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How I Believe That Students Learn

My educational philosophy is one that reflects both my

experiences and my core beliefs, therefore I believe that how one
learns is a unique and personal process for each individual.
Nevertheless, some of the greatest moments of discovery and
enlightenment that I have experienced have come from learning with
others: particularly in group conversations and projects that bring
about understanding in traditionally difficult content by pooling
thoughts and minds. My experience is not unique; rather it is picked
apart and discussed by some of the greatest minds in educational
theory. Of those minds, I find myself fascinated by the constructivist
concepts presented by Vygotsky and Piaget. These theorists belief of
knowledge as a constructed, or built entity provides a concrete mental
image that is easy to visualize, internalize and relate to my own
educational experiences.
Piaget picked apart the learning process by separating human
cognitive development into stages, each being unique and significant
in its own right. This Cognitive Constructivist believed in knowledge
acquisition by presenting information that at times would cause
confusion, or disequilibrium, in ones mind. This would lead to
assimilation and accommodation of the new information, which is the
adjustment or change to an existing idea/set of ideas known as a
schema, therefore enhancing ones learning as an internal and
individual experience of knowledge discovery.
I agree with Piaget to a certain degree, save the part that
declares learning as an almost exclusively individual journey, assuming
all young learners have equally capable minds simply in need of
enhancement in the classroom. Not all minds arrive to a classroom
fully equipped with the same foundation of knowledge to build upon,
as Piaget suggests. Students enter school from a variety of previous
academic backgrounds and individual needs: malnourished,
impoverished, experiencing learning or physical handicaps. I believe
that learning requires more support from those around the students
who strive to understand their diverse needs, as well as a grasp of
their culture. This would enable a teacher provide instruction tailored
to their students and would allow for greater learner success.
Vygotsky believed that knowledge and capable minds are
developed with help from others; students amass greater cognitive
capability from greater interaction with their socio-cultural
environment. Society, peers and teachers all collaborate to reach
higher knowledge that rests just above the students head in
capability, in a space known as the Zone of Proximal Development or
ZPD. Previous knowledge acts as a foundation, while language and
educational stakeholders act as scaffolding for the student to learn
within the ZPD, which should not be too hard or too easy. In addition

to academic knowledge, students I have witnessed the benefits of

collaborative learning, and have seen how not only does it allow the
student to achieve greater understanding of the material, but also
better understanding of those in and out of the classroom who
collaborated with that student, and therefore a better understanding of
the world at large. This Russians theories make all around the most
sense to me, and greatly influence my developing teaching philosophy.
How This Will Affect My Teaching
For those who prefer individual discovery learning, as stressed by
Piaget, I will ease into and though material that causes the students to
employ greater assimilation or accommodation of their schemas. I
have experienced too many lessons led by instructors who assume too
much of what their students should know upon entering their
classrooms, and have also experienced difficulties in teaching without
gaining adequate background knowledge of my students. I feel that it
is vital to identify what schemas and backgrounds students have, as
well as to how the teacher can best create disequilibrium to correct or
adjust their previously held ideas, and accommodate student needs.
Assimilation and accommodation should not be frustrating to the
student; the processes should instead cause the student to refine their
academic skills and knowledge in a way that allows the teacher to
better instruct, the classroom better function, and the student to better
study. This process is best executed by first identifying and committing
to working with the existing knowledge that each student has.
Just as Vygotsky believed in education as the key to a welldeveloped mind, so do I. Initiating and guiding class discussions, as
well as peer collaboration to create visuals, writing or other
educational aids, students will discover how easily knowledge can be
amassed with more than one mind. Honoring his concepts of treating
the classroom as a social learning environment, I will always encourage
my students to actively participate in their education. I also will respect
and recognize the needs of each individual student, understanding that
not all students always learn best with others, allowing alternatives
and differentiating my lesson plans to suit individual learning needs
when required. I will use language, my peers, my institution and
society, as tools in my instruction, as each are equally important forms
of communication and support in any classroom, to increase my
students chance of success. As I have always placed a great value on
culture, I will continue to do so in my classroom, employing Vygotskys
idea that to implement culture in the classroom not only allows a real
life application of content matter, thus enhancing student
comprehension, but also allows the instructor to better prepare the
student for the culture they will face upon leaving the classroom and

head into the real world prepared, with a (hopefully) well sharpened
cognitive ability.