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Theory Of John Dewey And Paulo Freire: Critical Analysis

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As a technical teacher in the Department of Correctional Services, I have experience in teaching adult offenders. I taught Mathematics and Motor Trade Theory N1 to offenders registered for a TVET Programme called Engineering Studies N1 Students. I never had an opportunity to teach at a school outside correctional services except when I was doing my teaching practice. During my experiential learning, I taught grade 10 to 11 learners. Before writing this assignment, I read through all the theorists provided and made a summary of each. Through this exercise, I realized how closely related is the Theory of John Dewey and Paulo Freire. I had to distinguish between the theory of Paulo Freire and John Dewey. Between the two although their theories are almost in sync, Paulo Freire provided the best fit for the work I did.

The selection of Paulo Freire’s Theory as the best fit is corroborated by how is did my teaching and the influence I had on my learners to achieve intended outcomes. In line with the diary I kept for the three days, my plan touched on the theory and the practical and workplace learning. Planning was done having time management in the execution of the task in mind. I ensured that all the tools and equipment to be utilized are available and enough for every learner to be engaged/ practice.

The goals I had in mind when I taught had been to ensure that learners (offenders) achieve the set objective and critical outcomes highlighted in my lesson plan. I have always wanted to ensure they excel in the workplace when they are doing their practicals as Motor Trade subject has the theory and practical. I ensured that the learners understood and apply concepts learned through the theory in the workplace/workshop. The other goal I wanted to achieve was to make a difference in their lives to curb re-offending and achieve departmental rehabilitation goals.

Adult learners have experience and skills that needed to be sharpened. All that I had to do was not to act as a bank that deposits information to them and them absorbing it as if their vessels. In the process of teaching adults, the fact that they come with experience preoccupied my planning before presenting a lesson. In line with Freire and Dewey, learning takes place through engagement and experimenting/execution. They both agree that the teacher is not the only one who knows the content but learners must be actively involved in such a way that more information can be drawn out of them and the teacher to reinforce what they already know.

Like what Freire discouraged in the banking model wherein the teacher is seen as a person who dumps information to the learners and the learners are seen as containers/ vessels that will just accept the information without questioning it, my lessons have always had a practical component that also encouraged the learners to explore more than they know

Freire’s insistence that only the oppressed can liberate themselves and his stress on 'dialogue' and 'praxis' as the tools of liberation is something that any 'teacher-student' with an interest in social justice and transformation must take note of. Based on this, I have ensured that the learners engage in dialogue and question using even the language they understand best. Teaching adults from different backgrounds made me conduct more research on the topic to be introduced to them. Freire encouraged active participation by engaging one another in the form of a dialogue to achieve meaningful learning.

For instance, they will know how work tools are what are they used for but in some instances, they would not know the exact name of certain tools in English. Sometimes others were unable to write or even spell in English. In cases like this, my job will reinforce where they are lacking and assisting them in where need a need. With that, my method was in sync with what Freire did.

He ensured that he used commonly used words in his teaching to make learning practical and synchronized with their daily lives, therefore becoming conscious and real. In short, a student was to learn content easier because commonly used words were utilized in their learning process. My learners in their submission on the task given had spelling mistakes but the concept was understood well. Because the lesson was not about assessing the spelling, they were not penalized; instead, they were shown the correct spelling of the words they wrote wrongly.

I have realized that adult learners need guidance and support to ensure that they reinforce the skills they currently have as they have knowledge and experience acquired before their incarceration. Some of the learners were exposed to the mechanical world. They knew exactly what to especially when they were allowed to explain concepts and how they function in the vehicle. I remember when they were requested to dismantle a Macpherson Strut of a vehicle. The learners were given a task conduct research on how to replace a dysfunctional/worn out shock absorber to ensure that they dismantle a Macpherson strut from the vehicle, clamp it on the vice grip. They were to work in groups (4 per group) to remove the coil spring from the strut at a specific time. The aim was to replace the shock absorber and the only way to do it is to remove the whole Macpherson Strut from the vehicle.

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The learners dismantled it quickly and explained the steps so well. They further touched on the safety aspect that was not part of the task. This was done because they knew that safety measures in the workshop must be the priority before the execution of any task. The most interesting part was also to see them ensuring that unsafe acts are prohibited, housekeeping is done and they used the right tools for the right job. Through this process, learning became integrated. During this period, as a teacher, I was using observing and using a rubric as a tool for assessment.

During the execution of the task, I allowed them to work in groups and discuss. It was interesting to see adults displaying their skills meticulously although in some instances I had to guide them as some of the information they had was outdated. I had to guide them in the utilization of tools using the latest technology. Each activity given to learners aimed to promote creativity, teamwork and active participation to ensure that they move from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the abstract. The aim was also to sharpen the skills they currently have and reinforce them towards their reintegration back to their communities. The activity was given to promote critical thinking and encourage time management towards running their business (entrepreneurship) upon their release.

During the execution of the task, I was observing and only intervening when there was a challenge or when they asked questions. I also ensured that the most experienced learners do not overshadow the inexperienced learners. Before responding to a question asked, I would allow other learners to attempt to answer it until I see that there is a need for my response. This was done to ensure that I get the most information from them as they carry valuably experienced that needed reinforcement. Each group had a group leader that presented during the process of dismantling the structure. I ensured that I let the execution of the task flow and giving positive comments but also probing them to unleash the skills they have. A sense of reinforcement in my feedback was used. I congratulated the effort they put in their responses to the task given. Even when we were discussing a concept, I would ask probing questions for them to think deeper and thereafter I would use words like excellent, good, you can try again, you are almost there, etc. They were also given written feedback as a rubric was used as a tool for assessment.

I communicated with the learners using verbal, non-verbal cues and written communication. By verbal communication, I guided them during the execution of the task, responding to their question and reinforcing their responses to my questions. By non-verbal cues, I would use gestures to encourage them to think deeper and encourage their participation. This also encouraged their participation as they expected a reinforcement to boost their self-esteem/ego.

During my teaching practice, I have realized that adults have a different way of learning concepts as compared to children/school-going age children. They are informed, just that they are not certificated. If RPL was given the attention it deserves, many would have qualified by going directly to trade tests for example, and perhaps reinforce/harness their skills, here and there. They are actually what Freire discourages about the banking concept. Adults are not vessels that information is just deposited by the teacher. They interact and ask thought-provoking questions that also needed me to do thorough research as indicated earlier.

Adult learners knew why a concept is learned. My work or teaching practice is aligned to Paulo Freire, the theorist because he promoted critical consciousness whereby one has to know the world and what is around them. He encouraged learners to have an in-depth understanding of what they learn. During my teaching practice, I gave my learners to engage and question why things were done differently as compared to what was happening in the past. All that was done in the name of the fourth industrial revolution.

Paulo Freire promoted that learners that the situation they find themselves in must be questioned critically; know why things are done this way, why is that a wrong thing is normalized and the reason why learners must strive to transform it. Every person has the power to change the situation and this can only be done through taking action towards changing it. Learners must question whatever is seen as a reality. Paulo Freire's work shows the main ideas that he wanted to highlight that there is a need to be conscious and that has to be reinforced in our thinking.

Although my teaching is best described or aligned with Freire’s Theory, I couldn’t overlook Dewey’s theory. According to John Dewey, he sees learning taking place through experiential and interaction. Not far from what Freire observed. This touches on the task I touched on earlier in the assignment regarding the dismantling of the Macpherson Strut of a vehicle. Dewey argued that, rather than the child being a passive recipient of knowledge, as was presumed by many educators of the time, children were better served if they took an active part in the process of their learning. This was also supported by Freire in the pedagogy of the oppressed. Learners must be actively involved in their learning process. This statement is directly in line with how I taught in my time.

Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. There is a need for learners to engage directly with their environment, in what came to be known as experiential learning, where ‘knowledge comes from the impressions made upon us by natural objects.’ Ultimately, he believed that teachers should not be in the classroom to act simply as instructors, but should adopt the role of facilitator and guide, giving students the opportunities to discover for themselves and to develop as active and independent learners. This supports the pedagogy of the oppressed wherein the banking concept is discussed.

I had to draw a distinction between the theory of Paulo Freire and John Dewey. Between the two although their theories are almost in sync, Paulo Freire provided the best fit for the work I did.

Reference List

  1. Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.
  2. Dewey, J. (2011) Democracy and Education. Milton Keynes: Simon and Brown.
  3. Knowles, M. .a984. The Adult Learner: A neglected Species 3rd Edition. Houston: Gulf Publishing.
  4. Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in Practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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Theory Of John Dewey And Paulo Freire: Critical Analysis. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
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