Sunday, September 12, 2010

It Is Always About Continual Improvement: A Reaction to the Teacher’s Guide to Diversity

The interrelationship between human development, culture, and learning described in The Teacher’s Guide to Diversity: Building a Knowledge Base is multifaceted and almost overwhelmingly complex. Having always subscribed to the idea that development and learning are not finite processes but continual, never ending paths, I find my mind becoming overwhelmed attempting to focus on the scope that cultural differences play on these processes. The definitions and schools of thought employed in this text force the reader to become aware of the multitude of perspectives that contribute to how our students learn. “Development is plastic,” and therefore constantly susceptible to change from internal and external factors. Those factors influence development and learning and are based from, or are themselves influenced by, cultural factors. Basically, everything is in constant motion. Students develop and learn by, for, and because of the culture in which they exist and perceive themselves, as well as those they come in contact with.

This basic idea: that students learn and develop based on their own culture and other cultures they experience, feeds well into the ideas of social constructivism. The theory of constructivism is defined in the text as, “the cognitive theory that posits that learners actively develop new knowledge based on prior knowledge and new data,” and social constructivism as that which, “emphasizes that this construction of knowledge is accomplished within a social and cultural context, using particular cultural tools.” Social constructivism is more evident today than ever before with the advent of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to get a clear visual depiction of the way learning can take place by following a #hashtag on Twitter or reading the comments on a blog or news article. A very dynamic and democratic learning scheme can be seen because of the ability to link additional resources or search for meaning and the ability of anyone to be involved in the conversation.

This has led me to wonder how the theory of information processing, “the cognitive theory that claims that individuals actively take in and organize information for storage and retrieval by coding it in particular ways, using interpretive and memory strategies,” will be affected by these newer means of learning. While in previous generations, information was very linear and limited by formally written and published texts, now information is dynamic and linked together in multiple ways. Will the way students code and retrieve information and knowledge change significantly because of the ways they now receive that information and knowledge? For example, if “language is the key to critical aspects of cognitive change,” and “learning a single new word results in some reorganization of a learner’s mental lexicon,” then how will using world-wide social media change the way our students understand and learn? The Toronto Star has released several articles discussing the transfer of idiomatic expressions to non-native regions based on their use on sites like Twitter that transcend cultural barriers. (See my blog post on the Sociolinguistics of Twitter for further information.)

This all really breaks down to awareness. As teachers we must be aware of the way personal development of individual students along their individual learning paths are influenced and formed by their own cultural contexts. It comes down to trying to get to know our students and ways they believe to be effective modes of learning so we can be efficient facilitators and guides. Students will come to us with their own goals and reasons for needing to learn what we teach based on who they are and where they are on their own individual learning and developmental paths. To keep up with them appropriately, we must keep our eyes open and use the information we learn about them to be the best guides we can be. As we continue down our own educational paths, the experiences of our students feed back into who we are and what we can continue to do to help future students. As I continue down my own personal educational path, I find that every thread worth pursuing always falls back to continual improvement, of our programs, our schools, our students, our curriculum but mostly of ourselves.

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