Pedagogy has very rich contemporary literature. The field has several proponents presenting various theories and approaches. The current study of proper teaching unfolded through a long line of key conceptual developments spanning millennia of human history. It has enjoyed a strong focus from the works of important thinkers such as Socrates and Confucius, among many others. Today, it still holds a large estate in the domain of education research.
Throughout history, however, the study of proper teaching and learning is not purely academic. It has always been couched in a practical context; or, better yet, towards practical goals. This is apparent in the influential works of John Dewey and Paulo Freire, who argue that proper pedagogy should lead to some greater good.
Thus, in this article, we will discuss the abstract understanding of the widely-held concepts and frameworks today and the supposed practical benefits they can bring. We will also discuss the different types of pedagogy and pedagogy examples.
What is pedagogy in education? Put simply, pedagogy in education is the study of optimal frameworks and techniques for teaching and learning and their execution. It is, in a large sense, professional teaching theories and practices—the applied art and science of co-creating knowledge in a classroom setting.
However, pedagogy is not limited to the realm of formal education. This is not just because we learn outside the classroom but also because we are also pedagogical animals.
Learning and teaching others are essential human activities. Without social learning, it would be hard to imagine how the species have come up with a multitude of cultures that in themselves have intricate nuances in concepts and rituals.
In a study by Gergely and colleagues (2007), “On pedagogy” published in Developmental Science, the researchers cited the works of Csibra and Gergely (2006), remarking, “Humans are adapted to spontaneously transfer relevant cultural knowledge to conspecifics and to fast-learn the contents of such teaching through a human-specific social learning system called ‘pedagogy.”
Without such cultural knowledge like art, literature, astronomy, cuisine, and mathematics could not be passed on efficiently. And humans have passed on cultural knowledge from generation to generation with an astonishing rate of fidelity. In fact, our species is so good at it that we still have in possession the records and corresponding pedagogical tools of cultures in our past. Teaching pedagogy examples are Ancient Babylonian math tablets, Ancient Greek music notations, and medieval cookbooks.
We humans, it seems, possess a natural proclivity to express our own ideas with great clarity and learn and understand others with great accuracy. This might just be the reason why our species exercises great creativity to mold social learning tools—from the humble bamboo scrolls of the past to the MOOCs of today.
One can thus argue that classroom pedagogy is just a highly formalized and professionalized social learning method, and a very dominant one at that.
Source: Gallup, 2019
Even if, indeed, classroom pedagogy is just a highly-formalized social learning method, we cannot diminish its importance. Nobody in their right mind could deny the importance of formal education. The question is how we should go about formal education. As an academic discipline, this is what the study of pedagogy in education is trying to answer. And it has many pedagogical approaches and general pedagogy definition in education.
When people refer to teaching pedagogy, they often mean teaching method. This does not only encompass techniques and tools but also concepts being used to frame goals, applications, and even the total education picture. In contemporary pedagogy practice, there are two general considerations: the focus and the approach.
Think of these as the two opposite ends of the spectrum. Also, there are many kinds of incarnations as these are not just opposing philosophical positions but also come with technical and methodological baggage. Meaning, that each position brings its own set of teaching tools and methodologies to the table. Yet, there can be intersections where one tool or method is being shared by both positions.
As there can be many instantiations of both, the distinction, in practice, is not as easy to tell as in theory. The conceptual divide, however, highlights the two polar ways of going about knowledge production and dissemination.
Instructivist: Teacher-Centered Method
The best example of a teacher-centered classroom is the traditional classroom. Students are expected to learn via direct teacher instruction through lectures and other methods. Teachers are seen as the communicator of proper knowledge that students should understand and retain. So, students must give their exclusive focus to their teachers (Scholarify, 2021). As such, assessments are also centered on whether a student has done well by the teacher.
One of the many setbacks that this, and traditional education by extension, suffers from is that the framework stifles student creativity, expression, and self-directedness. It may force students to limit themselves within the bounds of a teacher’s expertise and wonderment. Thus, the students can be inherently excluded from decisions that affect their own learning journeys.
Another unwanted side effect is that the development of a student’s critical thinking and communication skills may be stunted as they do not get to experience interacting with their peers at a formal or professional level. It could also increase the power distance between teachers and students, which can result in attitudes that contribute to social and economic inequality.
However, a teacher-centered method is not always a poor choice. Traditional methods are not always superseded by the new and exciting. Some traditional things become proven classics. This is true for the teacher-centered method to some degree.
In younger students, the teacher-centered method can also promote discipline, respect, and how to conduct matters in an orderly fashion. It can also be very apt in higher education, especially when courses are centered around the work of a certain professor or teacher. There can be no other way for the course to be handled as the content itself is teacher-centered.
Constructivist: Student-Centered Method
On the other side of the spectrum, the student-centered method encourages that students and teachers equally interact. It is a collaborative endeavor to not only create knowledge about topics but also bestow an amount of freedom for students to explore other alternatives or questions.
Husbands and Pearce (2012) pointed out in their article, "What makes great pedagogy? Nine claims from research," published in the National College for School Leadership, that there “is robust evidence that giving serious consideration to pupil's voice can generate highly effective pedagogy.” This does not only involve hearing what pupils say but also includes consulting them about the very process of learning and teaching. Quoting Niemi and colleagues (2012), the researchers emphasized the importance of involving students in the process of educational decision-making. This and listening seriously to student stories of their experiences are the “essential first steps in developing education.”
This position—together with its relevant techniques—fosters a collaborative environment and encourages intellectual creativity. And probably the most important promise of such student-centered teaching/learning is to instill a great sense of wonderment and the drive to find solutions. This is because they are not just taught facts and their explanations but also required to seek them as well. Thus, they not only get used to lifelong learning but, hopefully, be also driven by it.
That is the big picture view. However, more often than not, this is not exactly how self-proclaimed student-centered classrooms go. Execution may come in the flavor of creating a student-centered “atmosphere” through powerful yet subtle manipulation.
A teacher can steer class discussions towards a certain idea in such a way that students can follow—through a series of conceptual steps—how such an idea has been constructed. This could be a potent tool for explaining the picture proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem or of famous thought experiments in science.
However, this method is also vulnerable to being exploited for academic or any other propaganda. As teachers can maneuver class discussions to move into pre-conceived directions, they can lead and/or allow students to believe that they too have arrived at such thoughts by themselves. Thus, teachers can really pull the students towards their sides of a certain issue.
Like the focus or center of education, one must treat these polar approaches as the two ends of a spectrum. This is because educators have already been using a mix of low-tech and high-tech approaches. Of course, the level of technology use depends on many factors, including the economic capacity to course outcomes and content.
For instance, teachers of computer-related and media production courses naturally have to use high-tech equipment for teaching and assessment. This also includes teachers who handle classes using computers in professional practice like accounting and analytics, and even in computer courses that use domain name generator free software. On the other hand, traditional low-tech methods may be more preferred by those handling maths and fine arts classes.
But these polar approaches should also be thought of as just tools that can engage students. As such, they can be used not only for classroom instruction and activities but also for assessments like quizzes and learning diaries. So, if digital technology makes these tasks more convenient, then teachers should consider including them in their toolkits.
By making such things efficient, they can spend less time on clerical assessment tasks like grading. Teachers could then spend more time delivering quality instruction using the framework they believe is the best fit. This is not just for the whole course but also for bits of activities in it. But, of course, to make learning more successful, it should also be tailored to the needs of the students.
This response to the pandemic showed that digital technologies can surely be beneficial to both teachers and students. The extent of which, however, varies depending on many factors surrounding the choice of tools and their use. The success or failure may also greatly depend on the level of digital literacy of both teachers and students.
Digital literacy, however, is pretty high. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers in Pre-K to 5th-grade classrooms use a lot of digital learning materials in a typical week. This includes online educational videos (67%) and games (50%).
Source: Deloitte, 2016
To paraphrase a Taoist idea that Bruce Lee popularized, the best way is no way. What Bruce Lee meant by this is that the best way to approach something is not with a set belief but with great flexibility.
Applied to classroom pedagogy, this would entail for teachers to adapt their outlook, methods, and techniques to the situation. They must take into account not just course content and outcomes but also what students need and want in their learning journeys. Thus, they need to consult with their students.
As Husbands and Pearce (2012) noted, consultation “is about talking with pupils about things that matter in school. It may involve: conversations about teaching and learning; seeking advice from pupils about new initiatives; inviting comments on ways of solving problems that are affecting the teacher’s right to teach and the pupil’s right to learn; inviting evaluative comments on recent developments in school or classroom policy and practice."
Of course, this is to the extent that course and other school requirements and policies are also satisfied, especially those that are essential in terms of earning accredited credentials. As Vij (2015) has pointed towards, “Instructivism and constructivism are exclusive in the sense that if we decide that a direct instruction approach is appropriate at a particular time, we will not be maintaining a constructivist classroom, but instructivism and constructivism are not exclusive in the sense that we can only choose one approach as the be all and end all.”
The activity of teaching and learning is like a conversation. It entails both the traditional stance that students need to understand the instructions given by teachers and the constructive ideal of teachers also taking the side of the students into consideration. And these need to be actively balanced depending on many factors, including course content and preferred outcomes.
Now that we already have discussed what is usually meant by teaching pedagogy, it is time to turn our attention to what many call learning pedagogy before we zero in on specific approaches and pedagogy in education examples.
When people speak of learning pedagogy, they refer to the ways that students learn and how they should be engaged. There are two popular operational frameworks for this. We deem them operational frameworks because they might not be sufficient theories to account for how students actually learn but their use, as witnessed by many, has been met by some success.
These are Fleming and Mills’ VARK and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Even though they may differ on the level of focus and detail, both speak of taking advantage of various student learning styles and contexts.
Working from past progress in learning, Fleming and Mills (1992) introduced their VARK technique in their seminal paper, “Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection'' published in To Improve the Academy. They spoke of designing a “technique that would focus students' attention on ways they address information.”
Also, rather than designing a simple diagnostic tool, they “wanted something that would serve as a catalyst for discussion and debate and encourage students to collaborate in the process.” The researchers found that there are four perceptual modes preferred by students. Although they did not use the acronym in their paper, these perceptual modes were later known as VARK. They are:
These preferred perceptual modes, proponents believe, should inform teachers what types of pedagogy in education they should employ to make learning most effective. However, there are two points of nuance that are best noted with VARK.
Fleming and Mills (1992) divided the visual preference into two perceptual modes, which are (V) Visual and (R) Read/Write. The first is a preference for graphical and symbolic representations, while the latter is a preference for words. This is, of course, a fluid distinction. The researchers themselves point out that both use the visual sense.
Second, the (K) Kinesthetic perceptual mode is, as admittedly by the researchers, a form of multi-modal learning. This is because it already uses a mix of senses from visual to aural in performing learning activities that require more coordinated and fine bodily movement (e.g. learning to play the piano).
In real life, students bring all the senses available to them to the classroom. And, more or less, most senses are already being engaged in traditional classroom and laboratory activities. This includes taking notes, listening to lectures, understanding visual aids, conducting experiments, and collaborating with each other.
Teachers, too, in practice, usually use a mix of VARK techniques: (V) use graphs, (R) graded papers/notes, (A) do group discussions, and (K) make students perform real/simulated physical tasks (e.g. first aid on a dummy, using a microscope, creating a program, etc.).
VARK, in this sense, is not that novel, but what it purports, though, is not an explanatory account of what learning mode is best used for a student or for particular course content. It simply points towards teachers leveraging multi-modal techniques to make learning more effective. And to do that, teachers must understand which of their students prefer which perceptual modes. In this way, they can find the right mix and accentuate techniques for better understanding and retention of the course content.
This may be the most popular learning pedagogy framework today. Howard Gardner (2013) himself does not equate his Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) with learning styles, something that can be easily conflated by readers (Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2020). MI simply speaks of “modalities of intelligence.”
Each mode of intelligence fulfills eight criteria (Gardner, 2000 in Gilman, 2021):
Using these criteria, Gardner counters, “The monopoly of those who believe in a single general intelligence” (Gardner, 2000 in Gilman, 2001). He stated that this should come to an end. This, of course, is in the context of academia.
Gardner argued passionately that “the narrow definition of intelligence as equal to scholastic performance is simply too constrictive." (Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2020). Being limited to a very narrow context, it does not speak about how truly the intellectual and cognitive aspects of the human mind works. By extension, this limited view is a poor ground for scholastic learning as well.
Thus, Gardner categorized intelligence into modalities. There are currently nine (Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2020). They are:
These, proponents hold, must be taken into account when teaching. Gardner (2013) himself asserted that regardless of what subject is being taught—in the arts, history, sciences, or math—teachers should use learning materials in multiple ways. This benefits not only the students but also the teachers.
Gardner (2013) stated, “Teachers discover that sometimes our own mastery of a topic is tenuous, when a student asks us to convey the knowledge in another way and we are stumped.” If the challenge is addressed properly, conveying course materials in different modes or ways can also help teachers master the content (Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2020). This leads to better instruction and, by extension, learning.
Just like many frameworks, models, and theories, Gardner’s MI is not short of criticisms. In Peariso’s (2008) work titled “Multiple Intelligences or Multiply Misleading: The Critic’s View of the Multiple Intelligences Theory,” criticisms have included uber-egalitarianism, lack of empirical evidence, and even internal contradictions.
The same goes for VARK as an assessment and inventory tool. There are those who state that there is no strong evidence that matching activities to learning styles can improve learning (Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2020).
A discussion of these criticisms is outside of the scope of the article, albeit many of them seem to hold water. However, just like they say about models: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
As well, a generous account for these systems of thinking about pedagogy is that they are operational frameworks that can help guide teachers to make learning in the classroom better.
Thanks to advances in the study of classroom pedagogy, teachers can now know for themselves through studying the literature the different teaching pedagogy types so they can engage their students. In this way, they can pick, choose, try, and test different mixes of techniques themselves.
In the preceding sections, we have encountered frameworks, approaches, and theories of pedagogical views as possible basis for applications. We also discussed how these are not rigid positions to be interpreted as dogma. Instead, they offer different points of view that can be very valid depending on the particular learning environment.
But learning environments change over time. Schools are embedded in wider society. Meaning, like any social organization, they are embedded in dynamic environments affected by technological, political, cultural, and economic developments. As classrooms, to a large part, are there to help students prepare for the real world, they must also exhibit adaptive behavior in order to be successful.
This leads us to the topic of pedagogy in the classroom. Or, put simply how to run a classroom.
There are many pedagogical styles along the student-centered and teacher-centered spectrum. They vary in conviction and in approach to pedagogy of teaching. Convictions include what we can call pedagogical schools. Some of them are constructivist, social constructivist, behaviorism, and liberationism (Learning Journals, 2021). Also, they lie somewhere in the student-centered and teacher-centered spectrum. Briefly, they are:
These pedagogical schools have distinct convictions and, again, methodological baggage. They also seem to be at odds with each other. However, if we choose to have a generous reading, it is good to think that each school of thought is a product of the circumstances of the people who have developed them. Thus, one can say that each can be applicable or may have the best fit for the certain milieu that they are designed to solve.
For instance, Liberationism seeks to eliminate socioeconomic barriers to learning. This is because it was developed at a time and place where these barriers are quite high. It seeks socioeconomic liberation and the empowerment of students towards democratic citizenship. This pedagogical framework, arguably, works best in developing countries or even deeply impoverished areas in the first world.
However, in more developed countries and in graduate education, the approach seems to fall short as attention to important academic aspects is shifted towards less warranted socioeconomic concerns that may or may not be there at all.
The same can be said about behaviorism. It may look like a “tyrannical” way of running a classroom by staunch liberationists. However, it may be a good way to approach pre-school or vocational, or professional instruction.
In lower levels of education, a behaviorist method may do well as most instruction calls for the introduction of basic facts and ways of thinking. For instance, preschoolers are usually taught the names of colors or how to count. They are being exposed to these conventions. Surely, these conventions can be questioned, especially the foundation of numbers and arithmetic.
But, more often than not, preschoolers do not yet possess the ability to discuss such matters meaningfully. Such topics as how numbers come to be in number theory can clearly be addressed using social constructivist approaches in higher education.
The point is that there is a time and place for such approaches. In our generous interpretation, these are not rigid ideologies but valid and useful responses to certain scarcities and pressures. So, which approach or a mix of them a teacher should use depends on different aspects. This also includes the use of digital or modern technologies. They may include:
Based on the above, a teacher can tailor-fit their pedagogical approaches to teaching, convictions and approaches to the particular context of a classroom. Teaching styles or methods can be mixed and matched. The most common methods are (Doherty, 2003 in Scholarify, 2021):
These methods can also fall under different teaching styles. On the other hand, styles can be quite dynamic as well. One can, for example, use a particular teaching style for one activity then use another for the next course content.
|Expert||The teacher possesses knowledge and expertise needed by the students. Thus, the teacher strives to maintain status as experts and challenge to enhance their competence.||The information, knowledge, and skills such individuals possess.||If overused, it can be intimidating. Also, it may not always show the underlying thought process in producing answers.|
|Formal Authority||Achieves status because students know that they are a member of the faculty. The teacher is concerned with providing feedback, establishing rules of conduct, learning goals, and expectations. The are concerned with standardization.||There is a clear focus on acceptable ways of doing things and other expectations.||Can lead to rigid ways of managing students and their concerns.|
|Personal Model||These teachers "teach by example". They put forward a model or prototype of how to behave and think. Looks to demonstrate things and allow students to observe and later emulate their approach.||This emphasizes direct observation and a "hands on" experience by following a model.||There are instructors that feel that their approach is best and students may feel inadequate if they cannot live up to expectations and standards.|
|Facilitator||Emphasizes on the personal nature of student-teacher interactions. They guide students in their explorations of options, provide alternatives, and encourage informed decisions. They try to develop independence in students. They work as consultants and provide support.||The personal flexibility of teachers and focus on students' needs and goals allow them to provide alternatives and encouragement for them to achieve goals.||It is time consuming and can be ineffective when a more direct approach is appropriate. This can also make students uncomfortable when not used in an affirming or positive way.|
|Delegator||Develops students' capacity to function autonomously. They are given the chance to work independently on projects while having the teacher available as a resource.||Allows students to reaffirm to themselves that they are independent learners.||Some students can become anxious when given autonomy. Teachers using this approach may misread the readiness of students to undertake independent work.|
However one may frame it, one hard fact is that students are the main stakeholders of their own education. Even instructivist and behaviorist proponents would concede that they choose or promote such approaches because they are beneficial to students. This is the same with other pedagogical schools. Nobody is claiming that they are not meaning to help students learn more effectively. They just go about it in different ways.
Consider that, in admittedly over-generalized terms, students are the ones who pay and will pay for the quality of their training in the future. It is their future that is at stake while teachers can safely enjoy the benefits of employment and tenure.
In a funny jab, philosopher Dan Dennett is known to have stated:
“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It's rather like getting tenure.”
If this caricature is true in some pockets of academia, then the future of students as stakeholders is in jeopardy. If tenure can increase complacency, then teaching can easily become not just teacher-centered but centered around a teacher’s personal preferences.
Thus, if teachers really want to do good for their students, they should embrace the study of educational pedagogy. Good knowledge of pedagogical frameworks can allow them to look at their teaching practice situations through different lenses. By conducting a better assessment of their situations, they can pick, choose, and innovate according to their students' particular needs.
Teachers, operationally, need not rigidly choose a side of a pedagogical school. It is not a matter of theoretical and/or moral correctness but is more of a matter of practical fit.