Tag Archives: philosophy of teaching & learning

Mōhio – knowledge

Possible dream jobs of the future: organic fashion designer, robot rights lawyer, rainforest reconstructor, dinosaur breeder, or even solar plane racer… As a teacher today, I am preparing learners for an uncertain future, full of unimagined possibilities!

The rate of technological change is at an exponential rate.
As a child, I would imagine being able to access knowledge anywhere and anytime (I wanted limitless books – a library on demand!)… I had no idea that would become reality in my lifetime. We cannot predict now what will be available in our world in 2025… or 2035?!

The future options available are unimaginable to us now…
The rate of technological change has an impact on us in small ways – recently the first AI robotic lawyer, ROSS, was hired; and a self-driving vehicle caused the first fatal accident of its kind leaving us to wonder who was at fault; man or machine? As the world as we know it becomes more like the dystopic Sprawl imagined by William Gibson, there are questions raised about what is important to teach the youth of today about the possibilities of tomorrow?

What is knowledge? Is it an idea, or an action?

Knowledge as Informative / Noun: Blocks of facts (who, what, when, where) and ideas (how, why) that help us navigate the world.

Knowledge as Transformative / Verb: A process of becoming (rather than being) that is specific and unique to each person.

Knowledge definition is impacted by your view of reality. Here we encounter metaphysics and two differing ontological views:

  1. that perception is reality (external and same for all)
  2. that process is reality (internal and uniquely constructed)

So, how do we know things at all?

In a nutshell, humans use reason and evidence to construct knowledge and understanding. Even then there is an element of choice – we must choose to believe that what we discover is true, and fits with our developing theories and assumptions about the world.

How do we decide what is valuable to know? Who decides? Why?

  • Enculturation of people as a social purpose for education, so that we share similar values and belief as a community, and can live harmoniously.
  • Qualification or gaining useful skills and knowledge which has value as a commodity, can be quantified, measured and exchanged for a fee.
  • Subjectification of individuals, or the self-directed growth in areas of interest and critical thinking that keep us satisfied as individuals.

The intent to create a predictable and measurable education outcome (treating schools as enculturation or qualification factories, churning nameless masses into ‘ideal’ citizen workers) takes away the spontaneous and innovative development opportunities of individuals. Personalised flexible learning pathways are increasingly important, yet education cannot be a sovereign or chaotic system without constraint either. There needs to be an option that balances structured, predictable intents with personalisation.

Knowledge is what empowers us to be, to create, to dream, to act, to achieve, and to connect; and the purpose of education is to learn how to learn, to communicate, to unlearn and re-learn, to create, to question, to apply, and to challenge and be challenged… 


What what assumptions about teaching and learning underlie my teaching practice?

  • A supportive environment recognizes and promotes the acceptance of diverse individuals. Learners need to feel a sense of belonging and safety.
  • Quality learning occurs within a collaborative and constructive community. Learners who work together and encourage each other can focus their combined strengths towards achieving outcomes greater than could be achieved alone.
  • High learning-focused expectations should be clearly communicated. Learners should feel challenged and empowered to strive for their own success.
  • Learners should be encouraged to develop relevant knowledge, flexible skills, and a mindset that enables their active participation in their community and the wider world.
  • The teaching and learning environment is influenced by the relationships developed with the wider community, particularly learners family/whānau.


Whakaaroaro rua – reflection II

What will the constructive learning community look like in the 21st Century?

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

The four key teacher actions will be enhanced by ICT tools:

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – through learning about and using editable spaces where participants can observe others learning processes and learn about and appreciate diverse ways of problem solving and developing ideas, for example Google Docs and wikis

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – through learning about and using ICT tools which can become creative and constructive learning artefacts such as Prezi and blogs

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – sharing knowledge digitally, through text, images, audio and video creates a dynamic repository of ideas that can be reflected upon and becomes a record of learning

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – digital communication and collaborative interaction which can be stored, shared, published and is not the property of one individual but becomes the artefact of all

Can you see how using ICT tools can support students’ exploration of diverse ways of thinking?
… And support students striving for a shared objective – one that advances each members knowledge and skill?
… And maintains an emphasis of learning about learning by making learning visible?
… And provides methods and motives for sharing what is learned?
When ICT is aligned with the characteristics of a constructive community of learners, we have effective e-learning.

When a constructive learning community has mastered learning-oriented patterns of practice necessary for working together as partners in learning, the next step may be to take their skills and apply them to a wider field. Creating connections with other communities is a way to develop student’s authentic participation and socially responsible citizenship.

When students begin exploring beyond the classroom there are a variety of platforms available for different purposes – depending on whether students are primarily producing and publishing still image, audio, written or video content; and how they intend to communicate and collaborate with their cyber-peers. As the teacher you will need to consider the most appropriate platform and then explicitly teach the language, skills and processes involved. The eLearning Action Plan for Schools 2006 – 2010 (MoE, 2006) States that, “…it is the teacher’s strategic and deliberate planning of the learning and use of ICT that will ensure the desired learning takes place…”(p.10).

There are many experienced teaching practitioners available to guide teachers – many using the same information and communication mediums that students can benefit from. So here is an ideal opportunity for the teacher to learn alongside their students. In fact, the eLearning Action Plan for Schools states that “Effective teaching for all students will depend on teachers becoming confident and capable users of ICT and understanding how to integrate ICT effectively into the classrooms in order to achieve the desired learning outcomes for students” (MoE, 2006, p. 10). One of the easiest ways for teachers to learn about ICT integration is to seek out what other teachers are doing and many ICT savvy teachers are sharing their experiences through professional and class blogs.

Why “promote a collaborative, inclusive and supportive learning environment”, that “provides opportunities and support [students] to engage with, practise and apply new learning to different contexts” and “assists [students] to think critically about information and ideas and to reflect on their learning”?

Well, for a start, doing those things covers a couple of the Registered Teacher Criteria for New Zealand teachers, it also covers many of the characteristics for quality teaching of diverse learners described by Alton-Lee in the Best Evidence Synthesis as well as fulfils the vision written for students in the New Zealand Curriculum statement. The Ministry of Education also defines best practice for e-learning as “using technologies effectively across the curriculum to connect schools and communities and to provide accessible, relevant, and high-quality learning…opportunities that improve student engagement and achievement.”

Creating Constructive Communities embraces modern teaching practices and tools for learning to support our youngest citizens as they become confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners.

Whakaaroaro tahi – reflection I

It has been a lengthy blog hiatus. At one stage I thought I might never get back on the wagon – that the momentum would continue to propel my forward trajectory into learning and teaching. After nearly four years of tertiary training though, I have learned a thing or two about the importance of taking a time-out, resting, regenerating and reflecting on the journey…

So … let’s reminisce with the first in a series of reflection highlights:
Here is my theoretical basis of teaching, which I call
“Creating Constructive Communities”.
I hope there are some points of interest for teachers and learners…

What is a constructive community and how do they work?

Classrooms are considered the training ground for young people destined to take their place in society as responsible citizens. The rules and responsibilities students are exposed to and engaged in socialise them into patterns of practice. This belief is founded on the socio-cultural theory of  Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) – who asserted that children acquired the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their community through social interaction.

Constructivist learning theorists, such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Maria Montessori, assert that children construct knowledge and develop understanding of the world around them through experience, and believe that students should be encouraged to reflect on their own learning and thinking, rather than being taught to recall facts or mimic processes without deeper understanding.

Together, these two theories create a new approach to education, social-constructivist learning communities – classrooms where rules and responsibilities are learning-oriented, teachers and students work together as partners in learning, and patterns of practice are based on democratic ideals to prepare students for active citizenship. In these learning communities children actively participate in constructive learning experiences at their particular level of readiness and are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and develop reflective thinking skills.

The characteristics of a constructive learning community are,
according to Bielaczyc and Collins :
1. recognition of the diversity of each member of the learning community
2. a shared objective – that of continually advancing each members knowledge and skills
3. an emphasis on learning about learning
4. methods and motives for sharing what is learned

In the learning community, the patterns of practice are modelled and supported by every member, as they work together towards their learning objectives. Teaching of the language, skills and processes required for full-participation and critical reflection is explicit. Time for discussion about the learning objective and the learning process is provided, so students can share their thinking with others, learn from others ideas, and develop understanding about their learning and about the learning of others.

The role of the teacher

The role of the teacher in the constructive community is to model and guide student development of pro-social behaviour and constructive classroom conduct; as well as facilitating engaging learning projects, challenges, and scenarios for students to explore. Teachers are guided by their one core teaching and learning responsibility – to support learning. Teachers do this by respecting the agency of the learner, demonstrating respect, ensuring clarity about what is being learned, and maintain responsive reciprocal relationships with each student, work group and wider school team.

4 key teacher actions underpin the successful adoption of the four community characteristics:

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – this is done by encouraging students to be open-minded to new ideas and the ideas of others, to take responsibility for their learning, and to take risks in order to learn from mistakes.

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – this empowers students to take control of their learning and thinking and allows them to articulate their ideas in order to share them with others and engage in meaningful explanations and dialogues.

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – providing time for students to think critically and reflectively about their knowledge, skills and attitudes. These reflections are also informative windows into the student learning process that is valuable for teacher understanding of student progress.

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – this is done by demonstrating commitment and respect for the learning relationships in the community, and by acknowledging and encouraging the learning that is occurring, as well as recognising and affirming student contributions to the development of the community.

The role of the student

The role of the student in the constructive community is to be an active participant in learning, taking responsibility for their learning, collaborating with others and maintaining respectful and responsive relationships with other members of the learning community, both teachers and students. The constructive community model is an environment in which students can develop the patterns of practice required to become a socially responsible citizen.

These learning-focused relationships are reciprocal and are infused with the concept of ako – or the acknowledgment that knowledge is: developed by incorporating each student’s unique strengths and prior knowledge; strengthened by shared experience; and that teacher and student interaction is a constructive force for both participants.

Coming in my next blog post…
What a constructive learning community could look like in the 21st Century and why digital collaboration is the new best practice…