Theoretical Basis of Teaching

I believe that student interest should motivate as much of classroom curriculum as possible. While recognizing the reality of the pacing guide and state standards, I believe it is not only possible but necessary to supplement these prescribed texts with others that derive from the life and experience of the student. This is particularly important with struggling readers or ELD students still trying to master the language. Curriculum theorist John Dewey has been my guide in this pursuit since I began studying the history of educational theory years ago.

Inspiration for this research, conducted during Edct 585, came from a genuine “aha” moment in my life. Over the past year, while also looking for full-time teaching work, I have reflected on my love of Shakespeare and how I can help students to feel a part of that themselves. These two pursuits merged as I was driving to a job interview in Marin. While considering which questions I may be asked in the interview I asked myself, “If you are studying technology in the classroom, what can technology do to help ELD and struggling students deal with Shakespeare?” To my shock I had no answer, and I knew that I needed to have one. A fundamental belief of mine is the need for differentiated instruction. I have already had students feel they were not being challenged enough in class, and have considered ways of providing enrichment activities in my class. But the needs of struggling students are very different.

I set about to find some of the reasons students struggle. Hasselbring and Goin (2004) summarize the reasons why struggling (as opposed to learning disabled) students have problems studying: insufficient word recognition, leading to difficulties in decoding texts; difficulties in the extraction of complex ideas; failing to identify relevant context clues; problems with prefixes and suffixes; poor short-term memory. Many of these problems can be solved through a combination of classroom interaction and reading practice.

A progressive teaching style aids with the former. It is Democratic, and empowers the students to engage in cooperative activities and to develop a sense of self-discipline. Because the “real world” needs people to deal with problems that are not taught in class, the focus is to teach students to think critically, rather than giving them information that may not be relevant five years later. Ornstein put it succinctly: Progressives place “emphasis on how to think, not what to think.” (p. 38) So teaching style should mirror student learning style.

John Dewey (as cited in Flinders & Thornton, 2009) himself comments on these ideas in his “Pedagogic Creed”. The best lessons are those that authentically arise out of social situations, such as interest-driven internet groups or in-class study groups with the freedom to explore their own ideas. Even a struggling student who may not have read an entire passage will benefit from these social interactions, and will have something to add to the group’s meaning-making.
Although all students can benefit from these social groupings, many will require different support in order to succeed in class. Teachers have a responsibility to teach all students, and the only way to know what teaching method will work for each student is to know that student, their capabilities and their interests. Dewey observed that action precedes thought for a child, which suggests that the way to know what a student is thinking is to observe their actions. Only then will a teacher know which tools in their instructional arsenal will work.

Regardless of the methods used, the goal for every student is the same: that they learn to use their own abilities to the utmost – that they learn to think as clearly and as critically as possible. Though his use of pronouns shows the gender bias of the age, Dewey’s vision of a student fully prepared to meet the world is inspiring. It can easily be adapted to apply to students of both genders – a student adaptation that Dewey would no doubt approve of:

To prepare [students] for the future life means to give [them] command of [themselves]; it means so to train [them] that [they] will have the full and ready use of all [their] capacities that [their] eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that [their] judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently. (p. 35)

This is the vision I have for each one of my students. That I know I will be unable to succeed with every student does not deter me from trying. For some the struggle is just too great, and it is these students that I believe can be best helped through the use of technology used to provide differentiated learning opportunities.

The bulk of the paper is a review of various teaching programs. I feel now that I did not go deep enough into the research, for the list of affordances outweighed the list of drawbacks, and I know for a fact from personal experience that some programs such as the Peabody Learning System (the prototype for the Read 180 program) had serious drawbacks that I did not uncover in the reading. Although analyzing existing technology helped me identify strengths and weaknesses that I could then apply to my own curriculum plans, I plan to look much closer at the limitations of this technology during my thesis research.

Theory.Curriculum Analysis.Progressive

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