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Theories Underlying Principles and Methods of Teaching
Haiku Poetry
More of Poetry
Assess Your Multiple Intelligences
Learning Filipino
My Jewels
Razel's Family
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Cherished Friends
Child and Adolescent Development
Principles of Teaching
Teaching and the Teacher
Theories Underlying Principles and Methods of Teaching
What Principles Are
The Starting Principles

The principles of teaching are basically anchored on the basic educational theories, namely; behaviorism, constructivism, and cognitivism. However, it is important to note as well the ideas of early philosophers and theorists since they contributed much to the emerging educational practices.  


Early Educational Theories


In the 17th century, Jan Komensky, popularly known as Comenius, created an educational philosophy called Pansophism or universal knowledge. It was designed to bring about worldwide understanding and peace. Comenius advised teachers to use children’s senses rather than memorization in instruction. His book, The Gate of Tongues, was written using the students own language. His other book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus, made use of illustrations and labeled objects in both Latin and vernacular terms (MSN Encarta, 2006).


The concept of tabula rasa also propped up in the 17th century. It was introduced by John Locke in his writing, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In Locke's philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a "clean slate" without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one's sensory experiences. The notion is central to Lockean empiricism. As understood by Locke, tabula rasa meant that the mind of the individual was born "blank", and it also emphasized the individual's freedom to author his or her own soul (, 2006)..


Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) provided educational concepts in his book, Émile. After Plato’s Republic, Émile became the most significant book in education.

The focus of Émile is upon the individual tuition of a boy/young man in line with the principles of 'natural education'.

From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains.

'Make the citizen good by training', he writes, 'and everything else will follow'.

In Émile Rousseau drew on thinkers that had preceded him - for example, John Locke on teaching - but he was able to pull together strands into a coherent and comprehensive system - and by using the medium of the novel he was able to dramatize his ideas and reach a very wide audience.  He made, it can be argued, the first comprehensive attempt to describe a system of education according to what he saw as ‘nature.’ It certainly stresses wholeness and harmony, and a concern for the person of the learner. Central to this was the idea that it was possible to preserve the 'original perfect nature' of the child, 'by means of the careful control of his education and environment, based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which he passed from birth to maturity'. This was a fundamental point. Rousseau argued that the momentum for learning was provided by the growth of the person (nature) - and that what the educator needed to do was to facilitate opportunities for learning.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on education

We are born weak, we need strength; helpless we need aid; foolish we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man's estate, is the gift of education.

This education comes from nature, from men or from things. The inner growth of our organs and faculties is the education of nature, the use we learn to make of our growth is the education of men, what we gain by our experience of our surroundings is the education of things

We are each taught by three masters. If their teaching conflicts, the scholar is ill-educated and will never be at peace with himself; if their teaching agrees, he goes straight to his goal, he lives at peace with himself, he is well-educated.

Now each of these factors in education is wholly beyond our control, things are only partly in our power; the education of men is the only one controlled by us; and even here our power is largely illusory, for who can hope to direct every word and deed of all with whom the child has to do.

Viewed as an art, the success of education is almost impossible since the essential conditions of success are beyond our control. Our efforts may bring us within sight of the goal, but fortune must favour us if we are to reach it.

What is this goal? As we have just shown, it is the goal of nature. Since all three modes of education must work together, the two that we can control must follow the lead of that which is beyond our control.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) Émile (1911 edn.), London: Dent, pp.6.

On the development of a person, Rousseau believed it was possible to preserve the original nature of the child by careful control of his education and environment based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which he passed from birth to maturity. As we have seen he thought that momentum for learning was provided by growth of the person (nature).

In Émile, Rousseau divides development into five stages (a book is devoted to each). Education in the first two stages seeks to the senses: only when Émile is about 12 does the tutor begin to work to develop his mind. Later, in Book 5, Rousseau examines the education of Sophie (whom Émile is to marry). Here he sets out what he sees as the essential differences that flow from sex. 'The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive.' From this difference comes a contrasting education. They are not to be brought up in ignorance and kept to housework: Nature means them to think, to will, to love to cultivate their minds as well as their persons; she puts these weapons in their hands to make up for their lack of strength and to enable them to direct the strength of men. They should learn many things, but only such things as suitable.' The stages below are those associated with males.


Stage 1: Infancy (birth to two years). The first stage is infancy, from birth to about two years. (Book I). Infancy finishes with the weaning of the child. He sets a  number of maxims, the spirit of which is to give children 'more real liberty and less power, to let them do more for themselves and demand less  of others; so that by teaching them from the first to confine their wishes within the limits of their powers they will scarcely feel the want of whatever is not in their power.'


The only habit the child should be allowed to acquire is to contract none... Prepare in good time form the reign of freedom and the exercise of his powers, by allowing his body its natural habits and accustoming him always to be his own master and follow the dictates of his will as soon as he has a will of his own.


Stage 2: 'The age of Nature' (two to 12). The second stage, from two to ten or twelve, is 'the age of Nature'. During this time, the child receives only a 'negative education': no moral instruction, no verbal learning. He sets out the most important rule of education: 'Do not save time, but lose it... The mind should be left undisturbed till its faculties have developed.' The purpose of education at this stage is to develop physical qualities and particularly senses, but not minds.  In the latter part of Book II, Rousseau describes the cultivation of each of Émile's five senses in turn.


Stage 3: Pre-adolescence (12-15). Émile in Stage 3 is like the 'noble savage' Rousseau describes in The Social Contract. 'About twelve or thirteen the child's strength increases far more rapidly than his needs.' The urge for activity now takes a mental form; there is greater capacity for sustained attention. The educator has to respond accordingly.


Our real teachers are experience and emotion, and man will never learn what befits a man except under its own conditions. A child knows he must become a man; all the ideas he may have as to man's estate are so many opportunities for his instruction, but he should remain in complete ignorance of those ideas which are beyond his grasp.


Stage 4: Puberty (15-20). Rousseau believes that by the time Émile is fifteen, his reason will be well developed, and he will then be able to deal with he sees as the dangerous emotions of adolescence, and with moral issues and religion. The second paragraph of the book contains the famous lines: 'We are born, so to speak, twice over; born into existence, and born into life; born a human being, and born a man' (Everyman edn: 172). As before, he is still wanting to hold back societal pressures and influences so that the 'natural inclinations' of the person may emerge without undue corruption. There is to be a gradual entry into community life. Most of Book IV deals with Émile's moral development. (It also contains the the statement of Rousseau's' his own religious principles, written as 'The creed of a Savoyard priest', which caused him so much trouble with the religious authorities of the day).


Stage 5: Adulthood (20-25). In Book V, the adult Émile is introduced to his ideal partner, Sophie. He learns about love, and is ready to return to society, proof, Rousseau hopes, after such a lengthy preparation, against its corrupting influences. The final task of the tutor is to 'instruct the young couple in their marital rights and duties.'


Sophie. This last book includes a substantial section concerning the education of woman. Rousseau subscribes to a view that sex differences go deep (and are complementary) - and that education must take account of this. 'The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive; he one must have both the power and the will; it is enough that the other should offer little resistance.' Sophie's training for womanhood up to the age of ten involves physical training for grace; the dressing of dolls leading to drawing, writing, counting and reading; and the prevention of idleness and indocility. After the age of ten there is a concern with adornment and the arts of pleasing; religion; and the training of reason. 'She has been trained careful rather than strictly, and her taste has been followed rather than thwarted.' Rousseau then goes on to sum her qualities as a result of this schooling.

Reproduced from the encyclopedia of informal education




Behaviorism was a movement in psychology and philosophy that emphasized the outward behavioral aspects of thought and dismissed the inward experiential and sometimes the inner procedural aspects as well; a movement harking back to the methodological proposals of John B. Watson, who coined the name (Hauser, 2006). It is a theory which holds that mental states can be analyzed in terms of observable behavior or dispositions to engage in such behavior (Prinz, 2004).


Early Behaviorism 

John B. Watson was an American psychologist who coined the term, behaviorism. In 1913, Watson published what is sometimes considered his most important work, the article "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It"--sometimes called "The Behaviorist Manifesto." In this article, Watson outlined the major features of his new philosophy of psychology, called "behaviorism." The first paragraph of the article concisely described Watson's behaviorist position:

Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist's total scheme of investigation.

The "twelve infants" quote

Eventually, Watson's penchant for strong rhetoric would overshadow his science. He is famous for boasting, facetiously, that he could take any 12 human infants, and by applying behavioral techniques, create whatever kind of person ("beggarman and thief") he desired. Naturally, he admitted that this claim was far beyond his means and data—noting, pointedly, that others had made similarly extravagant claims about the power of heredity over behavior for thousands of years. The quote, probably Watson's most well-known, reads:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.

The last sentence is usually left out, making Watson's position more radical than it actually was. Watson had, in fact, done extensive ethological studies of the instinctive behavior of animals early in his career, particularly sea birds. Nevertheless, Watson strongly sided with nurture in the nature versus nurture discussion.

Retrieved, June 28, 2006 from



Connectionism (E. Thorndike)


The learning theory of Thorndike represents the original S-R framework of behavioral psychology: Learning is the result of associations forming between stimuli and responses. Such associations or "habits" become strengthened or weakened by the nature and frequency of the S-R pairings. The paradigm for S-R theory was trial and error learning in which certain responses come to dominate others due to rewards. The hallmark of connectionism (like all behavioral theory) was that learning could be adequately explained without referring to any unobservable internal states.


Thorndike's theory consists of three primary laws: (1) law of effect - responses to a situation which are followed by a rewarding state of affairs will be strengthened and become habitual responses to that situation, (2) law of readiness - a series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked, and (3) law of exercise - connections become strengthened with practice and weakened when practice is discontinued. A corollary of the law of effect was that responses that reduce the likelihood of achieving a rewarding state (i.e., punishments, failures) will decrease in strength.


The theory suggests that transfer of learning depends upon the presence of identical elements in the original and new learning situations; i.e., transfer is always specific, never general. In later versions of the theory, the concept of "belongingness" was introduced; connections are more readily established if the person perceives that stimuli or responses go together (c.f. Gestalt principles). Another concept introduced was "polarity" which specifies that connections occur more easily in the direction in which they were originally formed than the opposite. Thorndike also introduced the "spread of effect" idea, i.e., rewards affect not only the connection that produced them but temporally adjacent connections as well.



Connectionism was meant to be a general theory of learning for animals and humans. Thorndike was especially interested in the application of his theory to education including mathematics, spelling and reading, measurement of intelligence,  and adult learning.




The classic example of Thorndike's S-R theory was a cat learning to escape from a "puzzle box" by pressing a lever inside the box. After much trial and error behavior, the cat learns to associate pressing the lever (S) with opening the door (R). This S-R connection is established because it results in a satisfying state of affairs (escape from the box). The law of exercise specifies that the connection was established because the S-R pairing occurred many times (the law of effect) and was rewarded (law of effect) as well as forming a single sequence (law of readiness).




1. Learning requires both practice and rewards (laws of effect /exercise)

2. A series of S-R connections can be chained together if they belong to the same action sequence (law of readiness).

3. Transfer of learning occurs because of previously encountered situations.

4. Intelligence is a function of the number of connections learned.

There are two versions of conditioning- classical and operant conditioning.


Retrieved, June 28, 2006 from



Classical Conditioning (Ivan Petrovich Pavlov)


Classical conditioning (also Pavlovian conditioning, respondent conditioning or alpha-conditioning) is a type of associative learning. Ivan Pavlov described the learning of conditioned behavior as being formed by pairing two stimuli to condition an animal into giving a certain response.


Components of Classical Conditioning


            *Neutral stimulus (NS)

            *Unconditioned stimulus (UCS)

            *Unconditioned response (UCR

            *Conditioned stimulus (CS)

            *Conditioned response (CR)



            (does not elicit UCR)

UCS         UCR

            (exposure to UCS elicits UCR


CS            CR

(Originally, the subject does perceive any relationship between the NS and the UCS. After the NS is paired with the UCS, it becomes a CS and elicits a CR)

Elicits:  Stimulus automatically leads to a response

Paired:  When the subject is exposed to the NS and UCS together, they become paired.


Salience:  Degree to which a stimulus is relevant to subject.  The UCS will always be more salient than the CS, and the UCR will always be stronger than the CR.


Increasing a classically conditioned response


Increase the number of pairings

Each time the NS is paired to the UCS, the connection strengthens, making the CS more salient


Increase strength of UCS

Increasing the salience of the UCS makes it more likely that an NS will be paired with it, and become a CS.



      Implementing the NS and the UCS close together in time increases the strength of the pairing


Decreasing a classically conditioned response



If the UCS does not occur after the CS, over time the CR will diminish and stop, so that the NS is no longer paired with the UCS.               



A new, more desirable conditioned response replaces the original CR.  This occurs when the new CS is more salient than the old CS.  Also, the new response should be incompatible with the old one.



Occurs through overexposure to the CS.  Constant exposure to the CS causes the subject to habituate to it.


Stimulus Control



                        Any stimulus that is similar to the CS produces the CR



                        The CR is produced only by the CS


            Higher-order Conditioning

A new NS is paired with the CS (not the UCS), and elicits the CR.  The new NS therefore becomes a CS.


Operant Conditioning (B. F. Skinner)

The theory of B.F. Skinner is based upon the idea that learning is a function of change in overt behavior. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual's response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment. A response produces a consequence such as defining a word, hitting a ball, or solving a math problem. When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond. The distinctive characteristic of operant conditioning relative to previous forms of behaviorism (e.g., Thorndike, Hull) is that the organism can emit responses instead of only eliciting response due to an external stimulus.

Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's S-R theory. A reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response. It could be verbal praise, a good grade or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction. The theory also covers negative reinforcers -- any stimulus that results in the increased frequency of a response when it is withdrawn (different from adversive stimuli -- punishment -- which result in reduced responses). A great deal of attention was given to schedules of reinforcement (e.g. interval versus ratio) and their effects on establishing and maintaining behavior.


One of the distinctive aspects of Skinner's theory is that it attempted to provide behavioral explanations for a broad range of cognitive phenomena. For example, Skinner explained drive (motivation) in terms of deprivation and reinforcement schedules. He tried to account for verbal learning and language within the operant conditioning paradigm, although this effort was strongly rejected by linguists and psycholinguists. He deals with the issue of free will and social control.




Operant conditioning has been widely applied in clinical settings (i.e., behavior modification) as well as teaching (i.e., classroom management) and instructional development (e.g., programmed instruction). Parenthetically, it should be noted that Skinner rejected the idea of theories of learning.




By way of example, consider the implications of reinforcement theory as applied to the development of programmed instruction.


1. Practice should take the form of question (stimulus) - answer (response) frames which expose the student to the subject in gradual steps

2. Require that the learner make a response for every frame and receive immediate feedback

3. Try to arrange the difficulty of the questions so the response is always correct and hence a positive reinforcement

4. Ensure that good performance in the lesson is paired with secondary reinforcers such as verbal praise, prizes and good grades.




1. Behavior that is positively reinforced will reoccur; intermittent reinforcement is particularly effective

2. Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced ("shaping")

3. Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli ("stimulus generalization") producing secondary conditioning


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Constructivism views that knowledge is not ‘about’ the world, but rather ‘constitutive’ of the world (Sherman, 1995). In this theory, the actor is the learner as he interacts with his/her environment and gain knowledge within. He constructs his own knowledge independently. According to constructivism, learning is the result of individual mental construction, whereby the learner learns by dint of matching new against given information and establishing meaningful connections, rather than by internalising mere factoids to be regurgitated later on. In constructivist thinking, learning is inescapably affected by the context and the beliefs and attitudes of the learner. Here, learners are given more latitude in becoming effective problem solvers, identifying and evaluating problems, as well as deciphering ways in which to transfer their learning to these problems (Thanasoulas, no date).



Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner)


A major theme in the theoretical framework of Bruner is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure (i.e., schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to "go beyond the information given".


As far as instruction is concerned, the instructor should try and encourage students to discover principles by themselves. The instructor and student should engage in an active dialog (i.e., Socratic learning). The task of the instructor is to translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner's current state of understanding. Curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that the student continually builds upon what they have already learned.


Bruner states that a theory of instruction should address four major aspects: (1) predisposition towards learning, (2) the ways in which a body of knowledge can be structured so that it can be most readily grasped by the learner, (3) the most effective sequences in which to present material, and (4) the nature and pacing of rewards and punishments. Good methods for structuring knowledge should result in simplifying, generating new propositions, and increasing the manipulation of information.


In his more recent work, Bruner has expanded his theoretical framework to encompass the social and cultural aspects of learning as well as the practice of law.




Bruner's constructivist theory is a general framework for instruction based upon the study of cognition. Much of the theory is linked to child development research (especially Piaget ). The ideas outlined in Bruner originated from a conference focused on science and math learning. Bruner illustrated his theory in the context of mathematics and social science programs for young children. He focuses on language learning in young children.




"The concept of prime numbers appears to be more readily grasped when the child, through construction, discovers that certain handfuls of beans cannot be laid out in completed rows and columns. Such quantities have either to be laid out in a single file or in an incomplete row-column design in which there is always one extra or one too few to fill the pattern. These patterns, the child learns, happen to be called prime. It is easy for the child to go from this step to the recognition that a multiple table, so called, is a record sheet of quantities in completed multiple rows and columns. Here is factoring, multiplication and primes in a construction that can be visualized."




1. Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness).

2. Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization).

3. Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given).


Retrieved, June 30, 2006 from





Cognitivism is a theoretical approach to understanding the mind, which argues that mental function can be understood by quantitative, positivist and scientific methods, and that such functions can be described as information processing models.

Cognitivism has two major components, one methodological, the other theoretical. Methodologically, cognitivism adopts a positivist approach and the belief that psychology can be (in principle) fully explained by the use of experiment, measurement and the scientific method. This is also largely a reductionist goal, with the belief that individual components of mental function (the 'cognitive architecture') can be identified and meaningfully understood. The second is the belief that cognition consists of discrete, internal mental states (representations or symbols) whose manipulation can be described in terms of rules or algorithms.

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Major Theories


            *Piaget’s cognitive development theory

            *John Anderson’s ACT-R theory

            *Schema theory


Piaget's cognitive development theory


Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a biologist who originally studied molluscs (publishing twenty scientific papers on them by the time he was 21) but moved into the study of the development of children's understanding, through observing them and talking and listening to them while they worked on exercises he set.

His view of how children's minds work and develop has been enormously influential, particularly in educational theory. His particular insight was the role of maturation (simply growing up) in children's increasing capacity to understand their world: they cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so. His research has spawned a great deal more, much of which has undermined the detail of his own, but like many other original investigators, his importance comes from his overall vision.

He proposed that children's thinking does not develop entirely smoothly: instead, there are certain points at which it "takes off" and moves into completely new areas and capabilities. He saw these transitions as taking place at about 18 months, 7 years and 11 or 12 years. This has been taken to mean that before these ages children are not capable (no matter how bright) of understanding things in certain ways, and has been used as the basis for scheduling the school curriculum.


Piaget's Key Ideas



What it says: adapting to the world through assimilation and accommodation 


The process by which a person takes material into their mind from the environment, which may mean changing the evidence of their senses to make it fit. 


The difference made to one's mind or concepts by the process of assimilation. 
Note that assimilation and accommodation go together: you can't have one without the other. 


The ability to group objects together on the basis of common features. 

Class Inclusion 

The understanding of more advanced than simple classification, that some classes or sets of objects are also sub-sets of a larger class. (E.g. there is a class of objects called dogs. There is also a class called animals. But all dogs are also animals, so the class of animals includes that of dogs) 


The realization that objects or sets of objects stay the same even when they are changed about or made to look different. 


The ability to move away from one system of classification to another one as appropriate.


The belief that you are the centre of the universe and everything revolves around you: the corresponding inability to see the world as someone else does and adapt to it. Not moral "selfishness", just an early stage of psychological development. 


The process of working something out in your head. Young children (in the sensorimotor and pre-operational stages) have to act, and try things out in the real world, to work things out (like count on fingers): older children and adults can do more in their heads. 

Schema (or scheme) 

The representation in the mind of a set of perceptions, ideas, and/or actions, which go together. 


A period in a child's development in which he or she is capable of understanding some things but not others 

ATHERTON J S (2005) Learning and Teaching:  Piaget's developmental theory   [On-line] UK: Available:  Accessed: 4 July 2006


John Anderson’s ACT-R theory


In the Adaptive Character of Thought- Rational (ACT-R) theory, complex cognition arises from an interaction of procedural and declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is represented in units called production rules, and declarative knowledge is represented in units called chunks. The individual units are created by simple encodings of objects in the environment (chunks) or simple encodings of transformations in the environment (production rules). A great many such knowledge units underlie human cognition. From this large database, the appropriate units are selected for a particular context by activation processes that are tuned to the statistical structure of the environment. According to the ACT-R theory, the power of human cognition depends on the amount of knowledge encoded and the effective deployment of the encoded knowledge (Anderson, 1995).

Production rules

Hochstein (2002) stated that a fundamental characteristic of ACT-R is that it is a production system theory. The basic premise of a production system theory is that a cognitive skill is composed of conditional statements known as production rules. A production rule is a statement that describes an action which should be taken if a condition is met, sometimes referred to as a condition-action pair. For example:

        IF the goal is to classify a shape
         and the shape has four equal sides
                           THEN classify the shape as a square.


Cognitive tasks are achieved by stringing together production rules, and applying them to working memory. Such a collection of production rules is referred to simply as a production. When a production rule is applied, it is said to fire.


In ACT-R, there are two different categories of long-term memory: declarative and procedural. Declarative memory consists of facts such as "Annapolis is the capital of Maryland", "A square has four equal sides", or "8 x 7 = 56". Procedural memory consists of our knowledge of how to do things, though we may not be able to verbalize how we are able to do these things. Examples of procedural knowledge include our ability to drive a car or speak English. Declarative knowledge is represented in ACT-R by units called chunks. Procedural knowledge is represented by productions, which are collections of production rules. ACT-R defines syntax to represent chunks and productions (Hochstein, 2002).


Schema theory


Schema theory, developed by R. C. Anderson, views organized knowledge as an elaborate network of abstract mental structures which represents an individual’s understanding of the world. The concept of schema (generic knowledge) was first used by Piaget in 1926, Anderson just expanded the meaning (SIL, 1999).

Each individual possesses categorical rules or scripts that they use to interpret the world. New information is processed according to how it fits into these rules, called schema (plural schemata). This schema can be used not only to interpret but also to predict situation occurring in our environment (Widmayer, no date).

Some principles to apply

*It is important to teach general knowledge and generic concepts. A large proportion of learner difficulties can be traced to insufficient general knowledge, especially in cross-cultural situations.

*Teachers must help learners build schemata and make connections between ideas. Discussion, songs, role play, illustrations, visual aids, and explanations of how a piece of knowledge applies are some of the techniques used to strengthen connections.

*Since prior knowledge is essential for the comprehension of new information, teachers either need to

            *help students build the prerequisite knowledge, or

            *remind them of what they already know before introducing new material

*Schemata grow and change as new information is acquired.

*Learners feel internal conflict if they are trying to assimilate schemata which contradict their previous suppositions. Teachers need to understand and be sympathetic to this tension.

*Deep-seated schemata are hard to change. An individual will often prefer to live with inconsistencies rather than to change a deeply-held value or belief (SIL, 1999).


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