At the beginning of these last three essays I promised to discuss the significance of the way we conduct our classroom to ensure we could get the best learning outcomes. We have discussed structure and expectation and now I will address what I described as ‘lesson content’ which I often refer to as the pedagogy of the lesson. I have to make a clear distinction between what I mean as the pedagogy and what is generally accepted in the education community.
The common belief is that pedagogy is the study of how knowledge and skills are communicated between the teacher and the student. This is a huge area of study and is well covered and understood in any teaching course and rightly so; it is extremely important. The difference between what is understood and what I want to add to the discussion is that like most theoretical approaches the approach is top-down, that is it is up to the teacher to put the knowledge and skills ‘into the student’. I will argue that it is the teacher’s role to present the topic to be studied so it is available to the student which would literally be exactly the same process but it is also the responsibility of the teacher to produce an environment where that student can focus on the lesson.
Learning, be it knowledge or skills is the acquisition of memories and the ability to manipulate those memories to address presenting challenges. Learning is not a top-down process it is bottom-up under the ‘control’ of the student. The key consideration is what does the student want to or need to learn rather than what we want them to learn!
In a previous Newsletter (see Motivation Students – What Drives Them’ – 03/14/2019) I discuss my model of human needs and the following are the major points:
- The principle of homeostasis states that when we are in equilibrium we are satisfied. When we are in homeostatic dis-equilibrium we will experiences stress and that stress will cause the brain to initiate behaviour that will return us back to balance. Our behaviour is much like an air conditioner, when everything is at the right temperature nothing happens. If it gets too hot, or too cold the thermostat is activated and the machine is turned on to either cool or heat the environment as required. In our case, when we are comfortable there is no motivation to change but when we are ‘uncomfortable’ our behaviour is turned on in an attempt to return to a point of equilibrium.
- The brain has evolved, from the bottom up to manage our physical status, the area of our:
- Primary drives – predominantly controlled in the brain stem/mid brain to make sure we are physically comfortable. If we are too cold we will seek to warm ourselves.
- Secondary Drives - our need for emotional stability is controlled in the limbic system. This is predominantly focused on our social acceptance.
- Tertiary Drives – here our intellectual satisfaction is under the influence of the cortex, predominantly the frontal lobes. This is where we satisfy our curiosity.
The point is the teaching goals are focused on the tertiary part of the child’s brain but access here is only achievable if the child’s social and physical needs are satisfied.
Throughout these essays there is a theme that understands that children with severe behaviours are subjected to stress in the classroom because their expectations learned in a dysfunctional home clash with that of the school. These issues have been well canvassed but there is more to consider for all kids when ensuring their primary and secondary drives are satisfied. Kids are not little adults and they need to develop skills that will allow them to ‘survive’ in their community and eventually reproduce. The following is an illustration from Andrew Fuller that explains the different developmental stages.
What is well known is, in the early years the brain sets itself up to learn new skills. It does this by providing an excess of the material myaline that consolidates memories by creating a sheath around newly formed neural pathways to consolidate that pathway (memory) and make it more efficient.
This process of creating and consolidating memories continues throughout life. What is particularly important for the teacher is the formation of peer relations and self-esteem critical for the development of the child’s sense of self. For most kids this is a process that occurs consistently both at home and at school but for some, those raised in dysfunctional homes there is a conflict. This is where the teacher is required to address this disparity.
Successful teachers, particularly in primary schools, the age these skills are under construction almost reproduce a sense of family in their classrooms (see Newsletter - The Tribal Classroom’ – 08/10/2018) where social skills are part of the hidden pedagogy! Professor Bill Mulforde of the University of Tasmania has shown that “some of those other outcomes of schooling, such as socialisation, are in fact better predictors of later life chances such as employment, salary and so on, than literacy, numeracy and exam results”.
Recent studies have shown that about age eleven this same excess myelination is present in the prefrontal lobes. This is the time our ‘teenage brain’ begins to mature. This is the part of the brain that is required to succeed in academic pursuits. Again, the teacher needs to deliver the content of each lesson understanding that there is a need to progressively make the coursework self-directed so they graduate as independent learners.
What I have not discussed and really what is never overtly recognised is the arrival of each child’s sexuality. The PDHPE syllabus does address sexuality but apart from a period when some schools adopted the Safe Schools initiative that supported the diversity of sexual expression, those kids with more complex needs are ignored. Like most, I have no advice about this problem other than to understand it exists and is significant for all children and be aware that solving simultaneous equations is hardly going be more interesting than a first infatuation!
This essay doesn’t really give ‘rules’ on what to do. Somehow good teachers get these issues and we get through these stages of development however, for those kids who have been raised in difficult homes the teacher has to be doubly aware that their growth from learning the rules of being human, mastering communication skills and successful socialisation on to becoming a productive, reproductive adult is a difficult task! This is why structure, expectation and of course strong relationships are indispensable.