Pedagogy, the theory and practice of teaching, draws from a number of philosophies to inform the best construct within which our students can best learn. We’ve seen that education is profoundly affected by larger societal transformations. In this last century, education has also been shaped by our growing understanding of how people learn. The pioneering work of the Russian scientist, Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s, demonstrated the importance of the social environment to the learning process. Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, showed that cognitive development in children proceeded in a predictable sequence of steps. His work revealed that we learn not so much by acquiring content from outside our minds, but rather by constructing it from within. This theory of learning, known as constructivism, had profound implications for the way instruction should be organized.
Building from Piaget’s work, Bloom formulated his now-famous taxonomy, in which cognitive skills are ordered hierarchically – proceeding from knowledge, comprehension, and application to analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.While traditional education tends to emphasize the lower-order objectives, Bloom’s work suggests the importance of mastering the full array of cognitive skills.
These thinkers have deepened our understanding of human learning. Howard Gardner, among others, has expanded it. While Western civilization has traditionally valued intelligence as expressed in the manipulation of abstract symbols, as in reading and mathematics, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences have since evolved to include modalities like: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential intelligences.
Recent cognitive research also suggests that intelligence is a quality that resides not just within our individual minds, but within the social collective. With the sheer amount of data today, students need help in telling the valid from the spurious, and in using their findings in appropriate and thoughtful ways. Information, as John Seeley Brown has told us, has a social life. In modern life, Know-how (street smarts) matter as much as know-what. Yet for all that has been learned about learning, few schools have been able to fully incorporate this research into their instructional mission. Perhaps this is the impetus to evolve Ontario’s education system with these values in place.
“What a child can do today with assistance she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.” – Lev Vygotsky