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Making My Way Through Educational Theories: Before, Then, and Now

I didn’t really take into account many educational theories until I started my first year of teaching. Learning about educational theories at University didn’t really mean much until I actually got to us them in the classroom. Now, 5 years into my career, I find myself shifting through educational theories with more and more experience.

Before I dive into my experiences learning and using these theories in my classroom, here are a few relevant ones that I would like to define.

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: This pyramid allows educators to understand what children need in order to learn. ( basic needs need to be met) (This is more of a psychological theory, but still fits into the classroom)
  • Constructivism: Using previous experiences and understandings to develop new and/or a deeper understanding. (Students learn by doing)
  • Behaviorism: Positive reinforcements increase the chances students will repeat the good behaviour. Negative reinforcements decrease the chances a student will repeat the bad behaviour.
  • Cognitivism: Focusing on how learning works in the mind. (Problem-solving, thought-provoking scenarios, organizing information).
  • Connectivism: Learning from each other and through meaningful experiences. ( scaffolding, learning groups)
  • Bloom’s taxonomy: This one was taught quite a bit during University. This one categorizes cognitive skills needed in learning.
  • Multiple Intelligences: Humans process information and learn in different ways depending on their abilities. (another more psychological theory)

Before: University

I remember learning about many theorists during my undergraduate classes. I spent a lot of time researching, writing papers, and memorizing many theories. I was taught examples of how they were used in the classroom. However, at that time, learning about them is quite different than using them in your own classroom.

Then: First Few Years of Teaching

We all know how difficult the first couple years of teaching can be. It’s all about survival mode. To be honest, I did not take the time to think about any theories when I was too busy ( I do know I was using them though). I hate to admit it, but I definitely used behaviorism incorrectly. Classroom management is a big challenge as a first-year teacher and I tried to use negative reinforcements to help. This wasn’t great for connections and relationships. I did keep in mind multiple intelligences whiles creating lessons and assignments and I kept in mind that students need basic needs before learning ( Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Having a middle school class, I enjoyed using constructivism since they were quite curious and loved the thought of inquiry projects.

Now: The “I Made it!” Years

Many teachers will agree that Year 5 is the year you feel like you might have it together. Some days, it doesn’t feel that way, but I find myself having the chance to use theories just a little bit easier and with less thought. Here is how I am using some theories in my classroom:

  • Behaviourism: I make sure to only use positive reinforcements and set clear expectations so they know what to expect.
  • Constructivism: I enjoy when I get the chance to have my students learn by doing projects and activities that keep them engaged and develop skills of critical thinking.
  • Connectivism: Whenever I see fit, I like having my students work together to develop collaborative and cooperative skills, I also enjoy learning from them. My students have so many clever ideas!
  • I also keep in mind that kids are human. They have good days and bad days. They may not always be at their best every single day. I know my students will learn differently. I adapt when I can to meet their needs so they may learn using their best abilities.

What Has Changed?

Thinking back to my first few years of teaching, I didn’t quite understand the needs of my students. I was focused on teaching the curriculum and planning lessons ( it makes sense since I wanted to make sure I knew the content I was teaching). Now that I have more experience with these theories, I make sure to prioritize my students and their needs. This means using Maslow’s Pyramid, remembering multiple intelligences, learning from my students, and giving them a say in their own education. And of course, building meaningful and positive relationships so they may feel safe and supported at school.

Which theories do you remember learning at University? Do you still use some of them to this day?


2 thoughts on “Making My Way Through Educational Theories: Before, Then, and Now

  1. I appreciate your honesty in your evolution as a teacher. I too recall being overwhelmed in my first few years in the profession. Long range planning, short term planning, assessment, classroom management, coaching several sports, classroom management issues, trying to incorporate technology into my lessons, fulltime supervision, and attempting to build my tool box with the many hats we are asked to wear…so like you, the theories of learning were the last things on my mind. I recall -when lesson planning- trying to mix up the method of instruction – direct teaching, experiential learning, group work, projects, independent, etc.. so in ways, this effort to vary the instructional method was hitting the three theories of learning.

    Master teachers are still attempting to find the ‘happy balance’ in using the 3 theories of learning. Thanks again for sharing your journey.


  2. Megan, very insightful post and thoughts about different theories of teaching and learning. I still remember Maslow’s need hierarchy since my school days while studying business studies. In my teaching years, while teaching pre-schoolers I have always focussed on Experiential Learning. There are plenty of clichés and parables about teaching someone something by doing it, although it wasn’t until the early 1980s that it became an official learning theory. This approach emphasizes both learning about something and experiencing it so that students can apply knowledge in real-world situations.


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