Critical Appraisal Paper
Use your developing knowledge of different learning and teaching theories and methods to, critically examine and justify your current teaching practice.
Appraise current practices, reference theories and viewpoints to help you explain your current practice and to help you to locate areas of your practice you are interested in developing further.
Make reference to your Reflective Journal in instances where the journal captures key points where you reflect on your practice and start to identify areas where changes and developments are needed.
“Like a sculptor, the teacher should follow the unique grain of each child’s personality slowly revealing the individual within. In natural individualism there is a concern not only with intellectual development but also with emotional, spiritual and physical growth. Above all, naturalists wanted to address the whole child: mind, body and spirit.” (Robinson, 2011, p.180)
Natural Individualism an expression coined by Ken Robinson in his book Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative (2011) is how Robinson describes the work of the following inspirational, forward thinking educators who all placed the needs of the child at the centre of their work:
Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1847); Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852); Maria Montessori (1870-1952); Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925); Carl Orff (1895-1982) and John Dewey (1859-1952)
What Robinson describes is what I refer to as the nurturing of a child’s holistic development which I believe to be at the heart of my teaching practice. I feel very connected to Carl Orff’s approach to Music, Dance and Speech Education as this approach, which is known as Orff Schulwerk, has been the focus of my research and creative practice for several years. My understanding of what it means to be an inspirational teacher and an inspired learner come from experiences in which I have been absorbed in creative, multi-disciplinary, artistic Orff Schulwerk inspired engagement.
In recent years, I have also been drawn to the work of Froebel, Montessori and Steiner and I am intrigued to visit the Nursery Schools and Primary Schools in Scotland that have adopted the pedagogical approaches; learning theories and teaching methods of these educators.
In this paper, I will unpick my understanding of a child centered educational approach, or rather a person centered educational approach. Although my research in learning theories has, to date, mainly been circulated around young learners, I feel that much of what is expressed is of huge benefit to everyone. The Progressive Education Movement and the philosophy of learning known as Constructivism will be addressed through the work of Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Lev Vygotsky.
Progressive Education Movement
The Progressive Education Movement of the mid 19th century was challenging to what may be described as the more rigid previous educational norms of the time. Naturally this was welcomed by many and opposed by others. In my Reflective Journal, I note that “John Dewey (1859-1952) is highly regarded as the American educator key to the development of the progressive education movement in the United States. His contemporaries were Maria Montessori (1870-1952), Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934).” (Reflective Journal Entry 1)
In her book, Theories of Childhood – An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky, Carol Mooney describes progressive education as the “movement toward more democratic and child-centered education.” (Mooney, 2013, p.14) Mooney reflects that Progressive Education Movement theorists shared the core beliefs that “children learn from doing and that education should involve real-life material and experiences and should encourage experimentation and independent thinking.” (Mooney, 2013, pp.15-16) Furthermore, in addition to education being child-centered, education “must be both active and interactive [and] must involve the social world of the children and the community.” (Mooney, 2013, p.16)
Children learning by doing; children engaging in real-life, meaningful work; children experimenting and finding their own answers and solutions; children developing autonomy in their learning and discovering how to learn alongside others are some of the ideas expressed through the work of Piaget, Montessori, Dewey and Vygotsky. These ideas are core to Constructivism.
Constructivism in Education
“Meaningful learning is knowledge construction, not reproduction, conversation, not reception, articulation, not repetition, collaboration, not competition, reflection, not prescription. [Teachers should] relinquish authority and let the students assume it. Teach them to understand and respect others perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews. There’s no such thing as objectivity everything is subjective. We are the catalyst for change and together we can help our students take ownership for their own learning.” (Becker, Accessed 21.01.2015)
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning that, as its name suggests, is concerned with how human beings construct knowledge and make understandings of the world in which they live. From my reading of the work of Piaget, Montessori, Dewey and Vygotsky, I understand a Constructivist person-centered approach to education in the following ways:
- To support active, hands on learning.
- To facilitate the learning process, as a teacher, in different ways so that learners can make connections in their knowledge by building upon prior experiences; enabling them to arrive at their own conclusions and solutions.
- To ensure that people have opportunities for collaboration, time and space to work together.
- To respect that people have multiple intelligences therefore knowledge is received and expressed in a variety of ways.
I feel that when a teaching approach is child-centered or person-centered, the teaching emphasis is, not only, in carefully sharing tasks and activities that hold meaning and value, but also, in nurturing a learning environment that is conducive for each person to find their own pathway for constructing their own knowledge and understanding. Here the knowledge and experience of the teacher is paramount in guiding the learning journey with direction and understanding.
“[Dewey] believed that teachers need to have confidence in their skills and abilities. He believed teachers need to trust their knowledge and experience and, using both, provide appropriate activities to nurture inquiry and dispositions for learning in the children they work with.” (Mooney, 2013, p.17)
I am captivated by Mooney’s choice of language “to nurture inquiry and dispositions for learning”. In my Reflective Journal, I have reflected that “nurturing a hunger for learning and viewing learning as something that we human beings are all hard wired to do” (Reflective Journal Entry 2) is very much at the heart of a teacher’s work. Therefore, “progressive planning and clear documentation/evaluation” (Reflective Journal Entry 3) work is vital and an active part of teaching practice.“The teacher’s role is always active when planning, delivering and reflecting on learning.” (Reflective Journal Entry 3)
Supporting each student’s personal growth and holistic development, while paving the way for happy life-long learning and discovery is the role of the teacher.
“I respect a teacher who can ask interesting questions and has the patience to watch somebody attempt to discover an answer to them.” (Jerome Bruner as quoted in Becker, Accessed 21.01.2015)
When thinking about how best to facilitate learning and environments conducive for learning, I have been reflecting on how I share and present ideas and information to the children and adults whom I work with. I have found it beneficial to reflect on how I do this: musically; kinaesthetically; linguistically and intellectually.
Musically – My first studies in teaching began with the Zoltan Kodaly approach to Music Education. During my studies with the British Kodaly Academy, I learned to use my natural singing voice as one of my main modes of communication during music making workshops for children. This is something that I have developed over the past 10 years and it now feels very natural for me to introduce ideas through singing. I also have developed using my spoken voice in a lyrical, musical way. I enjoy using rhythmical speech and playing with dynamics and timing. I have discovered my capacity to be playful with my voice when teaching and I believe that this is very valuable and important. I feel that using the voice in expressive ways captivates and holds attention. It is more memorable for the listeners and opens up channels for different kinds of response.
Kinaesthetically – My kinaesthetic awareness has really developed over the last few years. I feel much more aware of my use of gesture and facial expressions during my teaching. During my studies at the Orff Institute, I began to explore mine and non verbal forms of communication as powerful means of delivery. Encouraging active silence in my teaching and sharing ideas through movement has been very inspiring. Using my full body in expressive, dynamic ways; I have begun exploring teaching complex rhythmic material through body percussion patterns. Furthermore, I have also been able to express a vast variety of musical ideas including: form, structure, dynamics, starting, stopping, tempo, articulation and improvisation through kinaesthetic teaching. I believe that this style of teaching complements the learning style of many learners. It is an area of my practice that I wish to give more attention to. When teaching with verbal instructions, I have found that I need to think very carefully beforehand so that I am clear and concise and so that I do not ‘over talk’. Expressing an idea without language can be very immediate in one sense; there can also be moments of confusion and uncertainty but depending on the task and the group of learners, I have found that kinaesthetic teaching can be met with creativity, playfulness (often the activity can take on an entirely new direction) and the exploration of other kinds of intelligence such as intuition and collaboration.
Linguistically – I believe that my linguistic skills have improved in my teaching and I feel that I am continually growing in my capacity to communicate ideas with fluidity and clarity. The more I reflect on my creative practice the more able I am to recognise key ideas, themes and processes that I can translate to others through clear, logical, meaningful and understandable language. As my teaching experience and practice grows, I feel that I can share more examples of work in context. This I believe to be very valuable as students of all ages and stages are interested when I connect a moment of learning, of knowledge acquisition with a real-life experience or learning and teaching discovery.
Intellectually – Working in Higher Arts Education is providing me with many rich opportunities where I can communicate the thought processes of my creative practice. When I am teaching in schools and within the community, I am teaching and facilitating learning by ‘doing’, leaners are learning through active engagement and participation. When teaching in the RCS, I am facilitating learning by ‘doing’ and also through sharing the thought processes which underpin this work. This is interesting work because, in a sense, I am asking student learners, for example Community Music students, to engage on two levels. Firstly, as an active participant engaging first hand in creative music and dance activities and secondly, as a Community Music student teaching artist who may incorporate these ideas into their own practice. The latter level of engagement requires careful support on my part because I want students to feel able to make the musical ideas that I share their own. I want to share processes for how we can approach new materials and how we can adapt ideas for different contexts. I want to be able to successfully communicate the building blocks of a musical idea and inspire students to be able to translate these ideas in their own way, using their own unique skills and talents.
Mooney, C.G. (2013) Theories of Childhood – An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (Second Edition) Redleaf Press U.S.A
Robinson, K. (2011) Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative. UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_theory_(education) [Accessed 17.01.2015]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(philosophy_of_education) [Accessed 17.01.2015]
Becker, A.K., Bruner – Constructivism in Education https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXUJMNtZh_s [Accessed 21.01.2015]
Turnbull, J. Coaching for Learning PDF