors but are social phenomena” (Palincsar 1998, p.349).  Learning and knowledge are not something that can be separated from community.  Where we are shapes who we are and how we interact with the world around us.  For the past six years I’ve had a blog, before this course I never thought about how this resonated with my socio-constructivist beliefs.  Recently I put my first draft of this paper on the blog and I got a response from someone I did not know, it is interesting to see how other’s views shape this paper, and how so much of what I do is influenced by the community around me (virtually or otherwise).

In particular, the “outside – in” model (Lourenço 2012, p. 287) is one I resonate with deeply.  I believe this idea is extended a little further where knowledge and ideas come also from beyond our culture to the place(s) around us. As both an environmental educator, and someone who believes in God I see most knowledge being situated outside of myself.  I try to pay close attention to the things going around me and work with others to create an understanding of what may be happening and what truths can be understood through our observations.  Since the knowledge was and is never really mine, I don’t believe I can transmit it to someone else.  I believe I can share my thinking and that may resonate with other people, or perhaps their thinking can influence or change mine.  When I think of where most things are (physical, knowledge-based or meta-physical) I can’t see them as residing in me, or being at home in me. If this is true then, most knowledge must come from the outside and (briefly?) rest with me as I continue to wonder and wander.

Like both Piaget and Vygotsky, I believe knowing is a way of organising your thinking and understanding the world around you.  Piaget suggested we reconstruct the concepts around us individually, while Vygotsky thought this was a social construction (Lorenco 2012).  I do not believe that we can reduce knowledge to simple facts, or break learning down into specific chunks that we can transfer to others.  We make sense of the world by understanding how things are working in a moment, we react differently to a variety of teaching styles, content and people.  “Social norms and physical knowledge are contingent in their very nature for they change with the passage of time” (Lorenco 2012, p. 189).  If learning were just items of knowledge to be delivered and we could find an optimal delivery method, then it would make sense if we were all able to learn most things.  However, our understandings of the world change how we approach the world. This means although we are all capable of learning, we don’t all learn the same way, or express our knowledge in the same fashion.  Although students can build their own “necessary knowledge” from a Piagetian perspective, these ideas are still universal truths. (Lorenco 2012) As teachers we need to make sure we are understanding what the students are expressing and providing opportunities to change how the classroom is working in order to meet the needs of all learners.  Vygotsky notes that “[t]he investigator must…view concept formation as a function of the adolescent’s total social and cultural growth, which affects not only the contents but also the method of his thinking” (Lorenco 2012, p.286).

One of the tensions that I am exploring in this course is I can believe that knowledge comes from outside in, but real construction comes from the meaning making I do internally.  If I really believed in social constructivism, I wonder if I would never have left Canada.  What gave me the ability to walk away from my society and culture if I really am a product of the things around me?  What developed my questioning ability if the people I grew up with seemed satisfied in my hometown?  Exploring this difference in social construction is one aspect I need to explore.  More than this I wonder what else is involved in social constructivism. I mean, where does motivation play a part, what about the content, how is the more than human world involved?  While I thought I believed fully in constructivism, I can’t figure out where these things play a part.  Exploring these tensions and wondering why the things that resonate with me feel comfortable will be an important aspect of the “work” I do in this class to prepare for my dissertation.  If I know who I am as a learner, and then how assessment plays a role I can clarify my epistemology which will help me communicate the importance of a sense of place in education.


Brown, J.S., Collins, A., Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher. 18:1 32-42

Davis, B. & Sumara, D. (2003) Why Aren’t They Getting This? Working through the regressive myths of constructivist pedagogy. Teaching Education, 14:2, 123-140, DOI: 10.1080/1047621032000092922

Glaser, R. (1992). Expert knowledge and processes of thinking. In D. F. Halpern (Ed.), Enhancing thinking skills in the sciences and mathematics (pp. 63-75). Hillsdale, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc

Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine, & S. D. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 63-82). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10096-003

Lourenco, Orlando. (2012). Piaget and Vygotsky: Many resemblances, and a crucial difference. New Ideas in Psychology, 30, 281-295

Palincsar, A.S. (1998). Social Constructivist Perspectives on Teaching and Learning. Annual Review Psychology. 49, 345-375

Skinner, B.F. (1958) Teaching Machines. Science. 128:3330,969-97

Teaching Machines (Skinner, 1958) Expert Knowledge (Glasser, 1992) Situated Cognition (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989) Cognitive Constructivism (Davis & Sumara, 2003) Socio Constructivism  (Palincsar, 1998) Communities of Practice (Lave 1991) 
Ideas that intrigue me “When an examination is corrected and returned after a delay of many hours or days, the student’s behaviour is not appreciably modified. (p. 969) “Composing a set of frames can be an exciting exercise in the analysis of knowledge.” (p. 975) “In assigning certain mechanisable functions to machines, the teachers emerges in his role as an indispensable human being.” (p. 976) “In the light of this present knowledge a school system must be called a failure if it cannot induce students to learn except by threatening them for not learning.” (p. 977) “Coordinate with these abilities, experts in science and mathematics often make use of qualitative reasoning to approach a problem that will require quantitative solution” (p. 263)    “Experts perceive large meaningful patterns” (p. 264)   “To optimise teaching, we need to design practice in which learners are encouraged to make connections between principles and procedures.” (p. 270) “Given the chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms.” (p. 34)   “Archetypal school activity is very different from what we have in mind when we talk of authentic activity, because it is very different from what authentic practitioners do.” (p. 34)   “Authentic activity, as we have argued, is important for learners, because it is the only way they can gain access to the standpoint that enables practitioners to act meaningfully and purposefully.” (p. 36) “… it was difficult to communicate this point to the teachers in a manner that would not be taken as a challenge to their personal or professional integrities.” (p. 124) “…constructivists are usually aligned more with the Darwinian model of structural fluidity and ongoing adaptation than with the Cartesian assumption of linear causality and steady progress.” (p. 125)    “For the most part, constructivist accounts are not much concerned with assembling or building as they are with discarding and revising.” (p.126)   “It is understood that while learning might be dependent on teaching, it is never determined by teaching.” (p.130) “A final impetus to understanding how social and cultural factors influence cognition is the perspective that thought, learning and knowledge are not just influenced by social factors but are social phenomena.” (p.349)   “Merely having the right answer was not consistently enough to persuade the other child.” (p.351)   “These semiotic means are both the tools that facilitate the co-construction of knowledge…” (p.353) “Developing an identity as a member of a community and becoming knowledgeably skillful are part of the same process, with the former motivating, shaping and giving meaning of the latter, which it subsumes.” (p.65)   “The theoretical view emphasizes the relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing.” (p.67)   “This conception of learning activity draws attention to the complex ways in which persons and communities of practice constitute themselves and each other.” (p.74)

Ideas that fill me with tension “Making sure that the student knows he doesn’t know is a technique concerned with motivation, not the learning process” (p. 975) “He has found that students do not pay attention unless they are worried about the consequences of their work.” (p.975) “In the guise of teaching thinking we set difficult and confusing situations and claim credit for the students who deal with them successfully.” (p. 975) “The acquisition of competent performance takes place in an interpersonal system in which participation and guidance from others influences the understanding of new situations and the management of problem solving that leads to learning. (p271 & 272)  “If, as we propose, learning is a process of enculturating that is supported in part through social interaction and the circulation of narrative, groups of participants are particularly important, for it is only within groups that social interaction and conversation can take place.” (p. 39) “Piaget further suggested that the social exchanges between children were more likely to lead to cognitive development than exchanges between children and adults.” (Palinscar, p. 350)   “Development occurs as children learn general concepts and principles that can be applied to new tasks and problems, whereas from a Piagetian perspective, learning is constrained by development.” (Palinscar, p.353) “This is a particular challenge in Western societies in which individualistic traditions have prevailed.” p.355)   “It is hard to imagine a more significant challenge to social constructivism than promoting meaningful learning for all children, especially for those who are linguistically and culturally diverse.” (p.368) “To commoditize labor, knowledge and participation in communities of practice is to diminish possibilities for sustained development of identities of mastery.” (p.65)   “If becoming a master is not possible in such circumstances, the value of accruing to knowledgeable skill when it is subsumed in the identity of mastery devolves elsewhere or disappears.” (p.76)

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