Friday, September 01, 2006

Humanistic Approach

The major focus of humanistic education is the development of the whole child with a primary emphasis on emotional (affective) aspects of the child. Humanist approaches to learning concentrate upon the development of the child's self-concept. If the child feels good about him or herself then that is a positive start. Feeling good about oneself would involve an understanding of ones' strengths and weaknesses, and a belief in one's ability to improve. Learning is not an end in itself; it is the means to progress towards the pinnacle of self-development, which Maslow terms 'Self-actualisation'. A child learns because he or she is inwardly driven, and derives his or her reward from the sense of achievement that having learned something affords. This differs from the behaviourist view that would expect extrinsic rewards to be more effective. Extrinsic rewards are rewards from the outside world, e.g. praise, money, gold stars, etc. Intrinsic rewards are rewards from within oneself, rather like a satisfaction of a need. This accords with the humanistic approach, where education is really about creating a need within the child, or instilling within the child self-motivation. Behaviourism is about rewards from others. Humanism is about rewarding yourself.

As described by Gage and Berliner (1991) there are five basic objectives of the humanistic view of education:

  1. Promote positive self-direction and independence.
  2. Develop the ability to take responsibility for what is learned.
  3. Develop creativity.
  4. Curiosity.
  5. An interest in the arts.

According to Gage and Berliner (1991) some basic principles of the humanistic approach that are used to develop the objectives are:

  • Students will learn best what they want and need to know. That is, when they have developed the skills of analysing what is important to them and why as well as the skills of directing their behaviour towards those wants and needs, they will learn more easily and quickly.
  • Knowing how to learn is more important than acquiring a lot of knowledge. In our present society where knowledge is changing rapidly, this view is shared by many educators from a cognitive perspective.
  • Self-evaluation is the only meaningful evaluation of a student's work. The emphasis here is on internal development and self-regulation. Most educators would likely agree with this emphasis, but would also advocate a need to develop a student's ability to meet external expectations.
  • Feelings are as important as facts. Much work from the humanistic view seems to validate this point and is one area where humanistically oriented educators are making significant contributions to our knowledge base.
  • Students learn best in a non-threatening environment. This is one area where humanistic educators have had an impact on current educational practice.The orientation espoused today is that the environment should by psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically, non-threatening.

Practical Applications

Open Education

There are a variety of ways teachers can implement the humanist view towards education, which is often refered to as 'open education'. Some of these include:

  • Allow the student to have a choice in the selection of tasks and activities whenever possible.
  • Help students learn to set realistic goals.
  • Have students participate in group work, especially cooperative learning, in order to develop social and affective skills.
  • Teacher acts as a facilitator for group discussions when appropriate.
  • Teacher being a role model for the attitudes, beliefs and habits you wish to foster.

Facilitative Teaching

One of the models included in the overall review of open education was facilitative teaching developed by Carl Rogers. Aspy and Roebuck (1975) studied teachers in terms of their ability to offer facilitative conditions (including empathy, congruence, and positive regard) as defined by Rogers (1969) and Rogers and Freiberg (1994). Teachers who were more highly facilitative tended to provide more:

  • Response to student feeling.
  • Use of student ideas in ongoing instructional interactions.
  • Discussion with students (dialogue).
  • Praise of students.
  • Congruent teacher talk (less ritualistic).
  • Tailoring of content to the individual student's frame of reference (explanations created to fit the immediate needs of the learners).
  • Smiling with students.


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