Optimizing Conditions for Learning and Teaching in K-20 Education

Optimizing Conditions for Learning and Teaching in K-20 Education

Christina De Simone (University of Ottawa, Canada), Teresa Marquis (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Jovan Groen (University of Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4249-2.ch031
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A long debate in education has been whether to separate the study of children's pedagogy from the study of adults' andragogy or whether it is better to bring the two under one umbrella. In this chapter, the authors propose a third, and hopefully, more fruitful view. Their contention is that in order to understand teaching and learning, one needs to examine the conditions or contexts under which teaching and learning occur. Thus, the goal is to address the question “How does one optimize the conditions for all learners and, by the same token, optimize the conditions for all teachers?” Understanding conditions or contexts helps one to view learning and teaching as part of a larger whole. Contexts affect people, resources, place, and time. This position goes beyond the “fixing” of an individual learner, whether child or adult, and an individual teacher. In this chapter, the authors discuss the following: a) optimizing conditions for all learners and b) optimizing conditions for all teachers. They do so by framing the discussion around several key principles from educational psychology, learning sciences, and adult education.
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Our libraries' bookshelves show the physical divide between adult education (andragogy) and children's education (pedagogy) and we see this schism in the way, as educators we structure our education courses. Professors with degrees in adult education teach andragogy, while those specializing in child and adolescent development or educational psychology teach pedagogy. This latter term is from the Greek words paid, meaning “child” and agogus meaning “leader of.” Thus, pedagogy has come to mean the art and science of teaching children (Knowles, 1973). Pedagogy evolved in the monastic schools of Europe between the 7th and 12th centuries. Elementary schools gradually became more commonplace during the late 18th and 19th centuries and they taught children basic skills. When educational psychologists like Geraldine Holmes and Michele Abington-Cooper began scientifically studying learning around the turn of the 20th century, they limited their research mostly to the reactions of children and animals to systematic instruction. This reinforced a problematical pedagogical model that envisaged teachers as the holders of knowledge as well as being responsible for making decisions about what would be learned, how it would be learned, and when it would be learned (Knowles, 1980).

The early 1920s marked the rise of adult education, and the teachers of adults noticed similar problems with the pedagogical model. One main problem was that adult learners found it difficult when faced with a steady regime of lectures and memory work, which had the effect of pacifying rather than energizing their minds and spirits (Knowles, 1980). Hence, educators needed another model of teaching and learning. In 1833, German teacher Alexander Kapp,

coined the term andragogy, but never gained momentum. However, by 1921, the term had reappeared in Europe, and during the 1960s, France, Holland, and Yugoslavia used the term extensively (Davenport, 1987). A Yugoslavian adult educator in the mid-1960s introduced Knowles to the term andragogy. He then developed his definition of andragogy, which was a parallel to pedagogy. Andragogy is a Greek word aner with the stem andra meaning “man, not boy” or adult, and agogus meaning “leader of.” In an effort to emphasize the differences between the education of adults and children, Knowles defined the term as “the art and science of helping adults learn.” He made no reference to gender (Davenport, 1987). For Linderman, the emphasis for teaching adults was a commitment to a self-directed, experiential, problem-solving approach to adult education (Davenport, 1987).

However, cognitive-development theorist Jean Piaget and social-cognitive theorist Lev Vygotsky have recognized for decades that children (and learners in general) are the central figures in their own learning. This understanding stretches back as far as the 19th century. Moreover, contemporary researchers and educators from educational and cognitive psychology, and the learning sciences embrace a constructivist and social constructivist position of teaching and learning for all learners. The basic premise in constructivist and social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning is that all learners (regardless of being a child or an adult) are inquirers. In other words, all learners learn and contribute to the advancement of knowledge and practice when they are in contexts that engage them in both individual and joint problem solving, analysis, reflection, and insightful construction of meaningful issues and problems. For young learners this may involve observing the wonders of nature. As adults, they may be faced with the urgent issue of how to deal with the damaging effect of a massive oil spill on life at all levels. Moreover, constructivists and social constructivists contend that each individual learner has her or his own internal factors (e.g., age, prior knowledge, beliefs, motivation, affect) and external factors (political, economic, cultural, historical) that influence how they carve and pattern their worlds. Furthermore, we know from neuroscience research that our brains thrive when meaningfully engaged in exploration, questioning, and the formation of new connections (Wolfe, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Scaffolding: According to as Vygotsky, a scaffold is tailored support to the individual's needs and context (family, culture, society). Effective scaffolds must offer support that is adjustable, temporary, and responsive to the individual's development. When the learner can perform a task independently, then the scaffold is gradually faded away. Furthermore, guidance comes in several forms such as another person, a community, book, Internet, varied examples, or modeling of a more advanced solution of the task, or focusing the learner’s attention learner to the relevant features of the task.

The Learning Walk Routine: The Learning Walk Routine The University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Learning developed the LWR to improve the schools' instructional techniques. A team of teachers who take turns periodically walk through hallways and classrooms and observe classroom practices. These LWRs serve to ultimately improve both teaching and learning by heightening teachers' awareness of their own practices. The school uses the information gathered to make decisions about professional development needs.

Self-Regulation: It is the ability to monitor one's own emotions, cognitions, and behavior. It involves the ability to be aware of one's understanding and the ability to adjust one's internal and/or external contexts in order to foster further learning and performance. In essence, self-regulation is one's ability to adapt. Self-regulation develops over the course of one's development and is sensitive to both internal and external contextual factors.

Context: Refers to the internal factors of the learner (who – e.g., culture, prior knowledge, age, gender, motivation, affect) as well as external factors (with whom – e.g., teachers/other professionals, institutional philosophies, (with what, learning how – e.g., content/strategies), (where/with what – facilities and technologies).

Cognitive Transfer: It is the ability to apply knowledge, skills, and practices across time and contexts. Our content knowledge, motivation, and affect as well as by the demands of the task and instructional approaches affect our ability to transfer. We facilitate cognitive transfer with multiple and varied examples, providing the learner with opportunities to construct their own understanding, and providing them with feedback which emphasizes an appraisal of the current information and next steps to further extend the idea.

Professional Learning and Implementation Support System: In Ontario, professional development is considered an essential part of the teaching landscape. This has been achieved through the PLIS system. Professional conferences are coordinated, as are regional training sessions and board level activities for teachers, system leaders, and principals.

Professional Learning Communities: These communities foster collaboration among teachers. In a non-judgmental manner, teachers discuss best practices for teaching and learning.

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