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How Can Teachers Use Theories and Findings from Developmental Psychology to Inform Classroom Practise.

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How can teachers use theories and findings from developmental psychology to inform classroom practise.

Teachers can use theories and findings from developmental psychology to improve the quality of learning that takes place within the classroom by changing the learning methods and social conditions that typify an educational classroom. This essay will attempt to show that although there are many psychological ideas that have theorised and researched different ways to educate; the most successful of these are drawn from Experiential learning. The vast scope of research on child development within developmental psychology forbids a full dissection of all key theorists in this brief essay; therefore I have limited the theoretical discussion to research and examples originating from the works of Carl Rogers, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.

Although there is some disagreement, the bulk of psychological theory suggests that the techniques educators are currently using to develop learning potential in educational settings are inadequate. The approach of the different schools of thought, point out that educators do not centre on the socio-cognitive development of their pupils and provide differing examples of where the educators and the educational system has failed to facilitate student development. Theoretical examples can be drawn from Rogers who believed that education needed to person-centred (Rogers cited in Kirschenbaum and Henderson:1989 :p326); Lisi who expressed that peer learning was undervalued and discovery learning would dramatically enhance learning potential (Lisi :2002:p1) and Vygotsky who felt the educators needed to be integrated into the learner's experience(Mooney:2000:p82.) This direct and indirect assault on the current educational process coupled with educators scornful attitude towards the theories which many feel have little practical value, create a difficult environment for developmental psychology and education to have productive dialogue (Mooney:2000:p5.) Bearing this in mind the argument proceeding will draw from a pedagogy which has real practical experience, Experiential Learning.

In the broadest of terms it can be suggested that Experiential Learning addresses the needs and wants of the student. Rogers provided a full explanation of how teachers could influence the learning capabilities of their students, with an overarching 'precondition;' the facilitator of education is sufficiently secure within him/herself and experiences a necessary trust in the capability of others to think and to learn for themselves (Rogers cited in Kirschenbaum et al:1989:p327.) The Rogers method of looking at education was similar to his therapeutic approach and it can be argued reasonable, since the successful relationship between therapist and client shares similarities to the teacher and student relationship. Both these relationships are attempting to develop the social and/or cognitive abilities of the person.

The full explanation that Rogers suggested for pedagogical use, at times fit neatly into a Piagian conception and at other times a Vygotskian conception of learning. Although traditionally Piagian and Vygotskian theory appear to stand at odds with each other due to the practical applications in opposing constructivist and behaviouralist examples of teaching practise, a further analysis of Experiential learning through the explanation Rogers laid out for teachers to facilitate learning explain how teachers can inform classroom practise in both mainstream and humanistic schools.

Brookfield (1983: 16) noted that two understandings of experiential learning have emerged from various papers, which suggests an explanation for the different practical implications. Experiential learning is in some instances used to describe direct experience with the material being studied. Students in this understanding of experiential learning will relate to and apply knowledge, skills and emotions to the subject matter. In this way the learning becomes significant to the learner, which Rogers placed in opposition to 'meaningless' cognitive learning. Experiential learning is also used to describe learning that arises through the self by reflection on everyday experience and interactions. The learning here is fostered within the learner rather than from an external force. The two understandings of experiential learning progresses Experiential learning from the humanistic camp to a learning that can arguably be used by all teachers.

If Experiential learning is understood as direct experience with material studied, Rogers notes that the educator which he terms facilitator can provide learning resources from within his own experience (Rogers cited in Kirschenbaum et al:1989:p327.) In a humanist or holistic school or educational setting this would stem from the precondition of pedagogy noted above, as providing resources from personal experience obliges the facilitator to have a trusting relationship with their students. In humanistic schools such as Summer Hill, although most teachers are qualified they state the requirements to be ' for somebody who will be adaptable, genuinely interested in the school philosophy, and is a nice person' ( This completely flies in the face of mainstream schooling where teachers are always university trained and specialised, implying that their academic specialisation is brought to the classroom, rather than themselves.

However this does not mean that in a non-humanistic school, teachers are unable to provide resources from within their own experience. Piaget stressed that learning was best achieved through stimulating the curiosity of students and promoting discovery learning. If possibly a teacher wanted students to learn about animals s/he could at first talk of pets that s/he owned, keeping the conversation open and then take the students on a field trip to a farm. Piaget noted that curiosity would breed more curiosity and thereby the original questions the students may have had regarding pets has now developed into questions regarding animal smells, habitat and behaviour (Mooney: 2000: p75.)

For a direct experience of learning, Rogers claimed the co-operation of facilitators to provide a real, understanding and caring environment is of paramount importance. (Rogers cited in Kirschenbaum et al:1989:p327.)) This can have many implications but a real environment can be suggested to denote an atmosphere of understanding and caring towards the needs of the individual student. In Steiner Schools, teachers have the same students for several years which it can be argued enables the teacher to know the developmental needs of the child to a larger extent than in conventional schooling where students change teachers yearly.



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