Child and Adolescence Development

The simple truth is that we cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot give what we do not have. Teachers are not only expected to be committed, they must have mastery of the subject matter they are teaching. Mediocrity in the classroom is not an option because it undermines the overall reputation of educators (Reece & Walker 2006, p. 115). Teachers must always strive to hone our craft and be vigilant against stagnation. Teachers who have mastered there craft are those who know their material inside and out and are constantly looking for ways to apply such knowledge with constant innovation and relevance in the context of real life.

In the educational process, all teachers must be reminded that the learning process starts with what the child knows. Prior learning is the framework where new concepts are built upon. As such, every teacher should begin with the previous lesson and connect it to the new material. Let the child see the relationship and build their own concepts. This way the child is actively engaged in his own learning because it was a result of what he already knows. I am firm believer of teaching where the students are. Starting with what you know is the best way to attack any learning task. When individuals approach a lesson armed with knowledge and skills they already have, they have more confidence in exploring the new concept (Crystal, 2003, p. 25). It is also encouraging because it gives you a sense of success and accomplishment early on in the lesson, something which is very important to maintain student motivation. Activating prior knowledge also empowers students and gives them a sense of ownership for their own learning. This is very important in young children especially, who are only beginning to explore their independence.

As Dewey once said, there is no better context for learning than the context of real life. Most classes fall into the trap of offering only pure theories without any exposure on how such theories find practical form in the real world. Still, there are some skills training courses offer a sink or swim design without offering any background information. I believe that regardless of the type of platform, the best teaching programs offer solid theoretical foundations as well as practical experience. For young students, this can be achieved by exposing them to natural experiences as much as possible.

High/Scope Preschool Curriculum

Researchers have been consistent in showing that as far as early learning is concerned, play is among the most effective ways to develop communication skills. For young children, play is the ideal venue for socialization, which as previously discussed, frames learning in ways that are meaningful to the student on a personal basis (Rogers & Evans 2008, p14) Playtime is a moment when children have full ‘ownership’ of their time and learning experiences (Smidt 1998, p22). Play also allows teachers to introduce learning concepts embedded within such leisurely pursuits. The leisurely nature of play addresses the young child’s need to have a deep sense of safety in every experience that he or she engages (Shonkoff & Meisels 2000, p56).  The High/Scope Preschool Curriculum aims use this concept by using the element of play and active discovery in order to facilitate learning. Teachers are trained to use scaffolding to provide challenge and heighten the level of academic and cognitive achievement.

The concept of play and leisure is rooted in man’s deep and innate need to socialize and interact with other people outside the context of family or work. Leisure may be reconstructed as activities that people pursue in order to take a break from the grind and demands of daily living (Sutton-Smith & Pellegrini 1995, p118). Leisure activities are believed to help people cope with the stress of work and family responsibilities and allow us to stay motivated and keep us emotionally and mentally balanced. However, for young children, play is not merely a pursuit. It is the means with which they explore the world around them (Nutbrown 1994, p87).  Framed within the innocent sensibilities of wonder and discovery, children engage all their senses to navigate the world of grown-ups through their own terms: through play (Smith & Smith 2009, p71) Play is an activity most comfortable and most natural to children. Through play, children are able to use their skills and competencies in ways that connect to new knowledge and situations (Saracho & Spodek 2003, p14). By playing with other children, language is naturally developed as the children communicate with others to make the play more enjoyable to everyone involved. Language is also the tool to establish rules and goals in play and thus children develop and enhance their ability to communicate (Smith & Smith 2009, p92).

Observation is a key component in the High/Scope Curriculum. For teachers, play is the best opportunity to observe and study a child’s learning zone. Through proper observation of play, teachers can make instant instructional revisions depending on what has been observed right then and there. (OECD 2005) Indeed observation is an essential skill for anyone working with children (Davidson 1996, p135). Observation provides fundamental and crucial data that helps decide further action as far as the child is concerned. This further action may simply involve the refinement of instructional strategies, or may call for intervention measures and the involvement of specialists. Observation allows both teachers and assistants alike to make early intervention procedures that can make a significant difference in the young child’s life. Most researches find that observation as a type of formative classroom assessment is one of the most effective ones to use, especially where young children are concerned. Observation is unobtrusive and provides a more holistic view on the student, and not just focusing on one particular skill or domain alone as some tests tend to do. The discreet nature of observation addresses the preschooler’s need to have a deep sense of safety inside the classroom. Because children do not know that they are being assessed, then they will not feel threatened (Smidt 1998, p2). Moreover, observation provides a more integrative and comprehensive type of formative assessment, as the student is assessed in terms of the bigger picture. It is also more authentic because children are assessed within the context of their normal, day-to-day activities.

Observation has constantly provided a fuller, richer picture of each and every young learner inside the classroom. Proper analysis of my observation logs has provided insights that would not have been available otherwise or through conventional testing. As a result of these regular observations, instructional strategies can be adopted in order to make it more responsive to each of learner’s needs and specific capabilities (Bee & Boyd 1999, p53). Through observation, teachers are able to know their children more in so far as their educational profile is concerned, and as a result, are able to create lessons and choose materials that are more engaging and interesting for them. This creates a cycle wherein the observations help create a classroom full of busy and engaged children, which in turn provides with more opportunities for observation.

Aside from instant feedback and intervention, another advantage of the observation method is that educators are able to create profiles in several developmental and cognitive domains at the same time. For this to be possible, it is important that pre-school or early childhood teachers should be well-grounded on developmental milestones such as cognitive, social, physical, and emotional domains (Shonkoff & Meisels 2000, p72). If observations show that a young child is exhibiting marked and persistent developmental delays, then proper diagnosis and early intervention can be given. Similarly, observation provides educators with the basis for planning a curriculum that is more responsive to the student’s individual level. A young child may have advanced physical skills but have weak cognitive skills, then some measures can be taken so that the child becomes a balanced individual. The weaknesses will be attended to without neglecting other aspects of development.

Through facilitated play and observation, children enjoy interacting with adults as much as they do with their own peers. The children especially like it when teachers play games with them and read them stories. Regardless of the curriculum or philosophy, children will always prefer to learn in an environment of safety. And that safety is provided by the presence of an ever-attentive educator, always ready to help and to guide the children as they learn more about the world and themselves. And this is what High/Scope should consistently aim to provide.

A Classroom of Democracy and Positive Expectations

It’s has been well established that negative words affect our sense of self-worth and erodes our confidence. Anyone can understand that learning and motivation best takes place in an atmosphere of positive expectations and an environment that inspires achievement. How young children are perceived dictates becomes how they perceive themselves, and it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore it is important that schools create an environment where the young learners are expected to achieve and be successful. In the same token, while people are expected to achieve, they are allowed to do so at their style and preferences as unique individuals. All of these positive expectations are expressed in words and languages. Leaders, teachers, and administrators must understand that young children should be given the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning and accomplishments. By taking this to heart, teachers can then create an environment that advocates participatory learning, where the students are encouraged to explore and discover knowledge in ways that are meaningful in their own lives. (Dewey, 1897)

The High/Scope combines the philosophies of Piaget and Vygotsky. Piaget’s seminal work on cognitive development maintains that intelligence grows parallel to the physical development of the individual. Piaget calls these as “developmental stages” or ages when the individual can be expected to perform certain operations and tasks. (Piaget 1997, p. 2) By relating cognitive development with physical development with certain performance or operational milestones, parents, psychologists, and teachers are able to gauge whether an individual is developing normally, or is advanced or delayed for his or her age, as the case may be. Based on this notion, there is an intimate link between how the the body and the mind develop. Therefore it is very important to be able to provide for the physical needs of young learners because a lot of physical skills like fine and gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination involve the development of the mind which also controls these actions.

Vygotsky meanwhile contends that the child’s physical environment takes a secondary place to the social environment. Vygotsy refutes Piaget’s theory and argues that social learning precedes or stimulates cognitive development. Vygotsky maintains that through constant engagement with more competent or knowledgeable people in the environment, the child’s own knowledge is enhanced. The distance between what the child can perform independently and what he can do with support or “scaffolding” from the more knowledgeable person is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In this zone, learning takes place through social interaction with the more mature people. For example, in the acquisition of oral language, “young children are active agents”, constantly making sense of the inputs that they get from their surroundings in way that is meaningful to them. From these meanings, children then create their own sense of language rules, constantly refining and redefining these rules through active engagement and communication with the more competent language users in their immediate environment. (Tappan, 1998, p. 25) By combining both physical and social resources High/Scope is able to holistically address the learning needs of the young child.

Teachers may set varying learning environments for their students depending on the classroom resources, teacher’s knowledge and skills as well as students’ needs and interests. However in modern classrooms, there are certain learning environments based on certain educational philosophies that are proven to be effective in maximizing the learning potential and participation performance of students. A constructivist learning environment is a deviation from the traditional way of teaching students. Under this philosophy, students are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning. With the aid of educational programs tailor-made for their developmental level, there is a higher level of engagement and ownership of learning. After all, students are not like a sponge that would just absorb anything that we say. Teachers are just here to facilitate learning and every learner must be given the chance to formulate their own questions, organize thoughts and ideas and take part in the development of the course. With the multimedia interaction, teachers should adhere to the democratic kind of learning environment. The teachers offer them a control of the package but should be there to remind them of the consequences should they go astray.

One of the most important benefits of creating a democratic classroom is that students are able to take on a personal or individualized approach to learning. Because students employ various learning styles and learn at different pacing, using technology allows students to utilize the method and pace best suited for them as individuals. A constructivist learning environment enables the students to discover relationships between concepts and apply new- learned knowledge and principles to new situations (Chen, Hsu & Hung, 2000).

This kind of learning environment also provides opportunities for learners to acquire knowledge from multiple perspectives and share common understanding with other students (UNESCO, 2002). It is a venue where learners could work collaboratively as they utilize a variety of tools and information resources in order to solve problems in exercises or classroom activities (Dexter, 2002). Thus it is not sufficient to say that participation from students would be demonstrated from mere questioning regarding related topics. This constructivist educational philosophy could be integrated with technology and other medium in order for the students to grasp basic concepts presented in every topic. Our teaching philosophy should be in consistent with how we design technological tools for student use. Democratic learning should enable the students to choose the topics and pacing of a multimedia package. They should be able to control and manipulate information in order to answer the problems in the exercises.

A democratic learning environment incorporates control, feedback, collaborative and meta-cognitive strategies. Students would learn not just from slide presentations, exams or lectures, but more importantly from tasks that would entail authentic learning and assessment. When they just take down notes, what is a meta- cognitive skill that a student develops? Learning from active participation is crucial. Students will participate more in the class if they develop appreciation for the course. Developing a love for learning and seeing the significance of information technology in their daily lives are also valuable strategies. Given the importance of computers and communications technology in today’s world, it would not be difficult to inculcate these to students. These values would be developed if there is an appropriate learning environment that best prepares         children for higher-order thinking through active learning approaches (Lowry & Turner, 2005). These would include real world problems and cases that would require students to go through investigative and research process or developing a product or creation through projects. This approach also incorporates student-centered learning (Lowry & Turner, 2005).

What is being emphasized is the learning of the students; how they acquire the knowledge and how it is being applied to different learning situations, may it be in a multimedia environment, in the classroom situation, or in the outside world. It really boils down to the changing role of the teacher in a democratic classroom. Teachers are thus challenged to try out new things and to keep pace with modern educational tools and technologies in order to maximize the learning capabilities of their students.

Conclusion

Much has been said about the nobility of the teaching profession; the high sense of duty and the self-sacrifices required on a daily basis is no less than heroic. Pursuing a lifelong career in education as a teacher is indeed a call of duty of the highest sense; but what must be emphasized that alongside the difficulties, are the rewards that make the sacrifices worth it. The essence of the teaching profession is to be able to provide a venue that maximizes the learning opportunities for every student and to allow their minds to soar to unlimited heights.

Education is a process where teachers and students come together in an atmosphere of collaborative and sustained learning experiences. As teachers facilitate learning, so should their own wealth of knowledge and experiences be enhanced by the students as well. Inside the classroom, the teacher is the single biggest factor that determines the success or failure of learning (Smidt 1998). It is the teacher who creates the atmosphere that will allow the class to focus on their tasks and keeps them engaged in the lessons. The teacher must create a classroom that invites constant opportunities to learn (Mujis 2005, p. 75) In the same token, school leaders create the atmosphere hat makes it possible for teachers and students to come together in mutual learning experiences. As teachers create the atmosphere inside the classroom, so do principals and school administrators create an educational institution that facilitates or hinders learning. The bottom line is that schools provide the venue where the educated person is developed and the policies that school leaders create and the rules that they establish determines the success or failure of this educational process.

References

Chen, D., Hsu, J, & Hung, D. (2000). Learning theories and IT: The computer as a tool. In M. Williams (Ed.), Integrating technology into teaching and learning. Singapore: Pearson Education Asia Pte Ltd. pp. 185- 201.

Crystal, D. (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University   Press. Cambridge.

Dexter, S. (2002). eTIPS- Educational technology integration and implementation principles. In P. Rogers (Ed.), Designing instruction for technology- enhanced learning. Pennsylvania: Idea Group Publishing. pp. 56- 70.

Dewey, J 1897, My Pedagogic Creed. From the School Journal. LIV (January 16, 1897),           pp. 77-80 from Wade Baskin, ed.. Classics in Education. New York: Philosophical Library, 1966. pp. 177-188.

Lowry, G., & Turner, R. (2005). Information systems education for the 21st century: Aligning curriculum content and delivery with the professional workplace. In D. Carbonara (Ed.), Technology literacy applications in learning environments. Pennsylvania: Information Science Publishing. pp. 171- 202.

Mujis, D (2005). Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice. Sage Publications.

Nutbrown, C. (1994) Threads of Thinking: Young children learning and the role of early education. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

OECD, 2005, Formative Assessment: Improving Learning In Secondary Classrooms, Educational evaluation, OECD Staff, Organization for economic cooperation and development.

Piaget, J., 1997, Jean Piaget: Selected Works, Routledge.

Reece, I & Walker, S 2006, Teaching, Training and Learning (6th ed) Sunderland:          Business Education.

Shonkoff, J & Meisels, S (2000) Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention, Cambridge University Press.

Smidt, S (ed) (1998). Observing Children, The Early Years: a reader. London and New York, Routledge.

United Educational Scientific and Cultural Education. UNESCO. (2002). Information and communication technologies in teacher education: A planning guide. Texas: Paul Resta.