Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A little bit of Theory for my practice!!!!

Last one and then I'm going to talk about ideas. I love theory primarily because it can provide a universal languange for people to talk about their ideas, beliefs and values with out going into all the details but I think it might be useful to just give a brief outline of my theoretical framework and the key ideas that make me tick. I got this started on the last blog.

Frame Work for Practice

"Teaching is a practical and observable act. Pedagogy encompasses that act together with the purposes, values, ideas, assumptions, theories and beliefs which inform, shape and seek to justify it" (Alexander,2002, 2 cited in Singh & Richards, 2006).

With the quote above in mind, there are three broad theoretical perspectives that umbrella my framework for social work and my teaching philosophy. These include structuralism, post-modernism and critical theory. For me these lead to Empowerment theory which provides the value base for my work. There after anything goes as long as it fits the situation and my sense of integrity stays in tact.

Structuralism incorporates feminist, marxist, anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and radical empowerment theories. This part of my framework informs a strong commitment to social justice and human rights. A social justice perspective recognises oppressive power structures such as those existing in traditional teacher – student relationships and involves levelling the playing field so that education is accessible to anyone who wants it. Accessibility can include financial subsidising, and physical access but less tangible it also includes the right of individuals to access education which is non-discriminatory, non-oppressive, socially and culturally safe, respectful, appropriate and inclusive in terms of meeting the characteristics and needs of all students.

A social justice perspective sits comfortably with a student centred approach where such an approach de-emphasises the teacher as an expert instead of recognising the expertise that students bring. Teaching and learning from this perspective is based on co-construction and mutual empowerment in contrast to teacher directed learning.The structuralist school of thought focuses on the group or shared experience of oppression and marginalisation.

Postmodernism which is the second key theoretical perspective underpinning my philosophy draws attention to multiple realities, diversity and the unique experience of individuals. This understanding is crucial in terms of my teaching philosophy on multiple levels. It reminds me to keep my kete open and maintain an eclectic approach to teaching and learning. It keeps me reflective and flexible because I know that what worked for one student or one group of students will not necessarily work for the next. It explicitly informs my commitment to exploring students learning styles, culture, characteristics and needs.

Critical theory is a little more abstract but at it’s most simple it enables me to marry structuralist and post structuralist ideas around shared or collective realities and experience with the post modern emphasis on unique experience and individual realities. In short this means that both can be true – people do share experiences that result in the same or similar feelings. Feelings of oppression, stigma, internalised stigma, loss and so on. Simultaneously each experience a person has in the world does not define who they are, rather a person is a combination of all their experiences and the experiences of their ancestors and their children and the political, economic, social and spiritual climate in which they all exist, existed and will exist. The point being that though a person may share any number of experiences with others they are ultimately unique.

In terms of learning theories, one of the things that intrigues me about academia is the tendency towards negative critiquing. I am experimenting with positive critique – rather than looking for the negative, looking for the positive! I think hmm, what do I want to take from this idea for my kete. I guess it’s informed by the post modern and eclectic ideas in my framework.

That said, once upon a time and not very long ago I would have said I’m a constructivist girl all the way and Vygotsky’s my man when it comes to learning theories and this would have been in conflict with my own claim to post modernism. However the more aware I become of my own learning style the more aware I become that when all is said and done I’m really the ultimate in Piaget’s lone scientist – Just leave me a lone and let me consolidate! So as I mature as an academic and as an educator I find that more and more I’m thinking it’s all good – Each theory starts as one person’s idea which makes them all valid. Consequently I have in my kitty some behavioural tools and some cognitive tools and some cognitive behavioural tools, some cognitive humanist tools, some humanist feminist tools, some feminist psychoanalytical tools and quite a lot of constructivist tools too.

I'd like to talk in more detail about the recovery, aspirations and strengths models that I teach as they are absolutely relevant for flexible learning but I really must get on with my flexible learning ideas and presentation now.

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