Select Page

What is pedagogy? Understanding the foundations of effective teaching and learning

Teaching needs to be based on pedagogy, but what is pedagogy? Explore approaches for effective teaching.
10 ways educators can implement Google Docs for learners in their classrooms

Educators often hear that what they do in the classroom needs to be based on pedagogy. Their strategies should be tied to pedagogy. Their tools should be focused on pedagogy. So what is pedagogy? Whether you’re new to teaching, need a refresher or are based outside of the classroom, understanding the foundations of good teaching is important. Let’s break down what pedagogy means and what it looks like in classrooms today. 

What is the definition of pedagogy?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines pedagogy as “the study of the methods and activities of teaching.” 

Britannica explains that pedagogy is a science focused on “the study of teaching methods.” Further, it’s based on educational psychology, philosophy and theories of learning.

In simple terms, pedagogy is how educators approach instruction and learning, use curriculum and plan to meet goals. It includes teaching strategies, learning activities and assessments.

Back in the day, teacher-directed learning involved a lot of lecturing, memorizing and practicing. 

Now we know that pedagogy should take learners’ development into account, including cognitive development, physical growth and emotional development. These factor into how children and teens interact with their classroom and school environments, how they relate to each other and their teachers and how they interact with the subject matter. 

Pedagogy doesn’t have to be based solely on science but also includes the art of teaching. Educator and philosopher John Dewey said, “If education is going to live up to its profession, it must be seen as a work of art which requires the same qualities of personal enthusiasm and imagination as are required by the musician, painter, or artist.”

What is the importance of pedagogy in teaching and learning?

Pedagogy helps educators understand best practices for instruction. When educators get to know their learners, they can apply the pedagogical practice that will most help learners in their classroom.  

It’s also important to understand the foundations of effective teaching so educators and the school community can improve on pedagogy. If they build on the foundations of teaching, using new strategies and technology, they’ll be able to support the type of learners they have today.

Educators also need to ensure that their pedagogical practices prepare learners for the workforce. Employers are looking for

  • Work ethic and professionalism
  • Communication skills 
  • Ability to collaborate
  • Critical thinking skills

What are the five pedagogical approaches?

There are five traditional pedagogical approaches that educators can use in the classroom. Depending on their instructional goals and the needs of their learners, they should consider using more than one approach. 

Constructivist approach

The constructivist pedagogical approach is focused on hands-on learning experiences. For this type of instruction, educators encourage learners to construct their own knowledge through experiences with people or objects. 

Collaborative approach

The collaborative approach asks learners to work together to more deeply understand concepts. The benefit is that group members build on each other’s knowledge and skills, rather than focusing on their own point of view. 

Reflective approach

The reflective pedagogical practice centers on educators thinking about their own teaching. This helps educators figure out what is effective or what needs to be improved. They can reflect through observation, assessment data or feedback from learners.  

Integrative approach

The integrative teaching method is focused on bridging topics to real-world experiences. Students use their prior knowledge to make connections to new concepts. By making these connections, the goal is for them to use critical thinking and take ownership of their learning process. 

Inquiry-based approach

The inquiry-based method asks learners to explore real-world problems and engage in higher-order questioning. Educators guide learners through a series of investigative questions that trigger their curiosity and expand their knowledge and thinking.

What are six key principles for an effective pedagogy?

These key principles support the pedagogical approaches and develop active learning, in which students are deeply engaged with the content.

Instructional dialogue between educators and learners

One key principle of effective pedagogy is that educators should not spend the majority of time talking. Instead, there should be conversations between educators and the class or small groups. These dialogues should be focused on an academic concept and goal, and every learner should have the chance to participate. 

Classroom setup

An educator’s classroom should also be set up to support the pedagogical approaches. For example, a classroom layout needs to be conducive to collaborative learning. Individual desks or tables should be placed together in fours or fives so learners can work together or have discussions. Learners can then be grouped together by learning style, project topic, mixed academic abilities or similar academic abilities. Flexible grouping can also help with differentiation. In this case, learners change groups throughout the school year depending on the instructional strategy. 

Developing literacy and language across subjects

Learners need to be able to read and speak like mathematicians, scientists, historians or artists, for example, in order to successfully grasp the content. They also need to be able to use academic language during discussions or when reading and writing across subjects. Educators throughout the school should include literacy and language in their pedagogical approaches. 


Students need clarity on what they are learning, and modeling is one of the best ways for them to understand skills and concepts. In the beginning, educators should model what they want learners to do. Then they should ask learners to practice with them until learners are able to show their understanding independently. Some examples of modeling include:

  • An educator showing learners how to solve a math problem’s first step
  • An educator including a video in a Hāpara Workspace about how to identify a fictional character’s motivation
  • Discussion sentence stems posted on the classroom wall or in a Workspace
  • A P.E. teacher showing learners the proper technique for serving a volleyball 

Complex thinking

It’s important to encourage all learners to engage in complex thinking, no matter their level of academic ability. The goal is not to overwhelm them but to provide scaffolding so they can reach a level where they stretch their thinking. Educators can do this through consistent formative feedback based on academic standards so learners can progress toward more complex activities.  

Providing clear and consistent feedback

Educators should give learners formative assessments throughout a lesson or project, leading up to a summative assessment. The formative assessments can be quick such as a two-question exit ticket or a class poll about the most confusing part of a concept. Or they can be activities such as a science lab write-up, a low-stakes quiz or a Google Drawing. The goal of any formative assessment is to give educators an idea of what learners do or don’t understand. 

After learners complete a formative assessment, they need specific feedback. It should be more than “Good job!” Learners need a clear understanding of what they do or don’t know so they can improve moving forward. Educators should also provide feedback as soon as possible. Otherwise, learners will keep making the same errors or forget what they did in the first place.   

What are some examples of modern pedagogical practices or tools?

If you step into a classroom today or join an online classroom, what does pedagogy look like? It should include inclusivity and novel use of technology. The following are some examples.

Inclusive pedagogy

Inclusive pedagogy is focused on equity and is learner-centered. In this type of teaching, educators are mindful of their students’ unique backgrounds, abilities and learning styles across the class. Educators and learners collaborate to develop class and school environments that are supportive so that each person feels equally valued.  

Virtual simulation learning

Virtual simulations can be excellent supports for the constructivist pedagogical approach or the integrative approach. This type of technology allows learners to explore beyond the walls of their classroom. Whether it’s an interactive science simulation or a virtual tour of a museum, learners are able to more deeply engage in a skill or concept.


Educators can include gamification in teaching and learning to motivate students. Gamification uses elements of games, is interactive and includes friendly competition, instant feedback, rewards and levels. Learners get invested in this type of experience and want to continue and improve using the feedback they get.

Key takeaways

✔️  Understand the foundations of pedagogy so you or your school team can build upon them.

✔️  Pedagogy should help learners prepare for the future workforce.

✔️  Use multiple types of pedagogical methods to serve all learners. 

✔️  Include newer pedagogical strategies to engage learners across the classroom.


Explore SEL strategies that will help you create a more positive and equitable school and district culture.

About the Author

You Might Also Enjoy

Pin It on Pinterest