A pedagogy of learning

My area of expertise is science education and I dabble in learning theory.  I subscribe to a “hot” conceptual change model (Pintrich et al. 1993) in which students conceptual frameworks, developmental levels, motivation, goals, stress, learning dispositions and attribution all affect learning.  These conceptual ecologies (Southerland et al., 2006) are difficult to understand and even more difficult to modify (read: TEACHING IS HARD!!!).

One lesson from the area of science education is the power of implicit messages (Clough & Olson, 2004).  One goal of science education is to teach students about how science works.  Unfortunately, when teachers focus on “right” answers and step-by-step laboratory experiences, students get the implicit message that science is simply a set of facts or that science does not require much creativity.  Although teachers don’t mean to send this message, they do.

Now consider the implicit messages we send students about “learning” itself.  The medium (teaching) is truly the message (learning).  Our actions as teachers send messages to students about what it means to learn, whether we want to or not.  When we focus on “right” answers, declarative knowledge, and accurately following directions, students are likely to walk away with very simplistic views of learning (i.e.: memorization).  These simplistic views of learning do not likely aid in students becoming more autonomous learners.  Instead my experience is that students with simplistic views of learning desire more structure and hand-holding rather than being willing to engage in more meaningful learning.  These students’ dispositions toward learning can actually cause them to reject the methods of teachers who are working toward education reform.  When teachers pose questions rather than give answers, students with simplistic learning dispositions seem to think the teacher is not doing their job.

If we want students to have more robust dispositions toward learning and view learning as a continual, effort-filled, and rewarding, we must consider the implicit messages we are sending out students.  What things have you seen teachers do (or you yourself have done), that might promote undesirable views of learning in students?  What things have you seen, or done that promote more desirable views of learning?


Clough, M.P. & Olson, J.K. (2004). The Nature of Science: Always Part of the Science Story, The Science Teacher, 71(9), 28-31.

Pintrich, P. R., Marx, R. W., & Boyle, R. A. (1993). Beyond cold conceptual change: The role of motivational beliefs and classroom contextual factors in the process of conceptual change. Review of Educational Research, 63, 167 – 199.

Southerland, S.A., Johnston, A., Sowell, S. (2006).  Describing Teachers’ Conceptual Ecologies for the Nature of Science. Science Education, 90, 874-906.

This entry was posted in Educ 107 - Learning & Assessment, Education Reform, Goals for Students, Learning, Teacher Actions and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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