With reference to your experience in the classroom, discuss those factors that you consider to be most important in providing an effective learning environment informed by your knowledge of contrasting theories of learning. Classroom practise has come a long way since the traditional teaching strategies criticised in the Plowden Report (1967). We rarely see excessively formal classrooms and the general aim has been to move towards a more action-orientated and child-centred approach, as championed by the Plowden Report.
The current intention is for the learning environment to be humane, focused, structured and stimulating; a place the child enjoys being. This essay will consider what is required for both teaching and learning to be effective and worthwhile. The class teacher is by far the most important individual in the classroom; it is their behaviour and characteristics, which influence the general ethos of the whole class and the behaviour and attitudes displayed by the children. The effect of the teacher can be easily observed by the different behaviours the children display when another teacher is in charge.
During my time in the classroom I had the opportunity to observe the class being taught by a supply teacher. From the onset the supply firmly laid down her expectations and boundaries and there was a noticeable difference in the behaviours the children displayed. Although I would not say that one teacher’s style was better than another, it was clear that by emphasising different values and behaviours the children acted differently. Through my own experience and observations, I believe that when a teacher meets a class for the first time, they must from the onset demonstrate that they are keen to communicate their knowledge.
As stated in Robertson (1996) it is through organisation, presentation, communication and monitoring that the teacher can capture the interest of the children and gain their respect. The child-centred approach to education highlights how important it is that the class teacher is sensitive to the children’s individual needs, it is also vital that the teacher has a good understanding of each individual child’s strengths and weaknesses, personality and individual learning styles.
It is through assessment, that the teacher has the opportunity to gain a good understanding of each child’s prior knowledge of a subject and their favoured learning style, observation of play, general classroom behaviour and social interactions can also help the teacher understand each child’s personality. During conversations with the class teacher I observed on my first teaching practice, she highlighted that it is mainly through observations during whole class, group and individual teaching, that she acquires her knowledge about the children.
She emphasised the importance of getting to know each child on an individual basis and where possible, it is important to communicate with the children’s past teacher. The way in which the teacher teaches the class will have a significant affect on learning. Piaget suggested that children learn best through actions rather than passive observations (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 1999). Piaget saw the child as a young ‘scientist’ and believed it was more productive for the child to be free to explore, touch, manipulate and experiment, as this allowed the child to assimilate and accommodate their knowledge.
Piaget highlighted the importance of the teacher assessing the children’s prior knowledge of a subject and then building upon their knowledge, this relates to Piaget’s theory of ‘learning readiness. ‘ Piaget’s view was that an effective teacher must promote active learning; it is their role to create situations, which challenge the child and allow them to discover new concepts. Whereas Piaget focused on a more discovery-orientated style of teaching, Vygotsky highlighted the importance of ‘scaffolding’ through demonstrative teaching, which was later developed further by Bruner (Smith et al, 1999).
Through ‘modelling’ solutions, the aim is that the learner will eventually imitate the method modelled in a more elaborate form. As the child begins to understand a concept the ‘scaffolding’ can be removed. During my observations, the teacher taught using elements of both Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories. During a science lesson on the properties of materials, the teacher provided the children with balloons filled with water and allowed them to feel and observe the object, rather than just telling them what the object would feel like.
This allowed the children to use their own senses to explore the objects properties, a very Piagetian approach. The lesson also contained elements of Vygotsky’s theory of scaffolding, as the teacher provided the materials she wanted the children to use and gave examples of the answers she was looking for, such as “the balloon feels ‘squidgy’ when filled with water”. I believe it is important to take on a number of elements from each of the various teaching theories and be flexible when teaching, depending upon the responses of the children.