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What Is Pedagogy?

The Greek city state of Athens was a center of ancient learning.
A teacher always has a pedagogy, even if it is not clearly defined.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2014
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Pedagogy is a word derived from Greek roots that literally translates to the idea of leading a child. In English, the word receives numerous definitions, most related to education. It is the art of teaching, its theory, its practice, and its methods. Sticklers for definition point out that the word should only be applicable to children and sometimes suggest that practice of, methods for, and theories about teaching adults should be called andragogy.

Whether or not pedagogy in all its senses is consciously defined, most forms of formal teaching involve it, in several ways. This has always been true. Teachers enter classrooms or other settings with theories or ideas on how best to teach, they decide what materials to cover, and these underlying principals inform their actions and subjects in teaching settings.

Formal discussion of pedagogy can be found thousands of years ago. One of the most well known ancient discussions of this occurred in Greece in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Itinerant teachers called the Sophists plied their craft, teaching rhetoric to young men throughout Greece. In contrast, formal schools like Isocrates’ and Aristotle’s sought to limit the teaching of rhetoric to specific forms, and philosophers like Plato, though influential to Aristotle, argued against teaching it at all. Exactly what should be taught and how it should be taught were a deep pedagogical concern, and the ongoing history of education shows this question is never fully answered.

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It can be said that the expansion of education to almost all people in many modern societies has simply created numerous arguments on what learning theory is supposed to be, what subjects should be taught, and how teachers ought to behave to best instruct their students. Many teachers today have a fairly clear sense of what their pedagogy is. They teach based on the theories about learning they believe are most accurate. Actions in a classroom are honed through learning and practice.

Pedagogical approach can also be influenced by a teaching facility’s specific standards. Subject matter certainly is. An elementary school instructor is often told exactly what material to cover, based on country or state standards. These are also reliant on pedagogical ideas about what subjects are most important for children to learn.

Essentially, the idea of pedagogy concerns several related concepts. It is created from theories on learning, which then influences practice and/or subject. A teacher always has a pedagogy, even if it is not clearly defined. It is worth defining it, though, because a more conscious sense of the underlying methods that produce different types of teaching and learning, can help instructors refine those methods to be more effective in their work.

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