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In the contemporary sphere of education, there is a large variety of perspectives and professional philosophies developed by different educators. All of these points of view are based on the ideas created decades or even centuries ago by foundational professionals of pedagogy. The modern education is mainly influenced by the foundational practitioners of the 20th century. They mainly shared similar ideas and views with some differences and slightly varied approaches, these practitioners formed the contemporary perspective of education, curriculum, teaching techniques and methods, classroom management, and work with young learners. This paper is focused on the contrast and comparison of the approaches towards teaching developed by the three foundational practitioners of the 20th century including John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Lev Vygotsky. The philosophies of these educators will be compared within such aspects as the role of the environment in the learning process, interactions with adults, and the purpose of knowledge provided within the curriculum. Besides, the paper will discuss the influences and tendencies present in modern society.
The three participators of the discussion conducted in this paper are John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Lev Vygotsky. John Dewey is known for his alternative curriculum based on the theory of dual inquiry. This theory differentiates between two main forms of inquiry – common sense and scientific ones. Dewey developed the kind of curriculum that “was designed to gradually shift children’s and adolescents’ concerns for ends typical of common-sense inquiry to a concern for means and their coordination, which thereby approaches more closely scientific inquiry” (Harris, 2014). Dewey’s works were determined to find out what kind of changes need to be introduced to the curriculum to provide the best connection between common-sense and scientific inquiry.
In the opinion of Maria Montessori, children’s learning begins in early babyhood and during the first three years of their life children experience several different stages and sensitive moments as learners (Platz & Arellano, 2011). The information young children acquire and process at the very beginning of their life was viewed as the most critical, because during this period young children tend to receive the most essential knowledge that further in their lives is to become the basis for the perception of all the other information.
Among the most important principles and ideas included in the philosophy of Lev Vygotsky, there is a belief that cognition and cognitive process are unique for each specific human being (Costley, 2012). Therefore, the ways children employ to learn about things, process and memorize information can be different. Besides, Vygotsky was convinced that adults shape the perception and ideas of children since cultural interpretations lie within the communication between adults and children ever since their babyhood and make significant impacts on the formal curriculum.
The questions for the discussion between the three foundational educators will concern the meaning and importance of the environment for the learning process and the role and goal of the school curriculum. The issue of the environment is important to discuss because the contemporary class is likely to contain very diverse children from the environments of all kinds, so if the environment is crucial for the learner, then the educator is to develop specific approaches for the learners based on the environments they come from, which might be especially complicated in cases when the children’s environments do not match one of the educators. The question about the curriculum is significant today because in our ever-changing world school is undergoing a lot of changes and so does the formal curriculum. This way, to develop an efficient curriculum the educators need to agree about its main purpose, its purpose concerning the features and skills that need to be developed in learners.
First of all, discussing the abovementioned questions the three educators would agree that education should be child-centered. This way, all of the three experts would employ active learning within their practice. Active learning allows the child to take over the active role in their education and development (Morrison, 2012). Observing young learners it is easy to notice that learning is one of their main goals. Ever since babyhood they are determined to find new experiences using all of their senses – they look at things, they touch, smell and taste everything they encounter. This is happening because they have a natural thirst for knowledge to fill in their memory, to obtain a basis for comprehension, so the old idea that children are blank sheets is partly true. According to Montessori’s views, it is extremely important to preserve the uniqueness of children, she trained adults to observe children and learn along with them, this way, while a child was gaining new knowledge, the adult was getting to know that child’s personality (The Montessori “Method”, n. d.). Montessori’s idea was based on the desire to limit the adults to the role of supervisor and mediator making the environment more objective (The Montessori “Method”, n. d.). At the same time, Dewey would, probably, mention that according to his idea, children are to obtain knowledge based on the past experiences of adults, this way, the information provided by the adults was crucial for the young generation, which is rather close to the view of Vygotsky, who was convinced that the knowledge transmitted from adults to children through communication shapes the children’s perceptions according to the perceptions of adults working as a “lens” (Harris, 2014; Costley, 2012). In this case, the environment is the base for the future development of the children providing culturally appropriate perceptions and interpretations.
Discussing the meaning and purpose of the curriculum, all of the three educators would support formal education at school. Vygotsky viewed the curriculum as a composition of physical (computers, calculators, sewing machines) and cognitive (maps, writing systems, languages) tools (Costley, 2012). For this educator language was one of the most important parts of the curriculum, which would make the development of literacy the main purpose curriculum. Dewey and Montessori would agree that the goal of the curriculum is to connect the knowledge provided at school with the day-to-day experiences of the children (The Montessori “Method”, n. d.; Harris, 2014). The latter approach makes education a non-stop process and integrates leisure activities into the course of learning.
Dewey, Montessori, and Vigotsky have similar approaches to learning. All of them agree that education should be child-centered and active learning should be encouraged. Vygotsky and Montessori emphasize the diversity in the classroom and the need to address it from the side of an educator. Yet, while Vygotsky focuses on the influences coming from the cultural background of each child, Montessori emphasizes that personal differences need to be the focus. Dewey’s main goal was the creation of an optimized curriculum suitable for all of the learners and the environment they live in.
The approaches of Dewey, Montessori, and Vygotsky are still popular in modern education due to their focus on several issues that are very important today. First of all, the contemporary United States focuses on the diversity in education and ways to address it that would benefit both learners and teachers. Besides, the establishment of a close connection between everyday life experiences of children and the science curriculum is another aspect where works of the three foundational educators overlap with the modern goals. The integration of education into the everyday lives of children features the participation of parents which provides a non-stop learning experience for the children. Moreover, play-based education for young children today is a frequently discussed subject able to improve the quality of American education on the national level. Finally, the development of an optimized curriculum today focuses on the role of modern technologies, and the amount of curriculum that could be computerized.
The works of Dewey, Montessori and Vygotsky created the basis for the modern understanding of education. Unfortunately, their approaches have not always been popular, as for a while standard and inflexible curriculum had been employed. Today, the educational experts have re-appreciate the ideas of the educators of the 20th century and are working hard to integrate them into modern education to make it more effective, diverse, flexible, active and child-centered. The new approach is expected to significantly improve the level of literacy and the quality of education in America in the future.
Costley, K. C. (2012). An overview of the life, central concepts, including classroom applications of Lev Vygotsky. Web.
Harris, F. (2014). John Dewey’s dual theory of inquiry and its value for the creation of an alternative curriculum. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS), 12(2), 302-349.
Morrison, G. S. (2012). Early childhood education today (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Platz, D., & Arellano, J. (2011). Time tested early childhood theories and practices. Education, 132(1), 54-63.
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The Montessori “Method”. (n. d.). Web.