THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK - DESCRIPTION OF THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES
From all the education theorists that I know and have studied in previous years, there are two which I find more interesting and whose theories are more similar to the way I understand the learning process and its different steps. These theorists are: Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner.
Piaget described cognitive development in terms of stages from birth to maturity.
These stages can be summarized as follows:
1. Sensor and motor stage (from birth to age two):
The children advance from reflex operations and non differentiated surroundings to complex sensor and motor actions connected to the environmental patterns. In other words, objects are permanent and relationships between objects that are similar begin.
2. Preoperational stage (ages two to seven).
Objects and events begin to take on symbolic meaning and a purpose. The child shows an ability to learn more complex concepts from experience, as long as familiar examples of the concepts are provided.
3. Stage of concrete operations (from ages seven to eleven).
Children start to organize information into relationships that are logical and it becomes easier to manipulate information and solve problems. This situation happens if children can remember past experiences or concrete objects are accessible. Children are able to judge in reversible, reciprocalconnections.
4. Formal operations stage (ages eleven and up).
The person is able to produce formal and abstract operations, understand the connections in time and space, analyze ideas, think in a logical way about abstract data, formulatehypothesis, think about possible consequences and build theories and conclusions. Experiences around the individual and his own intellectual potential are the factors that stimulate his learning.
Piaget’s cognitive steps presuppose maturation: mental operations are sequential. Assimilation is the incorporation of new experiences into existing ones. The child must also develop new cognitive structures. This process is accommodation; the child´s existing cognitive structures are modified and adapted in response to the environment. Equilibration is the process of balancing what is already understood, the dual language of assimilating and accommodating to one’s environment.
Jerome Bruner has been a figure of the so called “cognitive revolution” and has made a profound contribution to the process of education and to the development of curriculum theory.
His landmark text “ The Process of Education” (1960) compiles four of his key theories:
1.The role of structure in learning and how it may be made central in teaching.The approach taken should be the technical one. The way we teach and learn about the structure, is the center of the problem of transfer. If we state that if we learn earlier, we will learn easier, we need to offer a general perspective where connections between things that we know before and later are easily understood.
2. Readiness for learning.The assumption is that we can teach to any individual any subject independently of their stage of development.
3.Intuitive and analytical thinking.Intuition is the way that we deduce possible formulations without following the steps that will help to make valid or invalid those conclusions. This is a key aspect of the productive thinking.
4. Motives for learning.Ideally, the interest that individuals could show for the subject they want to learn will be the best stimulus to learn. The reasons for learning should be based as much as possible on the interest of what is being learned.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK - THEORY ADOPTION
My curriculum map will be based on a unit about animals for a first grade classroom included in a Science for ESL students program.
I agree with what Howard Gardner says about how intellectual activity is anywhere and everywhere, whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third-grade classroom. I keep telling my students to observe, bealert, and admire what we see around us, when they go to the park with theirparents, when they go to the store to buy groceries, and when they visit a museum, because knowledge and learning are everywhere and they are able to embrace them if they want to.
Your personal conception of culture and its objectives helps to form your conception of education. In a school community like Cicero, where 96% of students are Hispanic and where Spanish is the first language in many homes, culture has to be connected to education. One of my priorities when I came to teach into the U.S. and met my first students, was to learn about their culture, traditions, history, words in Spanish used in Mexico and not in Spain. After five years teaching in a bilingual class, I can integrate culture in my courses, using traditional music, pictures from Mexico, adding Mexican terminology to my teaching, celebrating festivities, etc. Students are more willing to learn when they feel education is connected to their daily lives, and I can see the positive results, year after year.
The structure in learning is essential when we refer to teaching. The unit about animals categorizes animals in the different groups. Everything is connected, because they are all animals, but some groups are very similar while others are very different. Venn diagrams and compare and contrast strategies will be used in almost every lesson as well as visual clues to support meaning and comprehension of concepts. All my students are ESL learners, and I use all these strategies in the rest of the subjects too with very good results. The purpose of the unit is to provide a general picture of animals, where students are going to discover at the end of the unit, things they learn at the beginning.
In the same way that we find mature people in their 20´s and adults in their 40´s that behave as children, we can teach units that are planned for third or fourth graders to first graders. This is how we use differentiation. The animals section of my classroom library is big and includes picture books to books with extensive information about a specific animal. Students will be free to choose their books for their own interest and projects and will be informed by the variety of resources available. In previous years, I have had very gifted and talented students that were always looking for more information. From my experience, the willingness to learn is not limited by age.
I will also use the ideas about intuitive and analytical thinking that are presented in The Process of Education (1960). These are essential features of productive thinking. Science and math are subjects where is very easy to apply these processes, but they can also be used in other subjects.
The final application of Gardner´s theories into my curriculum unit about animals, -includes the motives for learning. They must be based as much as possible upon the arousal of interest in what is to be learned, and they must be kept broad and diverse in expression.
Students need to know why they are going to learn about animals. They need to know that they live with us on the Earth and are part of our life cycle. The groups of animals are broad and diverse, - as Gardner says, this diversity promotes learning.
On the other hand, I share with Piaget, the theory that a person takes material into their mind from the environment, which may mean changing the evidence of their senses to make it fit. In the same way, students need adaptation to live in two cultures and two languages. They will assimilate concepts from visiting Brookfield or Lincoln Park Zoo or a farm during Fall with their parents. These new concepts about animals will be assimilated and then accommodated in their minds. Besides these field trips that I will propose to parents, I will show National Geographic videos about animals and pictures from my visits to the Zoo.
Another of Piaget´s key ideas fits perfectly in the unit. Classification, the ability to group objects together on the basis of common features, will be used often during the teaching of the unit. Students will need to classify animals into different categories and group them based on similarities and differences.
Further, Piaget´s idea of class inclusion will apply, where some classes or sets of objects are also sub-sets of a larger class. Students will learn, for example, that there is a class of creatures called mammals and that there is a class called animals. But all mammals are also animals, so the class of animals also includes that of mammals.
I will definitely adopt Piaget and Garner´s theories as I develop this unit and I am sure it will be a very enriching educational experience for the students and another positive teaching experience for me.