Four Approaches to Teaching

To outsiders looking in, teaching seems a relatively simple endeavor. Even to some insiders who do not step back and try to understand what they are doing, teaching can be perceived to be a simple endeavor. The reality is that teaching should vary depending on the nature of the curriculum, the purpose of the teaching, and the nature of the students. Schools that are intended to prepare students for specific roles (e.g. to operate a tools on a manufacturing floor) are much different from schools that provide liberal arts education. In general purpose schools (public k-12 schools, community colleges, universities for example), instructors are well-advised to incorporate a range of approaches into their curriculum.

Behaviorist approaches to teaching is appropriate when an instructor knows with certainty what student must transfer. We help students know what steps to follow through worked examples and other “show-and-tell” methods, give them opportunities for practice, and we can evaluate them against clear criteria.

Cognitive approaches to teaching help students organize and structure their learning. Rather than following steps, students are able to generalize their skills and knowledge so they can better integrate new knowledge, apply concepts, and identify relevant details. Students begin to discuss the curriculum with others, think about their own learning, and feedback from other others becomes an important source of assessing their progress.

Whereas cognitive approaches tend to focus on the curriculum and understanding connections within the curriculum, situated cognition places the curriculum in the context of problems encountered in the real world. The fact that real problems are not as clearly bounded as school curriculum becomes obvious. The social nature of real-world problems becomes clear when teaching from this perspective as well. Students benefit from coaching and feedback as they critically analyze their knowledge and situations.

When students become actors within real-world problems, they are engaged in participationists lessons. In general, faculty assume the role of observer and watch as students demonstrate their understanding of the situation and craft a solution to it. In these lessons, students practice being agents who select, design, and analyze their own solutions to authentic problems. Feedback is intended to help students improve their performance in these contexts.