Principles of learning

Learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it. The more traditional formulation of this idea involves the terminology of the active learner (Dewey’s term) stressing that the learner needs to do something; that learning is not the passive acceptance of knowledge which exists “out there” but that learning involves the learners engaging with the world.

  1. People learn to learn as they learn: learning consists both of constructing meaning and constructing systems of meaning. For example, if we learn the chronology of dates of a series of historical events, we are simultaneously learning the meaning of a chronology. Each meaning we construct makes us better able to give meaning to other sensations which can fit a similar pattern.
  2. The crucial action of constructing meaning is mental: it happens in the mind. Physical actions, hands-on experience may be necessary for learning, especially for children, but it is not sufficient; we need to provide activities which engage the mind as well as the hands (Dewey called this reflective activity.)
  3. Learning involves language: the language we use influences learning. On the empirical level. Researchers have noted that people talk to themselves as they learn. On a more general level, there is a collection of arguments, presented most forcefully by Vigotsky, that language and learning are inextricably intertwined (need to honor native language).
  4. Learning is a social activity: our learning is intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teachers, our peers, our family as well as casual acquaintances, including the people before us or next to us. We are more likely to be successful in our efforts to educate if we recognize this principle rather than try to avoid it. Much of traditional education, as Dewey pointed out, is directed towards isolating the learner from all social interaction, and towards seeing education as a one-on-one relationship between the learner and the objective material to be learned. In contrast, progressive education (to continue to use Dewey’s formulation) recognizes the social aspect of learning and uses conversation, interaction with others, and the application of knowledge as an integral aspect of learning.
  5. Learning is contextual: we do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract otherworldly land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices and our fears. On reflection, it becomes clear that this point is actually a result of the idea that learning is active and social. We cannot divorce our learning from our lives.
  6. One needs knowledge to learn: it is not possible to assimilate new knowledge without having some structure developed from previous knowledge to build on. The more we know, the more we can learn. Therefore any effort to teach must be connected to the state of the learner, must provide a path into the subject for the learner based on that learner’s previous knowledge.
  7. It takes time to learn: learning is not instantaneous. For significant learning we need to revisit ideas, ponder them, try them out, play with them and use them. This cannot happen in the 5-10 minutes. If you reflect on anything you have learned, you soon realize that it is the product of repeated exposure and thought. Even, or especially, moments of profound insight, can be traced back to longer periods of preparation.
  8. Motivation is a key component in learning. Not only is it the case that motivation helps learning, it is essential for learning. This idea of motivation as described here is broadly conceived to include an understanding of ways in which the knowledge can be used. Unless we know “the reasons why”, we may not be very involved in using the knowledge that may be instilled in us, even by the most severe and direct teaching.


Anger Management in the Classroom

An angry teacher is a scary teacher. Ask anyone and he will say the same. We all have had our share of being victimized by angry teachers who refuse to keep a check on their emotion. They comfortably take it all out on students, without concern and care about the aftermath of their insensitive, intense, negative, destructive outbursts of anger. The scars left by angry teachers are permanent, psychological, and subconsciously harmful.

Although teachers are humans who undergo a variety of life stresses, frustrations, and private conflicts, getting angry and showing this anger in a destructive way to students is by no means a justifiable act. It is important to acknowledge and experience anger, but there are ways to dealing with it in a more constructive manner. The following steps would help teachers to handle and deal with their anger with caution:

  1. Acknowledge that you are angry – becoming aware of angry moments or anger in general.
  2. Deliberately make a way to cool down – time-out (“I will come back in 5 minutes,” or “We will start the lesson in 5 minutes.”); deliberately behaving positively despite the anger will eventually help you to become positive and more controlled.
  3. Verbalize the anger – expressing anger is different from displacing it on someone helpless or less authoritative than yourself. Verbalization of anger helps you to channel the intense energy that accompanies the anger into something more positive. Verbalizing also helps you not to focus too long on the anger itself. Rather, as you begin talking about the feeling of anger, it might become clear to you that it’s not worth to dwell on the particularly negative approach to dealing with the issue at hand.

The students of PSYC384 (first semester, 2007) presented the following suggestions to prevent anger in the classroom:

  1. Prepare well for lessons – there is no substitute to preventing problems in the classroom by having a good lesson planned for the students – activities, stimulating questions, open-ended tasks, inquiry, etc.; there are two types of preparation: one type of preparation deals with the day-to-day getting ready for the class to teach lessons. Another type of preparation deals with an on-going watchfulness of a teacher – for example, I read all sorts of books, magazines, internet materials; watch documentaries, movies, etc., all in the hope to gather ideas for my future lessons or for whenever they are needed. As a teacher, I am constantly thinking about making lessons interesting. This is known as an on-going preparation.
  2. Continual learning – being flexible, resourceful, inventive and re-inventive; making lessons interesting is crucial to prevent disruption in behavior among students. When boredom sets in, students use their energies in things that do not help them benefit from the learning experiences provided in the classroom.
  3. Have a positive attitude at all times – take it easy; remember that not every lesson will be fantastic (gauge students’ emotion and your emotion and mental conditions – be realistic).
  4. Focus on positive rather than negative.
  5. Develop high level of teacher efficacy (the belief that everything that you do, say, feel, etc. in the classroom affect students in significant, permanent ways); hold high, realistic, positive expectation for all.
  6. Regulate emotion – acting happy will help you become happy; postpone action/decisions when in anger; give yourself a time-out.
  7. Communicate the anger to your students in a constructive, harmless way (be honest, but tactful).
  8. Remember that it’s okay to be a human! – so, express your anger within the right framework.


Behavior Management Forum: Question No.3

Teachers are pressed for time to cover the syllabus within the time frame specified by the curriculum. While being preoccupied with teaching contents, they inevitably neglect the emotional well-being of students. No provision is made to listen to learners and their concerns.  Emotional  disturbances and  problems eventually spill over and manifest themselves in the form of behaviors that are disruptive in nature.

As a teacher, what can you do to prevent misbehaviors in the classroom while being successful in meeting the requirements of the school in terms of delivering contents?