Reflection on Learning

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                                                                              Sarah Judge
                                                                              Final Essay
                                                                              CEP 800
                                                                              Dr. Floden
                                                                              July 4, 2005

                                  Reflections on Learning

       The most important knowledge and skills I have gained through my participation

in this course pertain to learning and understanding theoretical perspectives on learning.

Namely, I found I gained the most knowledge from our class text, Perspectives on

Learning, by D.C. Phillips and Jonas Soltis. In this text, the authors clearly described

historical theories and the founders of these theories. Prior to this course, none of my

classes offered the foundation of basic learning theories as presented in this text.

Certainly, I had been exposed through conversation with friends and colleagues the

works of Jean Piaget and John Dewey, but I never had read information on them in detail.

Neither had I been exposed to classical theories of learning, such as through Plato and

John Locke.

         This knowledge of learning theories provides a foundation for me to scaffold

further studies of learning theories. Additionally, the skills I learned from the theories

presented in this course are in the ideas on how to apply these learning theories to best

teaching practices of my elementary school students. These skills will enable me to

design better curricula to best meet the individual needs of my students. A good example

of skills learned can be seen in my reaction to follow, on Jerome D. Ulman’s article,

Applying Behaviorological Principles in the Classroom: Creating Responsive Learning


       Participation in this course forced me to reflect on learning, what learning is, and

how learning occurs. Beginning with Plato, for the first time, I thought about how is it

that a learner is able to understand something new? What is it that causes learning to

occur? For Plato, learning was a process from which the soul had already been exposed.

To him, teaching was simply part of the remembering process of what had been learned

by the soul.

       Although I do not accept Plato’s way of perceiving learning, I appreciate his

view, as it is a connection to the next classical learning theorist, John Locke. Locke, we

meet two thousand years later. Locke believes that every child is born like a “clean

slate”. Every person was born with certain capabilities, and it is experience through the

environment that opens up these capabilities. One of the last contributing thoughts

toward learning from Locke resulted in this question, which I find to be the one I am

consistently thinking about since being in this course. “What experiences or simple ideas

must a child have had in order to be able to go ahead and learn some new material?”

(Phillips and Soltis, page 15). According to Phillips and Soltis, educators in helping

children learn do not think about this question as often as they should (page 15).

       The description of learning theory by Plato and Locke are just some examples of

the great learning theory gained in this course. I mention them in my reflection, however,

as they have become the building block from which I learned subsequent theories in this

course. I frequently reverted back to Plato and Locke theory when addressing a module

in the course. I would ask myself did this new idea in learning, such as through the work

of Jean Piaget, find its connections from John Locke? A learning theory that well

describes my acquisition of knowledge of the theories presented in this course would be

that described by John Dewey. Unlike Plato and Locke, who felt that experience was

something that happened to a learner, Dewey believed that experience is something in

which a learner engages.

       John Dewey, two hundred years after the work of John Locke, believed there was

a strong link between learning and doing. In the classroom setting, he believed that

students learned best being actively engaged in the learning process. According to

Phillips and Soltis, “Dewey vigorously advocated activity methods, and he argued that

problems that were meaningful to the pupils must emerge from situations that fell within

their interests and experiences” (page 39).

        In this course, I learned about the theories of learning from engaging in the

variety of activities provided in each module, as described by Dewey. For instance, in

learning about Plato and Locke, I had the opportunity to first read about the theorists in

the class text. Next, I interacted with other members in the class by posting and

responding to the questions designed for module one. This type of engagement, with

other students in the course, allows for social discourse, albeit through use of technology.

It remains, however, an activity method in which I was actively engaged with other

learners. Being enrolled in this course, also lends itself to Dewey’s philosophy that

education should be designed around the interests of the learner. In this case, I am

participating in this class, because I had a desire to learn more about theories of

education. I was therefore, a much more involved learner in the education process.

       In addition to the learning theories presented in this course, I learned skills that

will assist me in creating a responsive learning environment in my classroom. Creating

this responsive environment stems from applying themes from behaviorism as found in

module two. In module two of this course, I was introduced to the article by

Jerome Ulman, Applying Behaviorological Principles in the Classroom: Creating

Responsive Learning Environments. Ulman describes a responsive learning environment

as “a systematically designed instructional situation based upon scientifically established

principles of learning” (page 145). In this responsive learning environment lies its chief

component, which is the responsiveness of the teacher to the changes in performance of

the learner. In a responsive learning environment, the learner advances only after

mastering prerequisite tasks. Ulman says,

        To create an effective learning environment, it is essential to measure and
       monitor the continuing performance of the learner. The first step in doing so is to
       specify instructional goals in objective and measurable terms. In addition, we
       must specify what materials or levels of assistance may be needed to minimize
       errors and insure success. Finally, we must define success: How much of the
       task is to be completed…at what level of proficiency…under what conditions?
       (page 149)

       Ulman’s study on responsive learning reminded me of a process which was

already implemented in my school district. A few years ago, my school district adopted a

philosophy in education that was hoped to promote communication and increase

performance, particularly as they pertained to standardized test scores. The adopted

program, founded on the principles of businessman Malcolm Baldrige, relies on a system

called “Plan-Do-Study-Act”. It is a four-step process that each teacher is required to use

in aligning his/her curriculum to state benchmarks.

       In PDSA, or Plan-Do-Study-Act, teachers post state benchmarks for each subject

area. These are posted on poster paper divided into four quadrants. The first quadrant is

the plan, such as the benchmark. The second quadrant is the “do” or the “how will be

reach our specified goal? The third quadrant is the “study” or the observation of data to

see if the class met its goal. The fourth quadrant is the “act” or the changes that need to

be made to reach the class goal. Each step of PDSA is discussed and shared with the

students. Students also keep individual data folders of their progress toward specified


         In PDSA, one of the objectives is that students also develop an internal locus of

control, or are rewarded by their own progress. This ties in well with Ulman’s

description of responsive learning environments. In these environments, “success

generates more success” and “accomplishment itself functions as effective

reinforcement” (page 149). The skills I learned from Ulman’s article included

reinforcing a teaching practice I was already utilizing, but did not know the philosophy or

thinking behind the teaching practice. Ulman taught me that this kind of practice is based

on sound scientific educational principles. Additionally, Ulman provided educational

terminology to the practice I was utilizing that helped put a name or label on each step of

the acquisition process.

         The knowledge and skills I gained from studying Jerome Ulman’s article on

creating a responsive learning environment were gained through the process of problem

solving. My problem was that I was using a teaching method (PDSA) in my classroom,

but did not know why I was using it. I did not understand what principles it was based

upon, but utilized it as it was the district mandate. Through reading Ulman’s article, I

was provided a “different way of seeing”. When viewed from the scientific perspective

provided by Ulman, I better understood the usage of PDSA and was more engaged in its

application in the classroom. I am looking forward to applying PDSA in the upcoming

school year, rather than dreading the work involved in implementing its use each year.

I now completely see it as being a tool to being responsive to my students’ learning.

       A second learning theory used to help me better understand responsive learning

and its application in the classroom was again, the work of John Dewey. In the module

on behaviorism where the Ulman article was discussed, my learning was benefited by the

social arrangement of online discussion with other classmates. Online learning allows

activity and engagement to occur where it may not in a regular classroom. In an online

environment, everyone’s voice is heard through individual postings. No one is allowed

be a part of the class without some kind of participation. Students benefit from viewing

other student perspectives and discussions.

       In my professional work as an upper elementary school teacher I will be able to

use the knowledge and skills I learned from this course. The theories and history of those

that developed the theories helps me realize that there has been an evolution to learning.

Although Plato’s theory learning is no longer widely accepted, it was the beginning of

thinking about learning. Through John Locke and John Dewey, theories of learning have

evolved further. The present global belief in learning is that it must be an active form of

engagement to best meet the needs of the students.

       The study of these theories will better help me understand my students and their

learning styles. For instance, the work of Jean Piaget discusses learning in

developmental stages. The Piagetan child is depicted as actively learning through

experiencing his environment. “Through handling, dismantling, and generally

transforming its surroundings, the child gradually derives a set of concepts that were

fruitful” (Phillips and Soltis, page 42). Meaning, these were operations were purposeful

activities and formed a network or cognitive structure. At the ages of seven through

eleven, the age group of which I teach, the child begins to conceptualize things through

this great deal of physical experience. Phillips and Soltis say, “At this stage, addition,

subtraction, multiplication, and division can be done with numbers and not just with

things” (page 43). However, Piaget taught me that if a child has not reached a specified

developmental milestone, he would not be able to move onto the next one. I now realize

this it is acceptable if some of my fourth grade students require manipulatives to visualize

multiplication and division. They may not have reached the concrete operation stage yet,

and are handling and transforming their surroundings in an effort to understand it.

       In order to apply the approaches of behaviorism, specifically, responsive learning

in my classroom, I will need to continue to use the Plan-Do-Study-Act program for each

subject area benchmark as described earlier. However, now that I understand that the

program is founded on principles of behaviorology, I will be more engaged in its

implementation. This will assist me in being a responsive teacher to my students’

learning. Additionally, I can apply the principles of responsive learning through

discussing them with my fourth grade students. Using the language with them, and

coaching them through the basic philosophy of responsive learning will create an

environment that is highly responsive to the performance of my students. I need to

discuss and model what satisfaction with one’s learning might feel like. I should create a

class motto that incorporates the idea that success generates more success.

       The fundamental question that has guided learning theory seems to be “How is it

that a learner understands something new?” From classical theorists, Plato and Locke, to

more present-day cognitive scientists, this is a question that is still pondered, but is

explored with new ideas. Studying the history of our past theorists, new ideas come to

light and are used, such as responsive learning environments. This kind of environment

leads us to the teacher’s role, which is to conceptualize pathways to guide students to

greater competence (Niemi, page 44). I am hopeful that more teachers have the

opportunity to learn the psychology and theory behind education. As our last module

focusing on teacher learning mentioned in the article, Pitfalls of Experience in Teacher

Education, “The more serious problem is getting into pitfalls or learning things that are

inappropriate in any teaching situation and that will be reinforced by further unanalyzed

experience on the job” (Nemser and Buchman, page 63). Perhaps the study of learning

theory will prevent the occurrence.


Feiman-Nemser, Sharon and Buchman, Margret. Pitfalls of Experience in
      Teacher Preparation. Teachers College Record. v87, no1, fall 1985.

Niemi, David. Cognitive Science, Expert-Novice Research, and Performance
       Assessment. Theory into Practice, v36, p 239-46, Autumn 1997.

Phillips, D.C. and Soltis, Jonas F. Perspectives on Learning. Teachers College
        Press. New York. 2004.

Ulman, Jerome D. Applying Behaviorological Principles in the Classroom: Creating
      Responsive Learning Environments. The Teacher Educator. V34, no2, 144-56,
      Autumn 1998.

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