July 3, 2020

What is pedagogy?


To become a qualified teacher in Italy you need to study Pedagogy as part of your University Degree. The title acquired consists in 4 extra exams and it is recognized worldwide. I am currently enrolled to obtain that qualification and studying Pedagogy, Anthropology and Teaching of the Inclusion at Pegaso University. I am finding pedagogy a very interesting subject as I have often wondered “what actually means to have a pedagogical approach to teaching?” Here an answer that I hope you’ll find interesting and complete.

What is Pedagogy?

Pedagogy is defined simply as the method and practice of teaching. It includes Teaching styles, Teaching theory and Feedback and assessment. When a teacher plans a lesson either online or face to face, they will consider different ways to deliver the content.

How does setting change the pedagogical approach?

Differences in the age of the pupils, the size of the class and the way the content is being delivered can influence the pedagogical practices a teacher will choose to use.

An effective teacher will use research from many different academic disciplines to make his/her own decision and even adjust it as the students are improving during the course. In my MFL Teacher online career, I am currently teaching French, English and Italian, I found a blended teaching approach is what suits best my students.

I am basing my decision after having studied all the different pedagogical approaches. Every teacher will develop and balance their own pedagogical principles over time.

What are the pedagogical approaches?

The different pedagogical approaches could be broken down into four categories: behaviourism, constructivism, social constructivism, and liberationist.

1. Behaviourism

A behaviourist pedagogy uses the theory of behaviourism to inform its approach. A behaviourist pedagogical approach would say learning is teacher centred. It would advocate the use of direct instruction, and lecture-based lessons.

What does a behaviourism pedagogical approach look like in a classroom?

The theory of Behaviourism in a classroom setting came from pedagogical research by Thorndike (1911), Pavlov (1927) and Skinner (1957). Behaviourist pedagogy is the theory that the teacher should be the sole authority figure and leads the lesson. Knowledge should be delivered in a curriculum where each subject is taught discretely (as opposed to topic-based learning, for example).

In a lesson using a behaviourist pedagogical approach (teacher cantered lesson), you could expect to see a mixture of lecturing, modelling and demonstration, rote learning, and choral repetition. All of these activities are ‘visible’ and structured, as well as being led by the teacher.  However, during the course of the lesson, the shift may come where the student is the centre of the activity, and demonstrates their learning.

Behaviourism is also sometimes described as a traditional teaching style.

From my personal experience this is good to introduce a difficult or new topic i.e. the Third Conditional in Italian, Irregular verbs in English or Le Passé Recent of verbs in French but it has to be alternated with a more interactive part of the lesson. If not, the student might act as he/ she is listening to you but she is not actually learning anything. The downsize of it is that and you cannot even double check that lack of focus is happening as you are just conducting a monologue.

2. Constructivism

Constructivism is a theory that people learn through experiences and reflection. A Constructivist pedagogy puts the child at the centre of the learning and is sometimes called ‘invisible pedagogy’. A constructivist approach would incorporate project work, inquiry-based learning, and might adopt a Montessori or Steiner method.

During my University studies, project work played an important part as I used to conduct interviews and run surveys to then have enough elements to conduct my research and drive to conclusions. I recently gave to one of my online students a project work to do and I was actually very impressed to see how well she/he could write in French and I was made aware of a skill I did not know yet as the course had recently started.

What does a constructivism pedagogical approach look like in a classroom?

Constructivism is based on the pedagogical research of Piaget (1896-1890). Piaget wrote extensively about ‘schemas’, an idea that learners come ready to learn, and the teacher must build activities to facilitate their learning. Nowadays there is a lot of available material online, the students have access to all of it. It is the teacher’s responsibility to selected, filter just trustable sources, articulate, explain and present it in a clearly structured manner via lesson planning tools.

A lesson might include individualisation, a slower pace, hidden outcomes, the mantle of the expert, and less teacher talk. Some adopters of this pedagogy would also place emphasis on being outdoors, and engaging with nature.

Constructivism is also sometimes described as a progressive teaching style.

3. Social constructivism

A Social constructivism pedagogy could be considered to be a blend of two priorities: teacher guided, and student centred. Cognitive psychologist, Lev Vygotsky developed social constructivism, building on the work of Piaget, but argued against the ideas of Piaget that learning could only happen in its social context, and believed that learning was a collaborative process between student and teacher.

What would a social constructivism approach look like in a lesson?

The teacher would use group work elements, but would use smaller group sizes, and limit the choice in topics. The teacher might also use teacher modelling, questioning, and a mixture of individual, pair, and whole class instruction.

4. Liberationism

Liberationism is a critical pedagogy developed by the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. Freire was the Director of the Department of Education, and developed an approach of teaching where he was able to teach illiterate adults to read in just 45 days. Freire focussed on removing the two barriers to learning: poverty and hunger. Freire was then imprisoned following a military coup. Once he was released, he wrote a book called ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ where Freire wrote about the dehumanisation of students in schools, and argued for cooperation and unity. A liberationist approach is one where the student voice is placed at the centre, and a democracy is put into the classroom. Value is placed on having the teacher as a learner, and the class discovering subjects together.

If I am dealing with a particularly shy language learner, I like to use this approach for him/her to build confidence.

What would a liberationist approach look like in a lesson?

If I offer again the example of me as an MFL teacher, in one of my French classes I might ask my students to take examples of a real French kitchen recipe therefore material straight from the French context. This way, at an advanced level stage, the student might even prepare a lesson on how to cook French crepes and take on more of a presenting role. The teacher should provide space and opportunity for the students to showcase their learning, and this can take the form of a performance, speech, or dance.

In conclusion, I find it personally rewarding dealing with self-directed learners.  After a few lessons at an advanced stage of the course, once they become familiar with the teacher, they would be able to present realia of the target language and show confidence on what they learnt so far about that particular topic to the teacher or in front of the class.