learning theories

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Reviewed by: Chris Staysniak
Date Reviewed: 2017-06-23
This volume is the most recent of a triumvirate of interrelated works Maiorana has recently published. Teach Like the Mind Learns builds off Fixing Instruction: Resolving Major Issues with a Core Body of Critical Knowledge for Critical Instruction (2015) and Preparation for Critical Instruction: How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2016). Maiorana’s larger project is an ambitious one. He takes aim, with ...

This volume is the most recent of a triumvirate of interrelated works Maiorana has recently published. Teach Like the Mind Learns builds off Fixing Instruction: Resolving Major Issues with a Core Body of Critical Knowledge for Critical Instruction (2015) and Preparation for Critical Instruction: How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2016). Maiorana’s larger project is an ambitious one. He takes aim, with broad brushstrokes, at rote-learning styles of instruction, a specter he calls “serialism” and describes as the “teaching profession’s weak default instructional strategy” (4). He contends that this pervasive style inhibits “our innate ability to think critically” (155).

As an antidote, Maiorana offers his own unique instructional framework. He argues that subject matter is universal and critical in nature across disciplines. He also argues that one can teach how the mind learns, and as a result, promote teaching that gets students to write, speak, and observe critically. One can do this by utilizing “mind grammar,” which he defines as the “innate, systematic, and patterned way that the human mind encounters the world and all its subject matter” (6), At the core of mind grammar instructional techniques are what he calls “subject matter displays.” Much of the practical approach involves formal concept mapping and displaying the explanation of a certain term or concept with related activities. The book unfolds in two main parts: part one provides an overview of Maiorana’s theoretical basis for critical instruction, and part two offers numerous examples of activities and instruction sets using this framework.

Teach Like the Mind Learns is a tough nut to crack. This is largely because it is a closed intellectual loop. The only other instructional literature Maiorana cites in footnotes and references in passing are his own two earlier works on the topic. He even instructs the reader to purchase his previous books so one can better follow the self-referential citations that abound in each chapter. The first-time reader must further master Maiorana’a distinctive vocabulary, from mind grammar to “Itechniques” and “Imethods.”

Consequently, the learning curve for reading Teach Like the Mind Learns is steep. It is largely predicated on the assumption that the reader has read and embraced Maiorana\'s earlier works. There are some helpful insights throughout, including the example teaching exercises that make up the second half of the book. But as Maiorana’s approach avoids engaging with any other instructional literature beyond his own, it is ultimately not clear how one might use this approach in combination with other pedagogical styles and resources to improve classroom instruction. Further, he suggests a remarkable universality to his framework, regardless of specific context – from elementary through college-level instruction – a bold one-size-fits-all approach.

In a world of opportunity costs, limited time, and limited energy, someone looking to explore “how the mind learns” would be much better off diving into the established science of learning literature. There are numerous accessible works on its foundations and praxis, and several that are specifically about improving instruction at the college level, such as James Lang’s Small Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016) and Donelson Forsyth’s College Teaching (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2016).

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Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion

Book-Review
Antes, Peter; Geertz, Armin W.; Rothstein, Mikael, eds.
2016
Equinox Publishing Ltd.
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Tags: learning theories   |   teaching comparative religion   |   theories and methods

Reviewed by: Eugene Gallagher
Date Reviewed: 2016-11-14
During his time on the editorial board of Teaching Theology and Religion Tim Jensen brought a distinctive, and often provocative, sensibility to that group’s discussions. Rooted in his own experience as a teacher in secondary schools and in universities, and based on his research into systems of “religion education” both in Denmark and throughout Europe, Jensen’s position vigorously argued for a strictly secular (and scientific) study of religions ...

During his time on the editorial board of Teaching Theology and Religion Tim Jensen brought a distinctive, and often provocative, sensibility to that group’s discussions. Rooted in his own experience as a teacher in secondary schools and in universities, and based on his research into systems of “religion education” both in Denmark and throughout Europe, Jensen’s position vigorously argued for a strictly secular (and scientific) study of religions throughout the educational curriculum. Even when they did not carry the day, Jensen’s arguments were always “good to think with.”

Although they do not focus as directly on Jensen’s teaching as they do on many of Jensen’s essays (the volume includes a bibliography of his writings), these essays honoring Jensen on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday address many of his persistent concerns. As an ensemble, the essays present a vision of the field of the study of religion that will challenge teachers in North America to articulate their own understandings of what the study of religion entails. More importantly for this context, several of the essays link their broad considerations of the study of religion directly to issues concerning teaching.

Gustavo Benavides offers an essay that stands out in linking theoretical concerns to the classroom. He argues that whatever the subject matter may have been, at the end of the term students in any course in the study of religion “will have thought, however intermittently, ­­­about the various but nevertheless recurrent ways in which what we call ‘religion’ is generated and kept in place” (223). Beyond that broad learning goal he proposes – convincingly in my view – that “Ideally, anyone teaching a course that has to do with any of the aspects of what is generally known as ‘religion’ should be engaged in the elaboration of a theory that could accommodate – however provisionally, however tentatively – most of the topics being discussed in any given class” (225). Benavides shows clearly how conceptions of what is – and should be – involved in the study of religion is not simply the concern of a handful of scholars specializing in “theory and methods.” One’s conception of the nature and purpose of the field has a direct and pervasive impact in the classroom.

Several other contributors propose interesting links between their scholarly concerns and their practice as teachers. Russell McCutcheon discusses his use of popular music videos “to illustrate the unexpected appearance of religion” (157) where it is least expected. Drawing on a thorough reading of Jensen’s own work, Wanda Alberts carefully maps out not only what “Religious Studies-based Religion Education” looks like in K-12 curricula but also how it contrasts to other, more confessional, understandings of “Religious Education” and what is at stake in the competing understandings. Satoko Fujiwara provides a persuasive account of why the “world religions” paradigm has persisted in Japanese education, linking it to a particularly Japanese understanding of Max Weber.
Though this volume does not focus directly on teaching, it nonetheless provides the interested reader with both some very pointed suggestions about classroom practice and an array of essays about the state of the field that will provoke and perhaps even inspire careful rethinking about what we are teaching when we teach about religion.

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Methodological Challenges in Research on Student Learning

Book-Review
Donche, Vincent; De Maeyer, Sven; Gijbels, David; and van den Bergh, Huub, eds.
2015
International Specialized Book Services
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Tags: learning theories   |   structural equation modeling   |   student learning

Reviewed by: Harold Morales
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
The central aim of this edited monograph is to present new techniques for dealing with methodological challenges to sociological research on student learning. The book is organized into a brief preface, seven chapters that each deal with distinct methodological approaches to student learning research, and an eighth chapter that provides an outline for how the preceding chapters can be applied to or help shape future research. Each chapter presents various ...

The central aim of this edited monograph is to present new techniques for dealing with methodological challenges to sociological research on student learning. The book is organized into a brief preface, seven chapters that each deal with distinct methodological approaches to student learning research, and an eighth chapter that provides an outline for how the preceding chapters can be applied to or help shape future research.

Each chapter presents various solutions to distinct methodological challenges through concrete case studies. Chapter one provides an overview and case study of how structural equation modeling (SEM) can be used to conduct empirical research that tests hypothesized influences on student learning. The authors contend that previous research has not been able to fully address the complex multi-variable character of students’ approaches to learning. The strength of SEM is not only its ability to test for multiple variables such as these, but also to examine the pattern and strength of the relationships between these variables. Chapter two explores challenges to research on students in dual programs composed of both university classes and internships. The goal of such research is to take into account the different perspectives, discourses, and research instruments (for example, focused in-depth research and large scale qualitative research) used to study dual program student learning, including workplace learning and the transitions between contexts of learning, learning in higher education and its specific learning activities and patterns, and longitudinal professional development. To study such complexity, the authors propose the use of multilevel analysis for dealing with nested data and methodological triangulation for testing the use of the multiple research instruments. Chapter three outlines a method for using neural network analysis techniques for assessing the predictability of how much influence cognition, motivation, and learning approaches have on academic performance. Chapter four provides a model for addressing the failure of previous research to address implicit preferences for specific types of learning environments by using conjoint analysis, a method developed and employed in marketing research. Chapter five proposes exploratory-grounded research as a way of developing theories rather than solely testing them. The first case study provided in this chapter analyzes data from semi-structured interviews on students’ motivational orientation through various processes for identifying, verifying, and revising themes in the data. The second study then analyzes another set of interviews using the categories developed from the first study. A strength of this approach is its ability to develop innovative theories that are not limited to any pre-established or hypothesized number of categories. Chapter six addresses emotional dimensions and their measurement in research on teacher education. In addition to providing a thorough rationale, outline of theoretical perspectives, overview of the phenomenological method in social science research, identifying themes in the data, and discussing methodological challenges, the chapter provides a helpful survey in the form of a table of previous research articles that address emotional dimensions. Chapter seven explores challenges to longitudinal studies and provides a model and short list of best practices.

Though interesting conclusions and/or corroboration and challenges to previous theories regarding student learning are discussed throughout the book’s varied chapters, the overarching focus is indeed on methodological challenges and proposed solutions to these.

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Tell Me So I Can Hear You: A Developmental Approach to Feedback for Educators

Book-Review
Drago-Severson, Eleanor; and Blum-DeStefano, Jessica
2016
Harvard Education Publishing Group
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Tags: adult learners   |   learning theories   |   student learning

Reviewed by: Rob O'Lynn
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
The question, “Can you give me some feedback on this,” is incredibly problematic. It is what some leadership theorists call a “landmine question.” Giving constructive feedback can be a tricky wicket. We may call feedback “honest.” However, it almost always comes across as critical, perhaps even mean. The idea is to focus on the negatives or how others can improve themselves, so we address it in what I call a “...

The question, “Can you give me some feedback on this,” is incredibly problematic. It is what some leadership theorists call a “landmine question.” Giving constructive feedback can be a tricky wicket. We may call feedback “honest.” However, it almost always comes across as critical, perhaps even mean. The idea is to focus on the negatives or how others can improve themselves, so we address it in what I call a “combatively collaborative” fashion. However, because of the possibly aggressive or even bullish nature of the one giving the feedback, it can have the reverse effect.

Tell Me So I Can Hear You is a helpful volume for educators and leaders. Rooted in the cognitive-developmental theory of human development as espoused by Robert Kegan, the authors base their entire argument firmly in the “four ways of knowing – instrumental, socializing, self-authoring, and self-transforming” (40). The authors convincingly argue that feedback to colleagues and peers works best when it is understood to be part of the continuing education or professional development process. For them, this results in primarily offering feedback in a way connects with our learning styles. For example, if you are an instrumental learner, you will focus on offering feedback that adheres to the rules, regulations, and expectations of an employee of that organization. Since this approach relies heavily on rubrics, it will positively help colleagues understand where they stand professionally, based on the commonly-accepted careerist markers. However, it does not take into account more abstract qualities, such as emotional health, creativity, or one’s personal background.

Those in administrative educational leadership often offer constructive or critical feedback and tend to process feedback differently than the faculty colleagues and students who are recipients of that feedback. The one receiving feedback may become confused, angry, or withdrawn because they interpret the administrator’s comments differently than the intended meaning.

The benefits of this volume are in the consistent and thorough explanation of the “four ways of learning,” as the authors ground their entire discussion on showing how these ways of learning can work together through feedback settings to build a healthy and collaborative environment. To this end, the chapters on how we receive feedback (chapter 4), give feedback (chapter 5), and build a culture of trust in the organization (chapter 6) are certainly worth the price of the book.

The reader should, however, be aware of two minor concerns: First, this volume accepts Common Core Standards as its operating model for understanding competency rather than seeking out a more integrated model of content comprehension and skills application. Second, the authors seem to interchange the concepts of “colleague” and “adult learner,” which causes some confusion as to whether this handbook is for the quad office or the adult-learning classroom. If you find yourself being required to offer more and more intense feedback or are in a leadership position, read Henry Cloud’s extremely practical volume Necessary Endings (New York: HarperBusiness, 2011) before diving into this volume.

 

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Theory and Method in Higher Education Research, Volume 1

Book-Review
Hulsman, Jeroen; and Tight, Malcolm, eds.
2015
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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Tags: educational research methods   |   institutional theory   |   learning theories

Reviewed by: Eugene Parker
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
The first volume of Theory and Method in Higher Education Research, editedby Jeroen Huisman and Malcolm Tight, is an important contribution to the body of pedagogical literature. The volume focuses on researchers’ engagement with theory and contemporary utilization of methods in educational research. Generally, the book highlights contemporary theories and offers summaries pertaining to innovative methods in educational research. This is the first volume of a series that will attend ...

The first volume of Theory and Method in Higher Education Research, editedby Jeroen Huisman and Malcolm Tight, is an important contribution to the body of pedagogical literature. The volume focuses on researchers’ engagement with theory and contemporary utilization of methods in educational research. Generally, the book highlights contemporary theories and offers summaries pertaining to innovative methods in educational research. This is the first volume of a series that will attend to theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches for researchers. With fifteen chapters from a diverse group of international scholars, the book is a potential handbook for researchers to strengthen their research designs, methods, and analyses.

In the first chapter, Yuzhao Cai and Yohannes Mehari provide a review of how institutional theory has been studied and applied in higher education research. Andrew Gunn, in the second chapter, argues that political factors, theories, and concepts from the field of political science can be applied to higher education policy analysis and matters related to the association between universities and the state. Next, Murray Saunders, Christina Sin, and Steven Dempster utilize a case study from Scottish higher education to describe the use of evaluation theory in policy research and methodologies.

In a subsequent chapter, T. Austin Lacy describes a useful analytical tool for longitudinal studies, namely event history analysis, and offers a practical application for higher education. In the following chapter, Matthias Klumpp discusses the theoretical perspectives that can help stakeholders understand and measure performance and efficiency in higher education. In the sixth chapter, Mareike Landmann, Emilia Kmiotek-Meier, Daniel Lachmann and Jennifer Lorenz discuss reliability and validity in competence scales in graduate surveys. Brett Bligh and Michelle Flood’s contribution to the book is an illustration of the application of Change Laboratory theory to higher education research methodology. In the next chapter, Lynn Clouder and Virgina King present a case for further engagement with Appreciative Inquiry in higher education research. Erika Lofstrom, Anne Nevgi, Elisabeth Wegner, and Mari Karm offer a valuable explanation of how images may be utilized in research methods in the following chapter.

Neville Clement, Terence Lovat, Allyson Holbrook, Margaret Kiley, Sid Bourke, Brian Patridge, Sue Starfield, Hedy Fairbairn, and Dennis M. McInerney wrote the next chapter that conceptualizes judgment, epistemic cognition and the quality of doctoral examinations. The following chapter, written by Megan Y.C.A. Kek and Sara Hammer, presents a meta-analysis centering on academic development research.The next chapters describe the application of important theories to higher education: Two-Dimensional Participatory Theory (Andrew Morrison) and capability approach (Ana Sofia Ribeiro). The final two chapters focus on qualitative approaches in higher education. Peter Gibbings, John Lidstone, and Christine Bruce offer a discussion about presenting phenomenographic research to technology-based audiences and Antonio Magalhaes and Amelia Veiga describe the utilization of the narrative approach in higher education research. Theory and Method in Higher Education Research: Volume 1 is a must have for anyone with an interest in contemporary theoretical perspectives, epistemological advancement, and methodological approaches in higher education research.

 

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