Relating Teaching Theory to Practice

Relating Teaching Theory to PracticeTeachers
who base their instruction on the foundation of learning theories continually apply student-centered learning. Students are encouraged to use their knowledge in a variety of contexts that will especially direct them toward higher cognitive processes. Driscoll (2005) purposes that five conditions of learning used by individuals.

  1. First, all learning is integrated into complex, relevant and realistic environments.
  2. Second, learning provides social negotiation and shared responsibility within the community.
  3. Third, content will be demonstrated and taught through multiple means and representations.
  4. Fourth, instructors will nurture self-awareness within the student.
  5. Fifth, instructors will encourage learners to accept responsibility and ownership in regards to their learning, as it is essential for educators to “awaken the desire to learn” (Gadamer, 2001, p. 534) within each student.

Although a knowledge of Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual and Moral Development, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and the Honey-Mumford learning styles are important for instructors, the essential nature of education is that students must apply what they have learned in real world applications, making a paradigm shift, moving learning from a fragmented, compartmentalized learning plan to a more holistic and interdisciplinary collaboration between different areas (Cortese, 2003). Education cannot be merely a transfer of information but must be aimed at an active use. Understanding is the ability to call back information and demonstrate the skill when needed whether if it is in the classroom or another application. The challenge for educators is determining an adequate absorption of material in order to use it in the correct situations (Dembo, 2004).

Learning Personalities Checklist
Click on image for pdf.

Osterman and Kottkamp (2004) create a guide for educators and administrators in developing a learning atmosphere which supports educators and students through the use of reflection. This process is used to create meaningful conversations to effectively problem solve. The process follows the steps of the ladder of inference as educators move from observational and non-judgmental modes to efficiently addressing problems. This reflective practice provides opportunities for educators and other professionals to seek, explore and improve their performance (Veenman, De Laat & Staring, 1998). Even learners can participate in reflective practice as they stand back from their experiences to be objective while considering what is happening in their surroundings. This essential time allows participants substantial space to consider a situation in depth and investigate information before returning to the circumstance. They permit themselves a mental interval to ponder their actions instead of continuing in a perpetual state of reaction (Hawi, 2010).

Learning styles are supported as instructors are encouraged to approach teaching from a variety of means such as using a checklist (figure 1) to provide structure and attentiveness to the differences amongst students. Teachers should use multiple methods of instruction which will target the individual learning styles of each student. Baron (2010) suggests several methods to move teaching from reception to participation. Among these suggestions are varying the activities, create multiple opportunities for students to interact with each other, use problem solving assignments as the foundation for most activities, have students participate in brainstorming activities, and have students reflect on material.

Addressing the Controversy

There still persists much controversy around the implementation of learning theories as researchers evaluate the veracity of these proposed theories based on the methodologies used in data collection. The Association for Psychological Science (2009) postulates that although much research supports the existence and development of individual learning styles, their existence has little influence on learning as learning will occur despite the preferred style. Additionally, there has been little evidence to support that students learn most effectively through the matching of one’s teaching style to the student’s learning style (Haley, 2009).

However, researchers emphasize the need to use the research effectively. Educators can recall the need to use auditory, spatial and visual aids in lesson design. Second, different subject matters are conducive to different types of teaching methodologies. These methodologies need to be matched to the content regardless of the learning preferences of the students. Third, individuals learn all new material best as they encounter it repeatedly (Bruff, 2011).

Barell (1995) suggests specific strategies to propel students from being passive to engaged learners, participating in student directed instruction, by providing students with opportunities to mold their educational experience to meet their learning style. Through this method, students will develop an insight into themselves as they develop learning strategies, set learning goals, gauge their progress and even assess the results. Such a process expands the self-efficacy of individuals and propels students to operate at higher critical thinking levels as researched by Bloom.

Implementing the appropriate instructional strategy to meet the learning needs of each student helps them to feel well understood and develop skills to develop literacy skills. Learning is more than simply transferring knowledge from one individual to another. Educators must develop knowledge and essential skills for effective instructional strategies including actively engaging students in the learning experience. Only then will learners reap the greatest benefits of being a literate member of society (Moore, 2012).


Association for Psychological Science. (2009). Learning styles debunked: there is no evidence supporting auditory and visual learning, psychologists say. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from

Baron, L. (2012). Redesigning teaching to meet all students’ needs: responsive and productive courses. Retrieved from

Barell, J. (1995). Critical issue: working toward student self-direction and personal efficacy as educational goals. Retrieved from

Bruff, D. (2011). Learning styles: fact and fiction. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from

Cortese, A. (2003). The critical role of higher education in creating a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, 15-22.

Cortland: State University of New York College at Cortland. (2012). Multiple intelligences: Howard Gardner. Retrieved from

Dembo, M. (2004). Don’t lose sight of the students. Principal Leadership, 4(8), 37-42.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Gadamer, H. (2001). Education is self-education. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 35(4), 529-538.

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences. New York, New York: Basic Books.

Haley, M. (2009). Understanding learner-centered instruction from the perspective of multiple intelligences. Foreign Language Annals, 34(4), 355-367.

Hawi, N. (2010). The exploration of student-centered approaches for the improvement of learning programming in higher education. US China Education Review, 7(9), 47-57.

Moore, K. D. (2012). Effective instructional strategies: From theory to practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage Publications.

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R. (2004). Reflective practice for educators: Professional development to improve student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Perry, W. G. (1999). Forms of ethical and intellectual development in the college years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rapaport, W. (2008). William Perry’s scheme of intellectual and ethical development.
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Researchers at the University of California Berkeley. (2014). Learning theory and research of cognitive constructivism. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from

Veenman, S., De Laat, H. & Staring, C. (1998). Evaluation of a coaching programme for mentors of beginning teachers. Journal of In-service Education, 24(3), 411-430.

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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