Like others have articulated, I have not given a lot of formal thought to the pedagogical approach I use as an educator. Over the years, I think I more or less cultivated a generic understanding of ways in which I wanted to create critical thinkers, and students interested in engaging one another in my classroom. Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a faculty development course where we looked at this very issue. Even then, I found myself thinking that I probably should have taken some education courses prior to teaching, in order to ground myself as I attempted to become a formal educator. There is often the mistaken notion that because one has earned the doctorate in their field, that they have somehow mastered all of the elements of the discipline such that they can now teach effectively. This is hardly the case. To become a really good educator takes a tremendous amount of work.
Looking at the frameworks that we were exposed to, I would probably say that my leaning is towards Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory. I would say that this was true even before I knew what Vygotsky’s theory was about. His theory, which emphasizes how cognitive functioning is related to culture, community and historical context, truly reflects my orientation to both teaching and learning. Vygotsky noted the importance of others as we attempt to learn. That others, either more knowledgeable peers, or those senior to us who are more knowledgeable and learned, can support our own learning and gently guide us to reaching higher levels of knowledge.
I recall many, many years ago while a student in high school, I had a math teacher who clearly had a “sink or swim” mentality. It was like she threw us into difficult concepts that we had to somehow figure out, and find a way to demonstrate, to her satisfaction, our understanding of Euclidean geometry. Although I was a strong math student, I suffered under her hands. The classroom environment felt extremely hostile to me, and it did not feel like a safe learning environment. This occurred so many years ago, yet has stayed with me – for far too long. This taught me a lot about learning and the need to feel supported in the process.
Also, when I think about how I have “learned best,” it has more often than not been when I have been able to “do.” This notion of having learners do or practice, is embedded in Vygotsky’s theory. For example, when I was in graduate school training to become a psychologist, I read so many theories about human development, psychopathology, treatment approaches and so forth, some of which interested me greatly, and others, not so much. But it was not until I began working with actual clients (when I was able to “do”) did the learning take place. The process of reporting back to my clinical supervisor, talking about what I did, and reflecting on how I understood what I did, allowed me to feel very active in the learning process. I was now able to make use of very abstract theories with real people, and apply what I had taken in. I was able to show what I had learned. My clinical supervisor, in providing me feedback as I talked about my cases, effectively “scaffolded” me. He or she would provide me with the necessary support to help me move forward, learn how to function as a clinician, to the point where I could work independently. This training to become a psychologist provided me with the type of experience that Vygotsky spoke of in his work. I was able to move through my zone of proximal development and realize my potential over time.
In my work as an educator, I feel it my duty to provide support to students as they move through their learning. I also want my students to recognize that they are capable of learning from their peers and making use of those who are in many ways similar to them, but who may have a little more knowledge in an area that they can draw from. In this way, everyone benefits. We create a more collaborative learning environment where students recognize other students as viable (and valuable) sources of information. The professor doesn’t have to be the fountain of all knowledge and information. Each student can learn and have more appreciation for their own, and others’ ideas.
While I am still learning about web 2.0 tools, I know that I want to make use of in class are the tools that foster collaboration and exchange of ideas. I want my students to speak to one another; share with one another so that they may ultimately learn from one another.