Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages

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Individuality

Read and Reflect

In a 1926 paper, Dewey described progressive education in the following manner:

 
Let us surround pupils with materials, tools, appliances, etc., and let the pupils respond according to their own desires.  Above all, let us not suggest any end or plan to the students; let us not suggest to them what they shall do, for that is unwarranted trespass upon their sacred intellectual individuality, since the essence of such individuality is to set up ends and means.
 
 
Boydston, A. (1985, 2008)

 
1. Read this extract and express its meaning in different terms, using the following sentence frames

learners should ___________ ; learners should not ___________
teachers should ___________ ; teachers should not ____________

2. How might different learning theorists respond to these injunctions?  Which theory of learning does it best represent?
 
3. What is your own reaction to these lines?  Do Dewey's exhortations correspond to your own view of teaching and learning?
 
 

ANSWERS

 
1. Read this extract and express its meaning in different terms, using the following sentence frames

Learners should follow their own impulses, set their own goals and choose their own methods for attaining their goals.
Learners should not follow a teacher's lesson plan.

Teachers should provide stimulus materials for learners.
Teachers should not suggest goals or methods of learning to learners.

2. How might different learning theorists respond to these injunctions?  Which theory of learning does it best represent?
A behaviourist teacher would reject this method, because the teacher has the main role in learning.
Cognitivists and constructivists might be interested in how children react to this situation, but their teaching would involve a task or project.

3. What is your own reaction to these lines?  Do Dewey's exhortations correspond to your own view of teaching and learning?
 
Perhaps you found this approach to teaching too liberal, and "anything goes."  Now re-read the quote in the wider context of Dewey's 1926 paper: you will see that he thinks it "stupid" (emphasis added):
There is a present tendency in so-called advanced schools of educational thought . . . to say, in effect, let us surround pupils with materials, tools, appliances, etc., and let the pupils respond according to their own desires.  Above all, let us not suggest any end or plan to the students; let us not suggest to them what they shall do, for that is unwarranted trespass upon their sacred intellectual individuality, since the essence of such individuality is to set up ends and means.  Now, such a method is really stupid, for it attempts the impossible, which is always stupid, and it misconceives the condition of independent thinking.
 
A further expression fo the limitations Dewey placed on experiential learning and the clear role he assigns the teacher is provided in his seminal work Experience and Education (1938).
 
The teacher's business is to see that the occasion is taken advantage of. Since freedom resides in the operations of intelligent observation and judgment by which a purpose is developed, guidance given by the teacher to the exercise of the pupils' intelligence is an aid to freedom, not a restriction upon it. Sometimes teachers seem to be afraid even to make suggestions to the members of a group as to what they should do. I have heard of cases in which children are surrounded with objects and materials and then left entirely to themselves, the teacher being loath to suggest even what might be done with the materials lest freedom be infringed upon. Why, then, even supply materials, since they are a source of some suggestion or other? But what is more important is that the suggestion upon which pupils act must in any case come from somewhere. It is impossible to understand why a suggestion from one who has a larger experience and a wider horizon should not be at least as valid as a suggestion arising from some more or less accidental source.

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