A Guide to Pedagogical Approaches

Maybe you've heard the term pedagogy, but you're unsure what it means. Use this guide to learn more about pedagogy and to determine which approach is best for your students.

If you work in the education field, you may recognize the word pedagogy. But what exactly does it mean? Pedagogy, simply put, is the practice of teaching. It includes the interactions between teachers and their students and the instructional approach used in the classroom. It is simply the way the teacher delivers the curriculum to the students.

There are several different pedagogical approaches teachers can take, ranging from teacher centered to student centered learning. All of these approaches are based in deeper educational theories about human behavior and the way humans obtain knowledge. When a teacher plans his or her lesson, they generally choose a certain approach based on their students’ level and preferred learning styles. When lesson planning, you should think: how will this approach benefit my students?

You’re probably already aware of the history of pedagogy. The idea of ‘pedagogue’ (teacher) goes all the way back to ancient Greece. You could say that the Socratic method is one of the earliest teaching methods. Pedagogical methods, however, have obviously changed since then.  The best teaching practices in the field of education change along with the culture and technology of the time period. The goal is to find the most effective way to nurture students’ intellectual growth.

So, why is pedagogy so important? Essentially, the learning that takes place in the classroom depends primarily on the pedagogical approach used by the teacher, and some approaches are more effective than others.

Here are three different pedagogies. Which one are you using, and which one would work better for your students?

Behaviorism: This pedagogy is based on the behaviorist idea that humans are able to be conditioned. A behaviorist classroom would definitely be a more traditional style, with the teacher giving information directly to the students.

Modern day classrooms are shifting away from this style of learning. Not only is it probably boring, but it doesn’t challenge students’ critical thinking skills. This learning process relies on memorization, lectures, and call and response, where the teacher asks a question and the class responds as a whole. It might be appropriate to go over simple information in large groups.

In the ESL Classroom
In the ESL classroom, you might use this approach to explain basic ideas, like simple vocabulary or sentence patterns. Anytime the teacher models for the students, this is an example of a behaviorist activity. This pedagogical approach alone is probably one of the least effective ways to increase your students’ communication skills, so make sure to use it along with other methods.

Constructivism: Human behavior is based on the human experience, and knowledge is constructed from said experience. In the classroom, this translates to student centered learning and a classroom that is driven by students. Students play a much more active role in the learning process, and the classroom focuses on independent learning.  

A student centered, constructivist approach allows teachers to differentiate in the classroom. Some might find the lesson easier and work at a faster pace than others. It’s important to understand your students’ prior knowledge of English so that you can help those who are a little behind.

In the ESL Classroom
This approach might include small group activity or independent work. The teacher should be circling the room and helping those who need it.

Social constructivism: This is based on the idea that humans are social beings, and their development and access to knowledge depends on a collective experience. (I know, I know it sounds very new age- but in the classroom, it works!)

This pedagogy allows learners to practice communicative and collaborative skills. Because students are working together at their own pace, they become more interested in the class and actively participate. Social constructivism is honestly great for ESL classes- it encourages students to speak!

In the ESL Classroom
My favorite teaching method, the communicative approach , fits under this pedagogy. Group activities are key! Students could participate in role plays, speed dating, information gaps, and scavenger hunts, to name a few. One negative aspect of this method is the lack of structure. At least some teacher direction is necessary to ensure that students receive the correct language based information.

So, as you can see, each these ideas are very different when it comes down to classroom practices. Which approach is best? Well, it truly depends on your students’ ages and needs. In my experience, a blended approach is the perfect way to engage your students in the ESL classroom.  

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