This is the first time I feel comfortable with an assignment. We are tasked with applying a theory-based teaching method into a daily class lesson and assessing its effectiveness. I am not a teacher, so I chose the option to watch one of the videos instead. I watched eight videos before finding the perfect one. Before I talk about the video, I must talk about the reading assignment. Ladison-Billings’ Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix (2014) was mind-blowing. I have never heard anyone connecting culture to pedagogy in this way. When I thought about different learning styles, my first thought was to consider cognitive abilities, not necessarily culture. That was always attached to socioeconomic structures and typically comes up when discussing gaps. Ladison-Billings contends that culture is the proverbial elephant in the room. While working with students from First Wave at the University of Wisconsin, Ladison-Billings discovered that African American students were deeply interested and motivated to become teachers when they could bring their culture with them. Similarly, the video Great Expectations (2005), part of the UK Department of Education series Teaching with Bayley, echoed the role of culture in learning.
To summarize the video, Deborah Robinson is a middle school black English teacher to students the narrator describes as a mixed ability group. Ms. Robinson is introducing her students to a book where the protagonist is homeless. While reviewing the recorded class with the host, John Bayley, they discover that most of her black students seem uninterested in the subject. Bayley asks musician Paul Gabriel to look at the footage, and he suggests that the boys feel they already understand homelessness conditions and may not see a need to read about it. After brainstorming, the panel urged Ms. Robinson to include more culturally relevant questions to allow students to see homelessness from different perspectives.
Ms. Robinson uses direct instruction, a teacher-centered teaching style, throughout most of the video. Direct instruction is a simple, effective strategy used to clearly and unambiguously share information with the entire class. This method typically involves the practice of demonstration, guided practice, and feedback. Direct instruction is based on behaviorism and is probably one of the oldest teaching strategies because of its simplicity. Behaviorism’s primary driver is the association between the stimulus and the response. Behaviorist teaching strategies like direct instruction focus on changes in the observable behavior using positive and negative feedback. Ms. Robinson demonstrates this when asking questions. If the student gave a correct answer, Ms. Robinson responded with immediate praise. If the student did not provide a correct answer, Ms. Robinson would rephrase it or ask another student to assist until the question was answered correctly. All the information comes from the teacher, and the student is a passive participant in the learning process. Direct instruction is best for teaching specific concepts and skills. Assessing learning is more straightforward because of its behaviorist structure. The disadvantage of direct instruction is its restriction on teacher creativity and its failure to consider each student’s learning style and pace.
There is anecdotal evidence that teacher-centered instruction is not Ms. Robinson’s dominant method. During one interview scene, she voiced frustration with the lack of participation and feedback from the students. In another scene, she stated she usually spoke only 40 percent of the time, and the students contributed the remainder. In three scenes, Ms. Robinson practices student-centered teaching strategies. Her classroom was arranged for small groups, and there is active small group collaboration and role-playing. Both role play and small group collaboration have roots in Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory (1978). Vygotsky held that learning was done through social interaction. His assertion that the learner requires the assistance of a more knowledgeable other (MKO) to help him/her accomplish a task that he/she could not do on their own is the basis for the concept of apprenticeship and scaffolding. Collaborative learning and role-play develop oral communication and social interaction skills and promote empathy. These were the skills that Ms. Robinson appeared to be coaching from the students. During her introduction of the book, she randomly asked students about their ideas of the causes of homelessness. Ms. Robinson praised the ideas that were appropriate and redirected the ones that were not. In her second assignment, role play, she had one student play an interviewer and the other a homeless person. As anticipated, the answers were much more insightful.
The period between the book’s introduction and its questions about homelessness and the role-play exercise is where Mr. Gabriel intervenes. He suggested framing the activity through the lens of history and culture. The experience of being disadvantaged in a wealthy society allowed the black students to provide personal insight to the discussion of a book about a homeless man in a capital city. The role-play, in simpler terms, was an opportunity to explore the culture. The students who understood the struggle of the protagonist became MKO in the group discussion.
The idea that culture plays such a significant role in learning is honestly new to me. I have spent the last year or so trying to tie cognition to learning styles. I think that part of this is because most of the references that I have read during this program never add culture to the list of things that affect learning. The happy coincidence of watching this video after reading Ladison-Billings’ essay is the one best thing that I’ve gotten from this course so far. It puts learning theory in a different light. For example, behaviorism was a dominant strategy because early education was designed to teach religion and socioeconomic status. Our current academic assessment system is based on behaviorism. If you do well, you get an A, and you can go to a nice university.
Conversely, if you do not, your choices are limited. But Ladison-Billings argued a valid point, each generation responds differently. Brick and mortar school buildings and textbooks are no longer the only places students learn. In my last assignment, Beck (2001) argued that teachers tend to use teaching styles to teach them. This supports Ladison-Billings’ assertion that tradition overshadows culture. In the video, Ms. Gabriel became frustrated that she could not get her students to respond to her lesson, but it was not until Mr. Bayley showed her that she needed to look at the problem differently. I would summarize this by saying that direct instruction is both appropriate and practical, but if it does not work, maybe another approach will.
Beck, C. (2001). Matching teaching strategies to learning style preferences. The Teacher Educator, 37(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/08878730109555276
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. https://books.google.com/books