Didactics


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Didactics

 

the branch of pedagogy that deals with the theory of education and instruction and of how children are brought up by means of the teaching process.

The term “didactics” was used in pedagogical writings as early as the 17th century. J. A. Comenius in his Great Didactic (1657) developed the main problems of didactics: the content of education, the didactic principles and rules for the use of audio-visual aids, and the principles of the sequence of learning and of relating education to children’s natural inclinations. He also organized a system of lessons for various grades. Comenius revolutionized the teaching practices that had been used for centuries. To the medieval practice of rote learning he opposed a new system of schoolwork corresponding to the child’s age and psychological characteristics. Comenius’ didactic ideas were further developed in the writings of such progressive pedagogues of the 18th and 19th centuries as J. H. Pestalozzi and A. Diesterweg, who also based their theories of teaching on the principle of conformity to the natural inclinations of pupils and on the individual psychological development of each student. They ascribed great importance to teaching children to conceptualize, to be active, and to achieve self-realization and advocated the extensive use of audio-visual aids in teaching. By the mid-19th century didactics as a theory of teaching had become generally recognized as a special branch of pedagogy. (In Great Britain and the United States the term “didactics” is not used, and teaching theory is developed and expounded primarily in works on educational psychology.)

In Russia in the second half of the 19th century a coherent didactic system was developed by the Russian pedagogue K. D. Ushinskii. Influenced to a large extent by materialist philosophical ideas, psychology, and physiology, Ushinskii, by comparison with his predecessors, made significant progress in putting the teaching process on a scientific foundation. Ushinskii demonstrated the harm of one-sided formal education (aimed only at developing aptitudes, thought, imagination, and memory) and of one-sided material education (which pursued the sole aim of imparting to the student the maximum of knowledge needed for life). He revealed the similarities and differences between learning and scientific knowledge and worked out in detail the problems of the perception, assimilation, and reinforcement of knowledge and of the development of thinking by the teaching process. Such followers of Ushinskii as N. A. Korf and V. P. Vakhterov made a significant contribution to the development of a system of elementary education based on extensive scientific knowledge, on the taking into account of the age level and psychological characteristics of each student, and on a respect for the personality of the child. A leading role in turning Russian pedagogy from idealism to materialism was played by the Russian revolutionary democrats V. G. Belinskii, A. I. Herzen, N. A. Dobroliubov, and N. G. Chernyshevskii. They struggled for genuinely scientific education and against the oversimplification of learning, and they saw science as the means of freeing humanity from the power of nature and as the means of struggling for man’s happiness. They ascribed especially great importance to developing in students an interest in scientific subjects and independent thought. The development of a theory of specialized education and instruction in higher education was furthered by such Russian scientists as M. V. Lomonosov, N. I. Lobachevskii, A. G. Stoletov, K. A. Timiriazev, D. I. Mendeleev, and N. E. Zhukovskii.

Soviet didactics has preserved and enriched the classical heritage of the past and has raised it to a new and higher level. The general methodological basis of didactics is the Marxist-Leninist world view—dialectical materialism. Through their system of ideas, Marx and Lenin laid the theoretical foundations for a truly scientific pedagogy and for the most progressive system of education, the socialist one. Central to this system are the principles of universal education, of education through work and through poly technical education, of the connection of school with politics and teaching with life, of the students’ conscious assimilation of the fundamentals of the sciences, and of fostering in students—in the course of teaching and upbringing—communist convictions and commitment to communist ideals, the materialist world view, and the moral qualities of man in socialist society. Of special importance for didactics is the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, which makes it possible to specify the main paths of cognitive activity of students and the methods for guiding it.

Of fundamental significance for the development of Soviet didactics were works of Lenin and decrees of the Central Committee of the Communist Party examining, from Marxist viewpoints, the aims, content, and methods of teaching in the socialist school. Making use of Marxist-Leninist methodology, N. K. Krupskaia made a major contribution to the working out of various didactic problems such as the relation of teaching to socially useful labor, the organization of school subjects from the standpoint of developing the students’ scientific world view and dialectical thinking, and the encouragement of active learning and independence in students. Valuable didactic ideas may be found in the works of P. P. Blonskii and S. T. Shatskii. Among those who made contributions to the development of didactics in later years were E. Ia. Golant, M. A. Danilov, B. P. Esipov, L. V. Zankov, D. O. Lordkipanidze, N. A. Menchinskaia, E. I. Monoszon, I. T. Ogorodnikov, and M. N. Skatkin. In the 1960’s active work began on the didactic problems of the Soviet higher educational institution, the secondary specialized school, and the vocational-technical school (especially in intensifying the educational process by means of audiovisual techniques and cybernetic devices).

Among the pedagogues in other socialist countries working on problems of didactics are W. Okoń in Poland, H. Klein and K. Tomaschewsky in the German Democratic Republic, S. Nagy in Hungary, and O. Chlup and O. Pavlik in Czechoslovakia. Research is also being conducted in a number of capitalist countries, for example, by A. Pinsent in England, R. Gal in France, J. Bruner in the United States, and J. Piaget in Switzerland. The views of a number of bourgeois pedagogical theoreticians are characterized by eclectic theoretical principles, utilitarian teaching concepts, underestimation of the role of the teacher, denial of the need for systematic learning, and a conscious departure from scientific content in education.

The object of study in didactics is the aim, content, laws, and principles of teaching. Insofar as it specifies what elements of the culture accumulated by humanity ought to be the content of education and the mark of an educated individual, didactics is a theory of education. In order to ensure that the students will assimilate the content of education, it is necessary to adhere to the laws of teaching and of the development and strengthening of mental abilities. An understanding of these laws makes it possible to develop effective means of instruction. Insofar as it studies these laws, didactics is a theory of instruction. The solving of these general theoretical problems lays the groundwork for the development of specific curricula, organizational forms, and means of instruction, that is, for the solution of pedagogical tasks concerning standard teaching methods and their practical application. The unity of these two aspects of didactics—the theoretical and the normative-applied—assures the continuous development of the science of pedagogy and, when put into practice, its maximum effectiveness and scientific realization. Didactics studies the laws that manifest themselves as tendencies. Some of these laws are inherent in the teaching process as such, regardless of the nature of the teacher’s activity or of the content of what is taught. Among these laws is, for example, the formative nature of instruction, each of its elements influencing the student either positively or negatively. Other laws are related to the specific activity of the teacher and students. Various methods of research are used in didactics: observation of the learning process, discussion with students, analysis of their work, discussions with teachers, and the use of questionnaires, experiments, and mathematical methods. Through the use of these methods the empirical laws of instruction are revealed. In order to discover the inner mechanism by which these laws operate and to construct a theory, attempts have recently been made to use the techniques of informational model building and of the functional, structural, and genetic analysis of complex systems. Didactics is related to sociology and makes use of its data, concepts, and methods in working out the aims of instruction. Didactics is related to psychology—general, social, and developmental—and to the physiology of higher nervous activity. Basing itself on the laws governing psychological and physiological processes objectively established by these sciences, as well as on information theory and cybernetics, didactics develops effective means of guiding the students’ activity. Didactics is closely related to teaching methods: it works out the general principles of instruction common to all specific methods and generalizes from the results of research on the general laws of instruction—laws that are determined by the specific content of various subjects.

Soviet didactics differs in principle from bourgeois theories of instruction. In all hitherto existing class societies the content of accumulated human culture has been—and continues to be—selectively transmitted to the younger generation; that is, varying amounts and different aspects of this culture have been transmitted to young people of different social groups. Socialist society is, objectively, the first society that is able and seeks to transmit the maximum possible content of culture to the younger generation—its every aspect. Accordingly, the curriculum includes the fundamentals of scientific knowledge about nature, society, technology, and human psychology; the various means of human activity embodied in various skills; creative activity and free inquiry; and the norms of good upbringing—the relations of individuals to society, nature, and each other. The fundamentals of the sciences impart a true reflection of the objective world. All social and natural phenomena are examined in their interconnection and in the process of their change and development, not in a contemplative way but from the standpoint of transforming practical activity. In this way the students develop a genuinely scientific world view. Each subject contributes to the carrying out of this overall task. Interdisciplinary links assure the integral nature of the world view. The acquisition of the wealth of culture common to all mankind, the development of a communist world view and a rounded personality, the fostering of intellectual needs and the desire for self-education, and the preparation for work and an independent life—such are the aims of instruction.

These aims are realizable through the observance of the basic didactic principles developed by Soviet didactics on the basis of Marxist-Leninist methodology as applied to the study of the laws of the process of instruction. Although pedagogical theorists disagree in their views on didactic systems, there are certain generally recognized principles. (1) Instruction must be scientific: the content of education should represent a system of knowledge and truths that have been established by science and should acquaint the student with the methods and the history of science. (2) Instruction must be comprehensible: so that it can be assimilated by the student, and it must inspire the student to overcome manageable difficulties and activate his mental and physical powers. (3) Instruction must be systematic: once a system of knowledge is mastered it must be consciously and creatively applied. (4) The link with practical activity and life assures a more profound assimilation of scientific knowledge and develops skills in applying this knowledge. (5) Students must actively and consciously engage in the learning process with the teacher playing a guiding role: knowledge cannot be imposed from the outside in a ready-made form but must be the result of the student’s conscious activity carried out under the direction of a teacher. (6) Visual aids provide a basis in sense perception for the assimilation of abstract concepts. (7) Reinforcement of the learned material assures prolonged retention in the memory of basically linked concepts, the mastery of which will be gradually deepened through independent application of them in practice. (8) Group instruction should be practiced in an optimum combination with individual instruction.

All didactic principles are interrelated, and only their application as an inseparable whole can assure the effectiveness of the process of instruction. In the light of didactic principles, the structure of the learning process represents the aggregate of several links. The learning task is set before the student; new knowledge is presented to him or he engages in independent activity in trying to acquire this knowledge; the acquired knowledge is reinforced and skills are developed; the knowledge, skills, and habits are applied in practice; and the assimilated knowledge is tested.

In Soviet didactics, methods of instruction are regarded as the means of achieving interconnected activity between the teacher and the student leading to the acquisition of knowledge and skills, to the formation of a world view, and to the development of aptitudes.

The basic organizational form of instruction in the secondary school is the class lesson, which includes both work done collectively by all the students in the class and work carried out individually and in small groups. Other forms of instruction are also used, such as laboratory experiments, field trips, practical training, and homework. In higher educational institutions the learning process includes lectures, seminars, laboratory work, and other practical work; there is also industrial practical work, and papers are written for courses and diplomas.

The way in which learning activity is organized influences the educational experiences of the students. In Soviet schools learning activity is organized along the new principles of the relations in socialist society—respect for the child, unity of interest of the individual and the collective, and conscious discipline.

M. N. SKATKIN and I. IA. LERNER

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