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The Pedagogy Of John Dewey: A Summary

by TeachThought Staff

What did John Dewey believe about education?

What were his views on experiential and interactive learning and their role in teaching and learning?

As always, there’s a lot to understand. John Dewey (1859–1952) developed extraordinarily influential educational and social theories that had a lasting influence on psychology, pedagogy, and political philosophy among other fields. Stanford University explained that because Dewey “typically took a genealogical approach that couched his own view within the larger history of philosophy, one may also find a fully developed metaphilosophy in his work.”

One way to think of his ideas, then, is unifying and comprehensive, gathering otherwise distinct fields and bringing them together in service of the concept of teaching children how to live better in the present rather than specutalitvely preparing them for a future we can’t predict.

Major Works By John Dewey

My Pedagogic Creed (1897)

The Primary-Education Fetich (1898)

The School and Society The Child and the Curriculum Democracy and Education Schools of Tomorrow (1915)

Experience and Education (1938)

What Did John Dewey Believe About Teaching And Learning?

What was the pedagogy of John Dewey? Put briefly, Dewey believed that learning was socially constructed, and that brain-based pedagogy (not his words) should place children, rather than curriculum and institutions, at its center. Effective learning required students to use previous (and prevailing) experiences to create new meaning–that is, to ‘learn.’

Most of Dewey’s work is characterized by his views on education itself, including its role in citizenship and democracy. But in terms of pedagogy, he is largely known for his emphasis on experiential learning, social learning, and a basic Constructivist approach to pedagogy, not to mention consistent support for the idea of self-knowledge, inquiry-based learning, and even self-directed learning, saying, “To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself” and considered education to be a “process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

Further, his philosophy on pedagogy would align strongly with the gradual release of responsibility model that while still in need of a ‘more knowledgeable other’ (the teacher) would create learning experiences designed to result in the autonomy and self-efficacy of a student as they master content.

What Dewey believed about ‘pedagogy’ depends on what parts of his work you want to unpack, but broadly speaking, he was a constructivist who pushed for a ‘human’ education experience that leveraged communal constructivism and the role of inquiry and curiosity in the active participation of a student in their own education.

Further, his social constructivist theories pre-date those of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky (who are arguably more well-known for these ideas), and he lamented even around the turn of the century the problems with ‘traditional’ approaches to pedagogy that focused on institutional curriculum, instructional practices, and assessment patterns.

Wikipedia’s entry on Dewey provides a succinct overview of his work: “Dewey continually argues that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. In addition, he believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning.”

“He argues that in order for education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge. In order to rectify this dilemma, Dewey advocated for an educational structure that strikes a balance between delivering knowledge while also taking into account the interests and experiences of the student. He notes that “the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process. Just as two points define a straight line, so the present standpoint of the child and the facts and truths of studies define instruction” (Dewey, 1902, p. 16). It is through this reasoning that Dewey became one of the most famous proponents of hands-on learning or experiential education….”

Education is a social process. According to the creed, it should not be used for the purposes of preparation for living in the future. Dewey said, “I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” We can build a child’s self-esteem in not only the classroom but in all aspects of his or her life.”