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Empowering Our Youth.

Kathryn Oswood

Empowering Our Youth: Providing Opportunities For Discovery Kathryn K. Oswood Human Development and Principles of Learning: EDU 6655 (7320) Karen C. Smith, ED.D. 10 December 2008

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself. Galileo Galilei As I reveal my beliefs on various concepts it will become apparent that I blend many educational theories into my personal pedagogy. Throughout this course I have built on prior knowledge as well as thrown out preconceived ideas I thought to be most effective. I will first tackle debates about development and learning such as nature versus nurture and the active versus passive child. When I bridge learning with motivation you will discover that Vygotsky is a large contributor to my personal beliefs as is Alfie Kohn. They, among others, have guided me in realizing my ultimate goal; to help my students become who they are and who they are not, while providing them with the experiences of the world in a safe and trusting environment where curiosity is encouraged and mistakes are opportunities for discovery.

HOW DO HUMANS LEARN? Nature versus Nurture

Humans learn through experience: nurture. People need to be exposed to the information that is to be learned, however, the way that one person learns may not be the most effective or efficient way for another: nature. Visual, kinesthetic, or auditory stimuli influence learning differently in a wide range of people. Eight intelligences, theorized by Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind, bring to my attention an even larger scope of learning capacities that are influenced by biological makeup as well as environmental exposures. Gardner was asked how educators should implement the theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner replied, Its very important that a teacher take individual differences among kids very seriouslyThe bottom line is a deep interest in children and how their minds are different from one another, and in helping them use their minds well. (1998).

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

Stages of Development versus Continuous Development

I believe that humans learn in a more gradual manner than Jean Piagets set stages of development suggest. I am aware of age appropriateness in that I cannot expect a five year old to dictate the profundities of love however, I will not dismiss it as an impossibility as I have seen a childs mind extend much further than his stage suggests. According to social learning theory, change during childhood and adolescence is accomplished largely through learning by observation, so learning is much more continuous and gradual (2007, p. 5).

Universals in Development versus Culture-Specific Developments

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. As stated in this poetic stanza by Maya Angleou, across all cultures we are more universally alike than not. However, The environments children experience in one part of the wo rld can be very different from the environments children experience in another part of the world (2007, p. 6). Once exposure is presented to a child, no matter what their culture, learning occurs. How children acquire information will need to be differentiated according to age, intelligences, and past experiences.

Active versus Passive Child

Children are naturally curious. They are mostly active participants in the learning process in that they seek out experiences and information. Children also play a passive role in their learning as they cannot always have a say in what they will experience. A child may go outside to find out how an ant makes an anthill however, a child does not choose to experience the death of a friend.

Lasting versus Transient

Early experiences effect a childs development greatly but poorly resolved stage conflicts [can] be revisited later in life (2007, p. 151). People learn throughout their lifespan building on prior knowledge and experiences. Humans are also capable of learning new information but it is much more difficult later in life as preconceived notions

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

become hard wired. If the stimulus is provoking enough anything is possible. How a child behaves in any given situation depends not only on the interests, abilities, and predilections of the child but also on characteristics of the situation and the childs expectations of the situation (2007, p. 149).

Zone of Proximal Development

My perspectives on each debate lay a foundation for my teaching. Vygotskys zone of proximal development is a load bearing pillar in that foundation. A teacher must first be aware of a childs zone of future development (ZFD), what a child is not yet able to do, so that modeling occurs where needed. Once sufficient modeling is experienced the child enters the zone of proximal development (ZPD), what a child can do with the support of the teacher. Coaching is crucial to the students learning as they are able to try the skill while receiving feedback and guidance. The final stage is the zone of actual development (ZAD), which is what a child can do independently. In a childs learning process scaffolding must occur in order for that child to be consistently successful. Overlaying this approach is opportunity; opportunities to empower students by guiding them toward achieving at an independent level.


I believe there are five main aspects to motivation. Initially, motivation begins in the reptilian brain as we need food, water, and shelter to survive. Once these basic needs are met people are open to other motivations. Goals and content must be relevant and meaningful to the learners life so it is worth learning. For example, I have no motivation to learn Greek as it has no relevance or direct correlation to my life, presently. The third ingredient is success. Students need to be set up for success according to their readiness to learn the material. They must be able to attain their goals through challenging work that is not going to elicit frustration. The key is to make anxiety minimal while maximizing their natural curiosities. In order for these to successfully motivate a learner the tasks and expectations must be clear and concise. Also, clear and consistent understanding, by student and teacher, of what positive and negative reinforcement and punishments are to be implemented will also reduce

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

anxieties and increase productivity and knowledge. (2005, p. 10). This leads me to my beliefs on extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic Motivation
An extrinsically motivated person will complete a task even if they have no interest in the task itself because the end reward, not the tasks result, is desired. Extrinsic motivators, like stickers, grades, or even praise can hinder the ultimate goal of nurturing an intrinsically motivated student. Alfie Kohn says, the real problem isnt grade inflationits grades, which by their very nature undermine learning. He continues, As motivation to get good grades goes up, motivation to explore ideas tends to go down (1999, p. 1). I want my students to learn because they desire to enrich their lives and be good citizens not to receive a prize for returning homework or for sitting respectfully at an assembly.

Intrinsic Motivation
I believe that challenge and curiosity are the top intrinsic motivators. People are best motivated when they are working toward personal goals that are challenging but not too far above their zone of proximal development. People are also highly motivated by their natural curiosities. Curiosity is a teachers best friend as I can find a student with little motivation and discover that they have an affinity for cats. Using this affinity I can direct the student toward cat books, story problems involving cats, or even the anatomy of felines; the possibilities are endless with no stickers in sight! Educators should nurture a learners confidence in his or her potential to learn. Firsthand experience can optimize feelings of competence and the belief that he or she (the student) is capable of solving new problems by building on past experiences and prior knowledge. The emphasis is taken away from the educator and put on the student as a learner, thus giving the learner ownership over their own education.


The goal of educators should be to make the most of the biological potential of a child. That means providing children with consistent high-quality experiences.

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

Biological perspectives can provide insights about when particular types of experiences are crucial as well as insights about the risks of environmental deprivations at particular points in development (2007, p. 4). My purpose is to guide children through their journey in discovering the world by providing opportunities to experience what they may not experience outside of school. A productive discussion of educations aims must acknowledge that schools are established to serve both individuals and the larger society (2006, p. 3). If I am going to be an active participant in our democratic society it is in my best interest to educate children to become informed, critical thinkers and decision makers so that they may also be active participants in our democracy. I will not teach children how to think like me but to challenge the ideals of past generations. As stated by Jean Piaget, The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done (2005, p. 6). I must teach to the whole child ensuring that their basic needs are met while analyzing the childs learning styles and capacities in order to hone in on the most effective avenue to which information fuses to their prior knowledge so they may begin bridging between one experience and another. Children learn information not only through the mind but through the heart and soul as well. It is my responsibility to provide opportunities that allow emotional and social learning situations to occur. I agree with Sir Herbert Read as he states the two principles that guide education, helping children become who they are and helping children become who they are not. Elliot Eisner adds, The aim is not simply to focus on the narrowly cognitive, but to see how students respond emotionally, imaginatively, and socially to the plans that they and their teachers formulate (2005, p.4). There is no independent part of the human body, I must teach to every part in order for the whole to function to the best of its ability.


A safe and trusting environment is what every student deserves. School needs to be a place where mistakes are opportunities for learning; where role models are positive, driven individuals and a place where conversations and ideas flow freely. In

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

order for an environment to have an atmosphere of security there needs to be a structure for which learning occurs. Schools need structured foundations from which thoughts and ideas can springboard. With structured routines, safety emerges and goals can be easily monitored and achieved by both teachers and students. However, I am not an advocate of uniformity amongst learners as I believe that there are a multitude of intelligences among people. I do think that everyone should be exposed to the same plethora of ideas, concepts, strategies, and emotions while remaining within the constructs of our schools. In serving the whole child (physically, emotionally, socially, and academically) a balance between learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered environments is the most desirable stance. However, it is not the simplest. I believe that a community centered environment is the foundation of all learning. Respect and trust are developed and nurtured through community based environments not in schools and classrooms where individual achievements are the sole basis of success. The diverse population at Quil Ceda Elementary makes it imperative that the classroom is a safe and accepting environment as many of them do not receive these comforts at home. Before these children can find respect and trust in our teachers we must show them respect and trust. To accomplish this goal we must learn from the children and from their culture as well as who they are wholly; as a student, a friend, a sibling, and a son or daughter. As a school, Quil Ceda is more community centered than many schools I have experienced as we have close ties with the Tulalip Tribes. Often tribe members come to Quil Ceda to speak, create arts and crafts with the students, teach about the culture, provide support, or just hang out. As stated by John Dewey,
From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experience he gets outsidewhile on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of school its isolation from life (2000, p. 147).

How people learn is a most fascinating science. In my perspective collecting, analyzing and interpreting data is stimulating. Yet, discovering what motivates a child

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

and using that spark to enhance their potential is artistry. Throughout my personal and professional growth I have been exposed to the multitude of theories that flood the education world. With this realization comes the urgency for continuity within schools' pedagogy. Consistency within schools is necessary to motivate students as well as teachers. I have observed stark differences between teachers ideologies that have created hostile working environments for both educators and students. Coherent goals must be evident as to not frustrate students as they move from one learning environment to the next. I often feel obligated to rely on extrinsic motivators as it is the majority norm that surrounds me, no matter how strongly I disagree. If I am to be a motivated educator of future citizens I must have the support required to nurture caring, generous individuals. As Martin Buber believed, Education worthy of the name is essentially education of character.

Empowering Our Youth. Kathryn Oswood

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