What theories inform my practice and ethos?   2 comments

This is my first post linked to my university studies – so the start of a new use of my blog. All my university inspired blogs will be within the category of .My university studies’ which should make it easier to find them.

So the question set is –  ‘ Are you a social constructivist or a behaviourist?’ 

My instinctive first response was – I am a constructivist – and maybe a social constructivist.

But am I? Do I actually have a full understanding of this issue?

In 2012, I wrote a blog about my ethos and what I think about theories – I was even bold enough to suggest that I had constructed my own theory called the ‘Webb Theory’. If you have not read that blog – or have but have forgotten what I wrote This is the link

However that was my thoughts in 2012 – a lot has happened since then – including becoming more involved with the wider early years sector through my campaigning, which in turn has led to more professional debate and examining of own views.

Therefore, now is a good time to reflect on my views and where those views come from – and to do this I have decided to go back to basics and to ensure my understanding is as good as possible at this moment in time and moment within my professional development.

So where to start?

Wikipedia – as I find this gives a good overview and links to further reading

This is the link to the Wikipedia entry on Constructivism and the one to Behaviourism

I took the time to read them both – first the general introductions – and these are my thoughts

From the general introductions – I still think I am a constructivist BUT there are elements of behaviourism that I have used within my practice at various points over my professional career and as a parent . So it is clear I need to read a bit more – maybe there is a link between them, or maybe I have established my own theory – the Webb Theory, which is a bit of this theory and that theory – plus the influence of my own practice?

Next I moved to the very helpful lists of people who are linked to both constructivism and behaviourism.

For constructivism we have;

John Dewey

Maria Montessori

Jean Piaget

Lev Vygotsky

Heniz von Forester (who? – I asked myself having not come across this name before)

George Kelly (again who?)

Jerome Bruner

Herbert Simon

Paul Watzlawick (Who?)

Ernst von Glaserfeld (Another who?)

Edgar Morin (another who?)

Humberto Maturana (yet another who?)

Quite a few names that I have heard about and read about – some more than others. Clearly I need to do a bit more research – so I consult my copies of ‘How Children Learn (Books 1 -3) by Linda Pound, which I find easy to read and understand as not too many ‘big words’. If you have not seen these books before here is a link to them on Amazon – although I am sure you can get the books elsewhere.

Book One

Book Two

Book Three

I have actually had the pleasure of having breakfast with Linda Pound – and to hearing her speak at a conference – so this is another reason why I refer to her books – I have met her and had discussions with her – so for me it makes understanding her viewpoint and writing so much easier.

If you are interested in reading the blog about the time I had breakfast with Linda This is the link – but why not look at all the links to that conference in 2012 – there are four parts in total, and there was a very good range of speakers, which I have provided an overview on. (In fact you might want to look at my blogs for the 2013 and 2014 conferences which I also attended.

As is often the case, I have digressed – but I hope this maybe useful to anyone reading this blog.

Back to my research (reading) about those names I was familiar with as a recap,  and those names that I was not familiar with

First of the unknown names –  Heniz von Forester – Actually he and other names unknown to me  are not mentioned in the ‘How Children learn’ books by Linda Pound – which is not a surprise because if they were – I would at least recognise the names, even if I could not recall anything about those people.

So I turned to the internet and a goggle search – which first brought up cybernetics! (which on reading I understand is not about robots but more to do with how the brain works / is wired – and the similarities to the wiring of robots and other programmable technology ). Anyone interested in reading more about cybernetics – here is the Wikipedia entry on it Cybernetic info on wikipedia


However a further search brought up this information on Wikipedia Constructivist / epistemology as follows (quite a way down the page)

  • Heinz von Foerster, invited by Jean Piaget, presented “Objects: tokens for (Eigen-)behaviours” in 1976 in Geneva at a genetic epistemology symposium, a text that would become a reference for constructivist epistemology.

Ok – so not of particular interest to me – AT THE MOMENT – but I am glad I bothered to find out

Next on the list of ‘who?’ – George Kelly – I found this entry – again on Wikipedia George Kelly info on Wikipedia. Now this was very interesting – just from a scanning of the information. I need to read it again – fully, not scanning – which I will do over the next few days. However for now and to may be spark an interest in the readers of this blog – here is a little bit from that wikipedia information


Kelly’s fundamental view of personality was that people are like naive scientists who see the world through a particular lens, based on their uniquely organized systems of construction, which they use to anticipate events. But because people are naive scientists, they sometimes employ systems for construing the world that are distorted by idiosyncratic experiences not applicable to their current social situation. A system of construction that chronically fails to characterize and/or predict events, and is not appropriately revised to comprehend and predict one’s changing social world, is considered to underlie psychopathology (or mental illness.)


…..Kelly’s fundamental view of people as naive scientists was incorporated into most later-developed forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy that blossomed in the late 70s and early 80s and into Intersubjective psychoanalysis which leaned heavily on Kelly’s phenomenological perspective and his notion of schematic processing of social information. [3] Kelly’s personality theory was distinguished at the time he published the two volumes from drive theories (such as psychodynamic models) on the one hand, and behavioral theories on the other, in that people were not seen as solely motivated by instincts (such as sexual and aggressive drives) or learning history but by their need to characterize and predict events in their social world. Because the constructs people developed for construing experience have the potential to change, Kelly’s theory of personality is less deterministic than drive theory or learning theory. People could conceivably change their view of the world and in so doing change the way they interacted with it, felt about it, and even others’ reactions to them. For this reason, it is an existential theory, regarding humankind as having a choice to reconstrue themselves, a concept Kelly referred to as “Constructive Alternativism.” Constructs provide a certain order, clarity, and prediction to a persons world. Kelly referenced many philosophers in his two volumes but the theme of new experience being at once novel and familiar (due to the templates placed on it) is closely akin to the notion of Heraclitus: “we step and do not step in the same rivers.” Experience is new but familiar to the extent that it is construed with historically derived constructs….

So here it is then – a link to behaviourism and constructivism, in certain contexts – that I wondered if existed.  I really do need to read more!

But for now, to finish the task in hand – that of finding out more about the names on the list of people linked to constructivism that are new to me

Next is Paul Watzlawick, again Wikipedia comes ups trumps – Paul Watzlawick info on Wikipedia, the first thing I notice is Paul is linked to ‘radical constructivism – I have heard of this – but really do not fully understand. Delving a bit deeper into the article, and I read about Watzawick’s  “Interactional View”, and the five axioms – a very basic overview is that it links to communication and behaviour – in that all behaviour is a form of communication – and I certainly believe that to be true. So more further reading – as I always find – one thing leads to another, and in trying to complete a task, you end up with an even longer ‘to do list’ than you started with!


Now for Ernst von Glaserfeld – I look to Wikipedia again  as seems a good place to start Ernst von Glaserfeld info on Wikipedia. it seems he is a another radical constructivist, in fact it was Glaserfeld who coined the term radical constructivism (and so I must ensure I fully understand what this means)

Moving on to Edgar Morin – for a start Edgar is still alive, and there is some limited information n Wilipedia  Edgar Morin info on Wikipedia From this limited information my ‘to do list’ has just grown! I need to read up about  information theory and system theory – which I think link to cybernetics. (will up date when read a bit more)

And so to last unknown to me name on the list of constructivists –  Humberto Maturana, Wikipedia have this entry on Humberton (who is also still alive) Humberto Maturana info on wikipedia , he is another person who is connected to cybernetics and radical constructivism. I found this bit of his Wikipedia entry interesting

His inspiration for his work in cognition came while he was a medical student and became seriously ill with tuberculosis. Confined in a sanatorium with very little to read, he spent time reflecting on his condition and the nature of life. What he came to realize was “that what was peculiar to living systems was that they were discrete autonomous entities such that all the processes that they lived, they lived in reference to themselves … whether a dog bites me or doesn’t bite me, it is doing something that has to do with itself.” This paradigm of autonomy formed the basis of his studies and work.

So yet more further reading  I am beginning to realise that I won’t have time to read in depth about all this new information and ideas and so I will have to select the bits that are most interesting to me – and most related to my course.

However, I am feeling much better about my own knowledge prior to starting this blog – I was starting to think that I was not as well informed as I thought when I realised how many names on that list that I did not recognise – but I now know it is because all connected to the same area of research – and one that I had not even considered much before.

Moving on now to the list of people connected to Behaviourism

They are listed as;

Vladimir Bekhterev

Albert Bandura

Ivan Pavlou

Alan E Kazdin

Sidney W Bijou

Edwin Ray Gruthrie

Richard J Herrnstien

Clark L Hull

Fred S Keller

Neal E Miller

Marsha M Linehan

O. Hobart Mowrer

Charles E Osgood

Kenneth W Spense

BF Skinner

Edward Lee Thorndike

Edward C Tolman

Murray Didman

John B Watson

Ole Ivar Lovaas

Steven C Heyes

Donald Baer

Dermot Barnes- Holmes


It is actually easier to say who I have heard of rather than who I have not heard of! The only one I really know anything about is B F Skinner! Is that shocking? Or is it an indicator into the fact that I think I am a social constructivist – and so have not ‘bothered’ to read more about behaviourism? Or is there some other reason for my personal lack of knowledge in this area? – Maybe it has not been covered in training that I have undertaken? Maybe those I work in partnership do not mention these people because they do not support those theories? Maybe there is less written about them?

Whatever the reason, it is clear if I am to fully understand my own perspective and understanding on behaviourism and constructivism – I am going to have to have to do a lot more reading / research.

However, thinking about my time issues – I have decided not to find links to all those listed above in the behaviourist article at this moment in time, or to explore further – although I will revisit behaviourism in relation to my views at another point in time, because I think there are some links and I would like to have a better understanding


Instead, I have decided  to read the rest of the general article on Wikipedia about constructivism – which I hope will form a base level of understanding, so I can consider where my own theory has come from or is based on or is similar to; and then  I will be able undertake further research / reading  to support my university studies.

The article on Constructivism

Having read this article (and re read some of the information in the How Children learn books, about those who are seen as constructivists ) I now know that I was right- I am a social constructivist,  and this answers the question set by tutors.

However I also know that I do indeed follow the Webb Theory, as I have taken bits of different theories and adapted them to make my own theory.

To start discussion with others, and for personal reflection on my thoughts, I am going to try to link to just one of those  theories and explain why I think this links to my thoughts and practice.

From my reading – I now know that John Dewey’s theory links quite closely to my own theory – although I did not consider John Dewey’s theory in reaching the Webb theory – I think it is more a case that we both have the reached the same conclusion  (Interesting as John Dewey died before I was born, however it is possible that John’s theory had an influence on my own childhood – and therefore my views) .

My information about John Dewey is taken from Linda Pounds book How Children learn  [so attempting to reference}

Pound L (2005) How Children learn, Step forward publishing Ltd: Leamington Spa

I have to say I agree with a lot of his points. In particular;

Importance of social interaction – to me this does not mean circle time, it does not mean being told what to do and when to do it- it means ‘real’ conversations and observing other people (and copying them both in direct terms and in indirect terms)

Need to develop the curriculum from children’s interests – to me the curriculum is not a set of adult led activities and pre determined outcomes (I think there is a place for this, but not until after children are 7, and all the foundations of learning are in place), in my opinion an early years curriculum is about a carefully planned an environment based on children’s interests and stages of development. Further, I believe it takes a very skilled practitioner to set up this type of environment – and to think on their feet to adapt it as children’s interests extend and change.

As long as people are alive, they are learning – I really believe this, but need to add that people learn what could be described as ‘good things’ as well as what could be described as ‘bad things’. And in particular this relates very closely to attachments. I believe secure attachments are the most important aspect to be in place for children to be able to reach their full potential.

The value and culture of family and community should be reflected in the life of the school – or in my case the childminder setting. I think that children need to be secure in who they are, in terms of their family and community (which includes the childcare setting). In my opinion, these days we try to impart knowledge about too wide a range of ‘diversity’  to the under fives, which is why in my setting I concentrate on the culture of the families using my setting – so this does change as the children attending change.   I do not ‘cover’ festivals, and family make up or traditions that are not represented within the group of children currently attending, as topics (although I do read stories that reflect the wider society).

This does not mean I do not cover diversity issues – I most certainly do – because actually diversity is all about understanding about similarities and differences – and this can be applied to EVERYTHING. I believe if children can gain an understanding of how to think about similarities and differences, they will be able to apply this knowledge to all areas of their lives both as children and adults, which in turn will help them cope with different people and objects and beliefs about things (not just faiths). I think this leads to equality being a central part of the children’s lives now and when they are adults and will lead to less discrimination. This is because a lot of inequality and discrimination is driven by a lack of understanding and knowledge – and ability to say ‘Well that is the same, but that is different; and to cope with that difference I need to ….’

Teachers are not just teaching children as individuals – they are helping children to live in society and shaping society as a whole – and this in my opinion is what is missing from much Government policy and practice in some  early years settings and schools. In my opinion within society we need people with a range of skills, for society to flourish, and all should be valued. However the current drive to assess everyone and benchmark them against just academic skills, will lead to a society that does not flourish, and in which many people feel that they have ‘failed’, are ‘not good enough’. The drive to turn out ‘little robots’ who have the same standard skills (and dreams) is going to lead to mental health issues, a lack of social skills,  and worse of all a lack of people with caring skills who at the end of the day are in my opinion more important than the business people, the bankers and the Government – because before all the afore mentioned were ‘created by society’ we survived as a society because we had caring skills – people who looked after each other and who worked together as a community. Everyone needs someone to care for them when they are born, when they are young children, when they are ill and when they are too old to care for themselves.


So this blog is somewhat longer than I thought it would be, I have extended my own understanding and knowledge, but have also created a rather long ‘to do list’ of things I want to do more reading / research about – but which I have decided I don’t have the time to do at this moment in time.

I apologise for the length of the blog – and for the typo’s, spelling and grammar errors , switching between tenses, and missed words,   which I know will be within this blog – but which I find very hard to spot, due to my difficulties with the written word. Previous readers of my blog will be  used to my difficulties and  they tell me that  ‘read past them’ concentrating on the content. However, I know that for some it does ‘annoy’ or ‘gets to them’ – and new readers of my blog may fall into this group of people.

However, I have long since accepted my difficulties and decided that I would rather communicate via the written word (and in particular this blog – than not share my thoughts with others. I hope that people will accept me for who I am, and enjoy / find my ramblings useful.


As this is my first blog based on my university studies, I am now wondering (reflecting) on if anyone else will read it, if anyone else will find it useful – and if anyone will agree with my view – or disagree with my view.

As always comments are very welcome.











Posted October 26, 2014 by psw260259 in My university studies

2 responses to “What theories inform my practice and ethos?

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  1. Penny – I love your ‘WebbTheory’! I think it’s what we develop after so many years of caregiving to children. If we as flexible as you suggest then we often gain different skills based on the children in our care, full time, part-time or casual caregiving. I know I never stop adjusting based on the child/children I’m caring for. How do we manage with a child who doesn’t speak our native language? How do we manage with a child who is in such a state of anxiety that nothing can be learned. These are just a couple of situations I’ve found myself in in the last 15 years alone. There were so many names on your list that I’d never heard of! So I am impressed with your efforts for your uni course.

    I enjoy reading Maria Montessori’s early writing (early 20th C) but cannot cope with what’s ‘thought of’ as Montessori here in the US where training is limited and ownership of the Montessori name uncontrolled by any responsible central agency for standards and practices.

    I have been affected by Winnicott, Bowlby, John Holt and my own sons’ developmental trajectory – one ‘typical’, one slower and then later a friend’s child who stayed in our care for four years and is now a 24 year old teacher of 10 year olds – a wonderful young woman. She taught me as a little one that our family care (she was our only charge while she was here when I was educating our sons at home) was quite unique. Her parents love her to pieces of course but still admit that she is ‘different’! Another grandmother friend attributes my 20 hour a week part-time care of her grandchild from 18 mths (for 3 years) to her reading skills and being in her school’s gifted programme since age 8 (now 13). I feel that I used the same skills with each child except that I had to slow down tremendously with the anxious 18 mth old!

    Are you familiar with the work of Emmi Pikler in Hungary? She was a pediatrician who studied healthy children and families by examining them in their homes and then she translated it into orphanage care by training her nursery nursing staff in a specific way. By all accounts it worked beautifully. The late Magda Gerber was a protege of hers who came to the US in the late 50s and began Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). http://janetlansbury.com is the foremost US blogger on her work. In England Pikler UK was recently founded and The Pikler Collection is a great resource. Pikler particularly espoused natural gross motor development coupled with very gentle and respectful caregiving from infancy – you will totally incorporate it into your Webb Theory!

    Must run – keep writing – love what you have to say and need to keep learning, just like you! Sorry of any of this is irrelevant to your studies – I sometimes think academics and theorists are very inexperienced in the actual daily care of children or groups of children, and thus we and they often aren’t speaking the same language!


    • Thank you Helen for your heart felt and informed response. Some of the names you mention I have heard of – and indeed some have either informed my practice or like Dewey, happen to think like me (all be it that they had the thoughts before I did). I will add the names that I have not heard of to my list for further research.

      I find it interesting that people who may have never read a single book on theories / child development, can develop their practice in the same lines as those that are credited with developing theories. So questions have to be asked what influenced both the theorist and the everyday parent or childcare practitioner. I am guessing that it will be their own childhood and therefore influences at the time – both passed down through families and passed on through word of mouth, and (increasingly these days) through media

      Totally agree with you about not speaking the same language – and as someone who really struggles with academic writing / referencing and so on – I often ask myself what is more valid – being able to reference ideas to others writing or being able to implement ideas in practice

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