How power and ideology influence teaching and learning

Concept: Construction workers inspecting brain

How does power and ideology influence teaching and learning?

Our thoughts about analysing and evaluating how effective we are in education have developed through time. This includes the evolving understanding of the theory of teaching and learning which education has gone through, and which continues to be reflected upon. How best can primary school children learn?

The diagram below shows a snapshot of the mapping and links between key scientific disciplines, concepts, theories and paradigms.



‘Learning Theory’ by Richard Millwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 License.
Image from:


When discussing and comparing any two or more theories, as a teacher you do not have to choose only one theory to adopt in your classroom, unlike theorists would have you have done in the past. Researchers such as Cobb and Yackel (1996) and Sfard (1998) take an emergent position that states that neither one theory is adequate on their own and many would suggest that “a slavish adherence to only one perspective is unhelpful in terms of trying to improve teaching and learning” (St George & Bourke, 2007, p.128).

Teachers need to do what is best for their children, to find a balance (Good & Brophy, 2008) so knowing about the children is one of the most important issues for a teacher. Being aware of where they come from both culturally and intellectually will help to address where to take the child next in their learning, and how their learning can be developed. By trying to elicit prior understandings for important concepts, teachers will be able to plan effective activities for their children as well as understand how to stimulate prior knowledge and schemas of concepts, but children also need time to explore the important ideas and make sense from the information. For some a learning community would be the ideal goal, as it would encourage the children to learn together, from each other and the wider community, and it would inspire them to learn for life. At primary level, teaching can guide pupils to be effective learners by drawing on a range of teaching methods, including using transmission models which effectively teach canonical knowledge to establish a knowledge base before other methods such as social approaches to construct networks through synthesis and application (Good & Brophy, 2008). Being effective is about doing what is right for the learners. So, how can these theories support teaching and learning in the classroom?


Questions to consider within the realm of: 

How does power and ideology influence teaching and learning?


-> How can “mindset” affect our learning?

-> How can I motivate my students?

-> How should children be grouped – to stream or not to stream?

-> What actually works – Making learning visible, John Hattie



Cobb, P., & Yackel, E. (1996). Constructivist, emergent, and sociocultural perspectives in the context of development research. Educational Psychologists, 31, 175-190.

Good, T.L., & Brophy, J.E. (2008). Looking into classrooms (10th ed.). New York: Pearson.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington, NZ: Learning Media.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

St.George, A. & Bourke, R. (2008). Understanding learning to inform teaching. In A. St.George, S. Brown, & J. O’Neill (Eds.), Facing the big questions in teaching: Purpose, power and learning (pp.123-33). Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning.