1.1 Appropriate Practice: A Brief History
The first statement explaining NAEYC’s position on developmentally appropriate interactions with young children appeared in 1986. The publication’s title was simply Developmentally Appropriate Practice, and it was edited by NAEYC’s director of accreditation and professional development, Sue Bredekamp. Many of the book’s contributors were writers whose works and views have been a part of your own early childhood program.
ECE in Motion: Preparing for NAEYC Accreditation
Lynda Way, preschool teacher, talks about the myriad requirements for preparing for accreditation by the NAEYC.
Critical Thinking Questions
· Why is it important to make sure staff are notified of and amenable to the pursuit of accreditation?
· What value do you think an NAEYC accreditation holds for the school and/or for parents and their children?
The impetus for such a publication was twofold. First, NAEYC had recently begun a program for accrediting early childhood centers and schools, evaluating them in part by the developmental appropriateness of their teaching and expectations. A clear statement of what this meant had not yet been delineated. Second, there was widespread concern among early childhood professionals during the 1980s about the emerging academic nature of preschools and kindergartens. Often, this consisted of watering down primary curricula “with too much emphasis on teacher-directed instruction in narrowly defined academic skills” (Bredekamp, 1986, p. iv). The publication laid out what was believed to be “appropriate practice” and “inappropriate practice,” using bulleted lists and precise language to demonstrate its views clearly. Table 1.1 provides a few examples of these practices as they pertain to 4- and 5-year-old children.
Table 1.1: Examples of appropriate and inappropriate teaching practices according to the first edition of DAP
Children are provided concrete learning activities with materials and people relevant to their own life experiences.
Workbooks, ditto sheets, flashcards, and other similarly structured abstract materials dominate the curriculum.
Teachers work in partnership with parents, communicating regularly to build mutual understanding and greater consistency for children.
Teachers communicate with parents only about problems or conflicts. Parents view teachers as experts and feel isolated from their children’s experiences.
Source: Bredekamp, S. (Ed.). (1986). Developmentally appropriate practice. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The publication of Developmentally Appropriate Practice was greeted by many in the field with positive interest. There was also gratitude for the support it provided to professionals as they struggled to maintain the integrity of early childhood programs in the face of outside pressures to teach traditional academic concepts, using methods more suited to older children. For example, looking back at Table 1.1, we see a concern about the use of structured abstract materials. Better, by far, would be concrete materials relevant to children’s lives. This does not mean that young children are incapable of academic learning. Rather, teaching should be provided in a developmentally appropriate way.
© Ariel Skelly/Blend Images/Getty Images
Parent-teacher conferences create an open channel of communication and build mutual understanding between parents and teachers.
Although the 1986 statement was based on well-regarded theory and research and written by experts in the field, the next few years brought a need for some rethinking and revision. In addition, although NAEYC’s definition of early childhood extended to age 8, the first version had not included the primary grades, an omission NAEYC hoped to rectify.
With Sue Bredekamp and Carol Copple as editors, the revised edition of 1997 was now titled Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. At 180 pages, the book was three times the length of the first edition and included essays of far greater depth. There were still bulleted lists of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” practices, but they now covered through age 8. Despite these clear divisions between right and wrong, a shift in attitude had emerged. No longer were there strong statements about what was right and what was wrong, such as those appearing in Table 1.1. Instead, a new introductory section contained a brief statement titled “Moving from either/or to both/and thinking in early childhood practice.” Referring to “the complexity and interrelationship among the principles that guide our practice,” the statement provided examples of both/and thinking, such as the following:
· “Children construct their own understanding of concepts, and they benefit from instruction by more competent peers and adults.
· Children benefit from engaging in self-initiated, spontaneous play and from teacher-planned and -structured activities, projects, and experiences” (p. 23).
Twelve years and many new developments in the field later, the most recent edition was published. Edited again by Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp, the 2009 Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 has now grown to more than 300 pages. This edition no longer refers to appropriate and inappropriate practices, preferring instead to use the designation developmentally appropriate and the somewhat less harsh in contrast. Table 1.2 provides examples of what the newest statements look like.
Table 1.2: Example of developmentally appropriate practices according to the 2009 edition of DAP
Language & Literacy
Teachers teach children how to listen—by teaching and scaffolding it, just like any other language skill.
Teachers think that “listening” means that children behave well (“He doesn’t listen”), and they do not help children with listening skills.
Because mathematics is a discipline in which mastering the next concept/skill requires having understood earlier, foundational concepts/skills, the curriculum reflects a research-based progression of topics.
The mathematics curriculum covers too many content areas superficially, and children do not have the opportunity to master the foundational concepts and skills needed to move forward.
Source: Copple&Bredekamp, 2009
Continuing the theme of both/and thinking about DAP, a new section titled “FAQs about Developmentally Appropriate Practice” contained the following statement:
Individual children vary greatly in their development, prior experiences, abilities, preferences, and interests, and there is no formula that works for all of them or for all situations. To teach any child effectively, a teacher must use a variety of teaching strategies and make intentional choices about what strategy to use in a particular situation, and when and how to extend and support children’s learning. (p. 327)
The 2009 edition also includes three “core considerations in developmentally appropriate practice” that define today’s central views about how early childhood practitioners can and should think when making decisions:
1. What is known about child development and learning—referring to knowledge of age-related characteristics that permits general predictions about what experiences are likely to best promote children’s learning and development.
2. What is known about each child as an individual—referring to what practitioners learn about each child that has implications for how best to adapt and be responsive to that individual variation.
Following developmentally appropriate practices is critical when teaching mathematics because each new concept builds upon the last.
3. What is known about the social and cultural contexts in which children live—referring to the values, expectations, and behavioral and linguistic conventions that shape children’s lives at home and in their communities that practitioners must strive to understand in order to ensure that learning experiences in the program or school are meaningful, relevant, and respectful for each child and family. (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, pp. 9–10)
To summarize these three considerations in relation to NAEYC’s evolution of DAP, it can be noted that the original 1980s statement was based primarily on knowledge of child development. Today there is also recognition that individual differences, as well as social and cultural contexts, also play an important part in decision-making.
It is the 2009 edition of DAP that will support your professional decisions in the coming years. Despite its acknowledgement that early childhood education is far more complex than perhaps believed in the initial years of DAP position statements, there is still enough clarity in the publication to provide you with assistance as you pursue your career. The 2009 edition also takes a more flexible position regarding pedagogical approaches, as demonstrated in the quotation from the FAQs. Should you remain a professional in the field for several years or more, you can expect continuing revisions based on NAEYC’s view that position statements are “living documents” that “will be regularly updated and revised” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 2).
1.2 NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation
As might be expected, the creation of expectations for teachers would require corresponding expectations for the programs that educate the teachers. Thus, alongside the position statements that have just been described, other position statements emerged with standards for two- and four-year programs. They, too, have undergone revisions over the years, with the most recent version published in 2009. Just as the Appropriate Practices position statements were developed with the help of early childhood experts and national organizations, so was the NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation (referred to henceforth as the Standards). Table 1.3 provides a summary of the current NAEYC standards, all of which have been foundational to your own program. You can think of the six standards as a guideline for what teachers should know and be able to do.
Table 1.3: NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation
Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning
Know and understand young children’s characteristics and needs, and the multiple influences on development and learning; use this knowledge to create healthy, respectful, supportive, challenging learning environments.
Standard 2: Building Family and Community Relationships
Know about and understand diverse family and community characteristics; create respectful, reciprocal relationships with them; involve them in their children’s development and learning.
Standard 3: Observing, Documenting, and Assessing to Support Young Children and Families
Understand the goals, benefits, and uses of assessment; use observation, documentation, and other approaches to promote positive outcomes for each child; know about assessment partnerships with families and colleagues.
Standard 4: Using Developmentally Effective Approaches to Connect With Children and Families
Understand positive relationships as foundational; know, understand, and use effective and developmentally appropriate teaching/learning strategies; reflect on practice to promote positive outcomes for each child.
Standard 5: Using Content Knowledge to Build Meaningful Curricula
Understand and use content, inquiry tools, and resources in academic disciplines to design, implement, and evaluate meaningful, challenging curricula for every child.
Standard 6: Becoming a Professional
Uphold ethical standards and other professional guidelines; engage in continuous, collaborative learning to inform practice; integrate knowledgeable, reflective, and critical perspectives in early education; engage in informed advocacy.
Source: Copple&Bredekamp, 2009
1.3 Seven Important Topics: Guidance from NAEYC
We turn now to a discussion of seven review topics you have encountered in previous courses. Because you are close to the end of your program, this review is designed to take your thinking to a more sophisticated level. Thus, for each topic, Standards 1–5 will be incorporated as appropriate and helpful to the discussion. Standard 6 will be treated separately at the close of the chapter. In addition, this important standard will be the focus of Chapter 9.
Topic 1: Curriculum Choices
If you teach in a public K-3 site, the chances are excellent that the curriculum will have been chosen for you and will probably include literacy and language, math, science, social studies, art, music, and physical education. Private or public charter schools may offer more flexibility about subject choices or, at least, the emphasis on each. The situation, however, is different in schools and centers for younger children. As a teacher, you may find that a particular site has a strong focus on the arts or on academic preparation for school entry. In other cases, the choice of curricula may be left to individual teachers. For goodness of fit, you will want to choose your site wisely, based on your own beliefs about what constitutes the best curriculum for young children.
“The curriculum,” says NAEYC, “consists of the knowledge and skills to be acquired in the educational program as well as the plans for experiences through which children’s learning will take place” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 41). This holds true from infancy onward, although caregivers of the very youngest might refer to curriculum as “routines and experiences that will promote children’s learning and development” (p. 21).
NAEYC recognizes that many schools and centers make use of published curriculum products, but it states that teachers should then make adaptations to suit their own children. Additionally, when practitioners develop their own curricula, the curricula should contain identified goals and use resources from experts that are up to date. There is no specific curriculum that is endorsed by NAEYC, but guidance is still provided by suggestions such as the following:
· Teachers should be familiar with the knowledge and skills associated with the ages they teach, and across the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive domains.
· Teachers choose curriculum experiences that reflect children’s current interests or that will likely be of interest to them.
· As teachers plan curricula, they collaborate with other teachers, not only of similar age groups, but also with those who came before and will come after, in order to promote continuity in children’s learning experiences.
According to the Standards, “Well-prepared early childhood degree candidates base their practice on sound knowledge and understanding of young children’s characteristics and needs” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 11, emphasis original). In your program, you have learned about development across domains and about the importance of teaching to children’s interests. The following case study shows how one site uses such knowledge to develop curricula.
Curriculum Development at One Child Care Center
At the Grow and Learn Center, children are cared for from infancy through kindergarten. Once every two weeks, each teacher leaves his or her classroom in the care of an aide for an hour. This time is used to observe another classroom with children of an older age. In this way, teachers can see what their children will be doing in the future. Observational notes are taken and kept on hand for an upcoming meeting.
The monthly meeting is part social hour at a teacher’s home (desserts are involved) and part discussion of curriculum. The focus is on creating experiences that provide a continuum across age groups relating to children’s current interests as expressed verbally or in their choices of activities, potentially engaging every domain of development.
The kindergarten teacher has a slightly different challenge in that there is no class more advanced than hers. She has made it her responsibility to visit the first grades of the two local schools her children will most likely attend the following year. Although she is unable to observe during school hours, she meets with the teachers after school and takes time to peruse the materials the first graders use and the products they create. During the spring months, she is especially alert to creating curricula that will best prepare her children for their upcoming experiences.
Teachers can benefit from sharing ideas and collaborating with other teachers when developing curricula.
To these ideas we should add a major point of Standard 5: It is important for teachers to base curriculum development on their own content knowledge and awareness of resources in the academic disciplines. It is time now to strengthen any weaknesses—real or perceived—in your subject matter understanding. Being aware of academic resources for teaching and knowing how to find them will be especially useful. Standard 5 states, “Early childhood teacher candidates, just like experienced teachers, go beyond their own basic knowledge to identify and use high-quality resources, including books, standards documents, web resources, and individuals who have specialized content expertise in developing early childhood curriculum” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 17). At the end of this chapter, you will find some websites to send you on your way.
Topic 2: Delivery of Curricula
There are a number of ways to deliver curricula, and they have been presented in previous courses. A primary teaching decision focuses on how the curriculum is divided up. For example, each subject area can be taught separately, or two or more subjects can be integrated across a topical theme (butterflies, the color yellow, a holiday). Also, curriculum integration can take place as part of a project (a study of ants, research on transportation systems, learning how restaurants work). The second teaching decision focuses on what kinds of experiences children will have within any of these models. For example, the teacher might choose direct instruction of curricular material, decide that group work would provide better experiences, or determine that material would be learned best incidentally through structured or unstructured play.
ECE in Motion: Learning Through Play
Educators and childcare providers talk about how to encourage play in children through the use of props.
Critical Thinking Questions
· How might incorporating real objects into imaginary play help enhance play for children?
· Do you think this incorporation is important? Why or why not?
The next sections provide a quick review of direct instruction, group work, and play. Various schools and centers will offer differing levels of freedom for choosing how to present curricula. It is a good idea to decide now how important your favorite approach is to you.
Direct instruction is simply teaching that transmits knowledge directly from teacher to learner. There are times when such a focused approach is important for children, such as when a new concept, word, or procedure needs to be presented: “By setting aside time for focused instruction to work on specific new knowledge and skills, teachers enable children to add to and deepen their budding understandings and abilities” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 259). Effective teachers consider the importance of a quick transfer of knowledge in cases such as these before deciding on direct instruction. At other times, a different approach to learning—through group work or play, for example—may well be preferred.
Group work, sometimes called cooperative learning, must be done with careful attention to developmental appropriateness. Typically, preschool children can perform work in pairs. Toward the end of kindergarten and through the primary grades, children in groups of three and four begin to work well together. Most often, best results come from grouping children of varying levels and interests rather than putting children of similar levels and interests together.
When done with developmental appropriateness, cooperative group work can provide a number of benefits for young children: the development of acceptance, inclusion, and caring for others; collaboration between children with diverse ideas; success on a project that could not have been done alone; development of communication skills; individual responsibility for learning; growth in cooperative behaviors; problem-solving opportunities; and chances to learn how to resolve conflicts (Foyle, Lyman, &Thies, 1991). In Chapter 2, a method of group work known as the project approach will be discussed along with an example of how it can be implemented in the early education classroom.
If we consider direct instruction as representative of one end of the teaching strategies spectrum, then play would represent the other end. Although from an outside observer’s point of view play might appear casually designed, it is in fact one of the most important to plan for. According to NAEYC, “Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition, and social competence” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 14). In a short essay on the value of play for preschool age children, Copple and Bredekamp (2006) refer to research that demonstrates the value of high-level, or well-planned, play as an excellent predictor of later success in school. They note that, for play to be high level, teachers need to enhance its richness and complexity. One important aspect of this is for teachers to provide blocks of time for children to play freely or as part of an ongoing project, rather than providing infrequent play times as a reward for good work.
It is important for teachers to incorporate playtime into the school day because it plays a key role in language development and social interaction.
Often, it is difficult for teachers in the primary grades to incorporate and justify play as a teaching methodology. Yet play is important to children at this age as well. Selma Wassermann (2000) has focused much of her teaching career on this need. To assist primary teachers in bringing play to their classrooms in an academically sound way, Wassermann, along with “hundreds” of teachers, created a model she calls play-debrief-replay. Briefly stated, this method includes the following:
1. An opportunity to engage in creative, investigative play. Different learning styles and speeds of learning are accommodated. In such play, “Concepts are learned and understood via the primary route of practical experience, the only way in which learners at any age actually learn to understand” (p. 25).
2. Time for a reflective debriefing in which children think about and discuss what they learned and what they still hope to learn. For this, the teacher takes an active role in “the form of provocative questions and facilitative responses that work to enable children to make sense of discrepancies, shed naïve theories for more mature and informed ones, and take the next steps toward new insights and understandings” (p. 30).
3. In the final replay stage, children may repeat their investigation or move into a new and related area of the curriculum. This stage “builds on previous experience and thus amplifies and provides progression in understanding” (p. 32).
Wassermann’s experience instituting this approach in many schools and districts has led her to argue that trusting children to learn through this play approach leads to “increased personal power, a sense of can-do, growing self-respect, responsible group behavior, increased thinking capability” (p. 33).
Topic 3: Assessment of Teaching and Learning
Decisions about a curriculum and the delivery of it must be made in part based upon ongoing assessment of children’s learning, as well as reflection on the effectiveness of one’s teaching. Observing children’s engagement with concrete materials during play and academic learning sessions can tell teachers what they need to know in order to plan upcoming experiences. At other times, assessments that are more formal are called for, including those required by state or school. Later chapters will provide further discussion of observation and analysis, including examples of opportunities for actual practice. Spending time with these practice opportunities until you are comfortable will assist you when future classroom situations present themselves.
In early education, the term assessment is differentiated from evaluation, though the two terms are otherwise often viewed as synonymous. Although the two processes do overlap to some extent, educators can “understand assessment as a means of determining where they need and want to go next in their teaching. Evaluation tells educators how satisfactorily they and their students are doing, not only in their own eyes but through the eyes of others as well” (Krogh & Morehouse, 2008, p. 62). Assessment methods might include observation, interviews, portfolios, performance tasks, checklists, or tests—both standardized and teacher created.
The idea of responsible assessment is emphasized by Standard 3 of the NAEYC Standards. According to this standard, such assessment is “collaborative and open. Responsible assessment supports children, rather than being used to exclude them or deny them services,” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 14). A major example of this statement in practice is to avoid denying children access to kindergarten because they do not yet seem “ready.” Rather, all children should be admitted and then provided with the support and attention they need to flourish.
In its position statements on the topic, NAEYC emphasizes the need for assessment to be systematic, ongoing, strategic, and purposeful. To be systematic and ongoing, there should be an assessment plan that is “clearly written, well-organized, complete, comprehensive, and well-understood by directors, teachers, and families.” Further, “Information is collected at regular intervals throughout the year” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 179). To be strategic and purposeful, assessment should be done so that the curriculum can be adapted to each child’s developmental and learning needs, children’s progress can be monitored, the program’s effectiveness can be evaluated and improved, and children can be screened for disabilities or special needs. Finally, it is important that assessment be integrated with the program’s teaching and curriculum rather than simply filed away with no positive changes being made either in the program or to meet the needs of individuals (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Integration done in this way is often referred to as authentic assessment because it relates specifically to children’s real-life development and learning.
Observation done systematically includes recording “behaviors that demonstrate children’s skills, attitudes, values, or knowledge” (Seefeldt, Castle, & Falconer, 2010, p. 52). Observations of young children at play offer opportunities to see them demonstrate what they have learned in the more formal curriculum. The case study: Curriculum Development at One Child Care Center offered an example of this.
Informal interviews can be conducted during free play, recess, snack, or lunchtime. Some things to look for include the following:
· Consistency: Does the child respond similarly to the same kinds of questions?
· Accuracy: Are the answers correct, or at least somewhat accurate?
· Clarity: Are answers clear?
· Fullness: Were the answers fairly complete?
· Extensiveness: Could the child give illustrations to explain him/herself? (Seefeldt et al., 2010)
Portfolios contain samples of children’s products over time and often hold information about “when, how, and under what conditions the work was completed” (p. 54). To be most effective, children should join the teacher in deciding what should be included in their portfolios and, as they grow in their capabilities, can also observe and discuss the progress made over time. Items that might be included in a portfolio include the following:
· Samples of a child’s work
· A list of books read to or by the child
· Photos of projects in process
· Notes and comments from informal interviews
· Recordings or videos of special events, a performance, the child reading, etc.
· Dictated or written stories (Seefeldt et al., 2010)
Performance tasks give children a way to demonstrate concepts and skills. An art project, for example, can be an excellent way for young children to display their understanding of the curriculum, particularly when they are not yet capable of writing activities.
Checklists can be constructed listing the specific goals of a unit of study. After each goal, spaces to check off evidence such as always/sometimes/never or mastered/in progress/introductory can be used.
Standardized tests “are based on goals and objectives decided by someone other than the classroom teacher and are intended to serve as large-scale evaluations. Thus, the content of standardized tests may have little to do with the goals of the classroom teacher or the experiences or activities of the children” (Seefeldt et al., 2010, pp. 56–57). In other words, standardized tests are rarely authentic, but teachers who work with children in kindergarten or the primary grades will, no doubt, be required to administer them. If that is the case, “you will need to be sure that the content is embedded and assessed within your lessons, units, themes, and projects” (p. 57). The following case study describes how one teacher did just this while also attending to what his children really needed when they took their first standardized test.
Kindergarten Children “Ace” the Test
Frank’s kindergarten class was about to take its first standardized test in literacy development. He, and every other kindergarten teacher in his district, felt nervous about what was to come because it was their first time giving a formal assessment. Frank knew that the other teachers were spending extra time teaching to the test the best they could without actually knowing exactly what would be on it. He wondered if he should do the same but felt reasonably confident that the class was on track, as his teaching had attended to district requirements as well as NAEYC positions regarding good practice. He was more concerned that he might just infuse the children with his nervousness.
At some point it occurred to Frank that what his children really did not know was how to take a standardized test—what it would look like, how to fill in bubbles, how to turn a page only when told to, and why you had to stop even when you weren’t finished. He decided that helping them with such details was how he would “teach to the test.” He created booklets for the children to practice on, sharpened a collection of pencils, and told the class that they were about to do something that only bigger kids usually got to do. Using a bit of drama, Frank put the class through a test-taking role play and observed that they seemed to love it. He then promised them that they would get to do the real thing in a few days. When the day came, the children were excited and ready. They followed directions easily and happily, although these were not quite the same as had been practiced, and, of course, the test booklets did not look quite the same either.
When the district scores came in, it was immediately apparent that Frank’s children had scored the highest. Because every school used approximately the same literacy curriculum, and because the kindergartens were fairly equal in the number of English language learners, Frank could only guess that it was the test rehearsal that had made the difference.
Topic 4: Many Kinds of Diversity
There is a chance that you will find yourself at a site where the children are all of one gender, class, ethnicity, and level of ability. This is, however, an extremely slim chance. More likely, you will need to make children of diverse backgrounds and ability levels feel welcome and supported. Consider your attitude toward reaching all children as effectively as possible. If you are unsure about teaching or caring for some groups, think about what you will do if they appear in your classroom and how you will best meet their needs.
The Standards state that college students who are about to teach should
demonstrate the essential dispositions to develop positive, respectful relationships with children whose cultures and languages may differ from their own, as well as with children who may have developmental delays, disabilities, or other learning challenges. . . . Candidates know the cultural practices and contexts of the young children they teach, and they adapt practices as they continue to develop cultural competence—culturally relevant knowledge and skills. (NAEYC, 2009, p. 15)
While there is a multitude of ways that children bring diversity to the classroom, we will focus on four: the home culture, learning English as a new language, providing appropriate education for children with special needs, and providing appropriate education for children with special gifts.
© Wealan Pollard/OJO Images/Getty Images
While most assessments are designed to evaluate students’ understanding of a single subject, standardized tests cover a broad spectrum of topics, gauging student performance on a large scale.
NAEYC reminds us that “all of us are members of cultures and are powerfully influenced by them” and that “every culture structures and interprets children’s behavior and development in its own way” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 13). Because of that, the way a teacher views a student’s behavior may be somewhat different from the way a parent views it. Thus, “educators need to be sensitive to how their own cultural experience shapes their perspective and to realize that multiple perspectives, not just their own, must be considered in decisions about children’s development and learning” (p. 13).
One frequent writer on this topic offers the following helpful ideas for when educators hit a “cultural bump.” First, learn more about the family and its culture. Do this by observing the way the adults interact with the children. Listen when they tell the children how to act around others, both children and adults. Finally, open up a dialogue with the family, commenting on what you have observed while non-judgmentally sharing your own, and your center’s or school’s, views. Throughout, remember the NAEYC position concerning “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking (Gonzalez-Mena, 2009).
The following case study is in two parts, one pertaining to a single child and her family’s culture surrounding food, and the other addressing the need of an entire school to make adjustments related to family religious culture.
Two Opportunities, Two Solutions
The following experiences demonstrate two very different ways in which teachers might find it necessary to adjust what happens at school based on differences in home culture. As you read, ask yourself if you would have responded in the same way, or whether there could be solutions you would prefer.
Case Study A
The children in Susan’s all-day kindergarten class had all been born in her small Midwestern town, with the exception of Katerina, an immigrant from Central America. Everyone brought their lunches from home, and it was not long before a few children noticed that Katerina’s lunch looked quite different and began to make fun of her. Susan did what she could to stop the teasing, but she wondered if she should say something to the parents.
Within a few days, Katerina’s father showed up and mentioned that she had come home quite upset. “I have a suggestion,” he said, looking quite pleased. “I will cook some food for the class. Would next Tuesday work?” Susan was admittedly taken aback, but she agreed to the plan.
On the following Tuesday, he appeared right on schedule and, with no help from Susan, gathered everyone in a circle. “You are a frying pan,” he informed them, and from a sack he pulled out an iron skillet to match. Then he pointed at children to enter the circle, where they imitated actual eggs getting cracked and beaten. Green and red peppers followed, then green onions. By the time the torta was transported to the class stove, the entire class was busy representing the ingredients, actively and with great excitement. Even those left in the circle as the frying pan got to wiggle and make sizzling noises.
Before long, the torta was ready for everyone to eat, and Katerina had become the positive center of attention. After that, no one made fun of her lunches, even checking them daily to see what exciting new ingredients she might have brought.
Case Study B
The new Eden Valley Elementary School, built in a rural area, found itself unexpectedly crowded from the day it opened. A sudden influx of religious refugees from Russia and Ukraine had come to the area, having heard for the past several years that the local community was highly welcoming. Within a year, fully 35% of the school’s children were refugees from the two countries. Additionally, the local Head Start center found itself with a number of children who understood no English, and without teachers who could translate.
One or two bilingual mothers were usually available to help at Head Start, and they soon became valuable to other families as interpreters of the new culture they were encountering. At the elementary school, a TESOL-certified teacher who spoke Russian was hired, and, for a while, all went smoothly. However, in the second year, problems emerged related to the cultures the children brought from home.
On October 31, none of the refugees attended school, although no parent or child had given advance notice that this would happen. Everyone else, as might be guessed, appeared in costume. While Halloween celebrations at Eden Valley consisted of the mostly harmless activity of young children in costumes trick-or-treating for candy, the refugees were opposed to celebrating the historically pagan holiday for religious reasons. A meeting was called so that parents and the pastor could explain their position and teachers could explain theirs. A cultural impasse was reached, although tempers never rose. It was finally decided that Halloween celebrations would be replaced by a fall harvest festival, and that the parents could help create what could become a new tradition. In truth, the teachers were a bit relieved to discard the frantic excitement and unhealthy candy consumption of Halloween in favor of a potentially educational experience.
English Language Learners
There is a traditional belief in the United States’ monolingual society that speaking a language other than English at home will lead to a deficit in children’s performance in school. For example, one study of primary grade classrooms, in which a large number of children were Latino, found that many of the teachers believed that Spanish was spoken at home because parents did not care whether their children adapted well in school. Teachers “failed to recognize any redeeming value in the children’s emerging bilingualism or the important role of the parents in helping the children to develop their Spanish skills” (Dantas&Manyak, 2010, p. 5). Yet, young children around the world regularly learn more than one language with relative ease and, thus, are better prepared to learn other languages as they grow older, are able to intuit the logic of linguistics, and, depending on where they live, are a step ahead in preparing to participate in the global economy.
NAEYC’s 2009 position statement argues that, instead of replacing a child’s home language, families should be encouraged to help with retention and development of fluency. In addition, “children who speak only English benefit from learning another language and can do so without sacrificing their English proficiency” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 14).
Some suggestions for teachers of multilingual students include the following:
· Ask parents of children who are just learning English to provide you with a few critical words in the home language such as listen, bathroom, and eat.
· Let the children become accustomed to the classroom environment before making direct efforts to engage in communication, although a welcoming smile and greeting are a good idea.
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Engaging in activities that do not rely on oral communication helps foster a comfortable and safe environment for English language learners.
· Use helpful physical gestures along with words once communication efforts have begun.
· Use repetition so that children have multiple opportunities to hear new words.
· When children are ready, become more insistent that they communicate verbally rather than with whatever gestures they have been using, providing help as needed, of course (Tabor, 1997).
Related suggestions focus on the classroom environment and organization:
· Provide safe havens within the classroom where English language learners (ELLs) can be comfortable and engage in activities, such as manipulatives like blocks and puzzles, that do not always demand oral communication.
· Establish a consistent set of routines throughout the day so that ELLs can pick them up quickly and feel confident.
· When assigning small groups, make sure they include a mix of first- and second-language children.
· Help English speakers understand that ELLs are sometimes unresponsive to them, not because they do not want to be friendly, but because they do not understand.
· Try role-playing, inviting ELLs to play using good enunciation and gestures (Tabor, 1997).
Children with Special Needs
Identifying children with special needs and providing them with appropriate experiences is, in part, the work of specialists, but it is also the responsibility of the classroom caregiver or teacher. Response to Intervention (RTI) is a widely accepted model that demonstrates ways to work with children at different levels of need. As a caregiver or teacher, you will be introduced as needed to RTI.
ECE in Motion: Special Needs–Teaching Techniques for All Students
Techniques for teaching special needs children are the same as for other children, though special needs children may need some additional attention.
Critical Thinking Questions
· What might be the positive effects of integrating special needs children in a mainstream classroom?
· Do you think there are any negative effects to doing so?
Due in large part to federal legislative requirements, recent years have witnessed the expanding role of full inclusion experiences for children, infants, and toddlers with special needs. Full inclusion means that there are children with and without disabilities all in one setting, all receiving appropriate learning experiences. Accompanying the expansion of this approach is the need to avoid altering the expected experiences for typically developing children: “The defining feature of inclusion for young children is the existence of planned participation between children with and without disabilities in the context of children’s educational/developmental programs” (Guralnick, 2001, p. 3). Creating fairness for all children in an educational setting requires that a particular program be able to “retain its core philosophical and programmatic approach while successfully meeting the individual needs of all children in the program” (p. 14).
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Providing books in Braille is one example of how teachers can accommodate students with special needs.
Of course, such a balancing act is a challenge, but ultimately a rewarding one for all the children. The role of teachers, according to NAEYC, is to “include all children in all of the classroom activities and encourage children to be inclusive in their behaviors and interactions with peers” and to be “prepared to meet special needs of individual children, including children with disabilities” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 20).
Teachers of infants with sensory or motor delays can provide informal opportunities for explorations with toys and other materials. The infants’ parents or their professional interventionists can be relied on for ways to adapt the materials and to position the infants for the most comfortable and effective experience (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009). For children preschool-aged and older, adaptations of classroom materials for gross motor activities may be needed, perhaps including making both indoor and outdoor environments wheelchair accessible. Children with impairments of any kind should not be left out of physical education activities, which “may even be more beneficial for them than for their typically developing peers, even though there may be additional challenges. Movement programs can enhance their coordination, listening and expressive skills, conceptual learning, and perhaps most important, their body image” (p. 263).
Increasingly, assistive technologies such as modified keyboards, scissors, and computer software are available for a wide range of disabilities. These can provide avenues to academic and even social success for children who otherwise would have experienced little but failure.
Children with Special Gifts
One specialist in gifted education and early childhood development has referred to such children as the most ignored and disadvantaged children in education (Robeck, personal communication, n.d.). Her point was that teachers assume that, because the children achieve what others do, but with greater ease and speed, there is no need to provide them with any extra attention. Yet these children also deserve to be challenged and excited about learning new things, rather than embarking on an educational career that is boring and predictable.
ECE in Motion: The Gifted Child/Challenges Faced by Gifted Children
Gifted children talk about their habits and the challenges they face in the classroom.
Critical Thinking Questions
· Why is it important to ensure gifted students are given work appropriate for their achievement level?
· What are some ways you might encourage a gifted student to perform at their higher achievement level without singling them out in front of their peers?
One problem for early childhood teachers, however, is the lack of effective and reliable assessment and identification tools. As one pair of researchers working to rectify the situation has noted, “The need to identify and intervene with gifted children at an early age is critical if we hope to improve their chances for optimal development” (Pfeiffer &Petscher, 2008, p. 28). Their method for identifying such children depends primarily on teacher observation. Things to look for in children ages 3 through 8 might include
the use of advanced vocabulary and/or the development of early reading skills, keen observation and curiosity, an unusual retention of information, periods of intense concentration, an early demonstration of talent in the arts, task commitment beyond same-age peers, and an ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships, and think abstractly. (NAGC, 2006, p. 3)
Teachers who observe some of these characteristics in some of their children might well consider the use of the project approach to learning. This methodology takes into consideration children’s interests and abilities, providing them with the freedom to research and record at their own level. We will discuss this teaching method more fully in Chapter 2.
Topic 5: Behavior Guidance
Just as young children need to be introduced to curricular subjects, they also need to be introduced to appropriate behavior in a wide array of situations. For most youngsters, choosing the right behavior can be just as complex and confusing as sorting out a new math problem or reading their first long sentence. For both children and adults, however, behavioral issues are often accompanied by strong emotions, making the adult’s philosophical approach especially critical. Some approaches provide specific steps to follow in well-defined situations. Others focus more on the development of a democratic atmosphere. Beginning teachers often consider this topic to be the most important for their success in a classroom or center. Reflection on your views is, therefore, important to undertake now.
“The excellent teacher makes it a priority to develop a warm, positive relationship with each child,” NAEYC declares. “This relationship is vital to young children’s learning and development in all areas, and it makes effective, positive guidance possible” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 35). Note the emphasis on both effective and positive. When teachers understand that guidance and teaching are just as important for behavioral issues as they are for other forms of development, they are thinking and planning positively. For example, young children are generally not punished when they are not born knowing multiplication tables, how to ride a tricycle, or, as in the case of Frank’s students, how to take a standardized test. Thus, it makes little sense for them to be punished for not being born knowing the rules for interacting with others in emotional or difficult situations. Being positive, then, helps children understand how to make better decisions next time; when they can follow through successfully, the positive guidance has been effective.
NAEYC also suggests that, in the early years, guidance is not something that needs to be gotten over with so that “real” learning can then take place. For young children, behavioral competence and self-regulation are actually a part of the curriculum. Research has demonstrated that children learn and succeed better in school when they have acquired these capabilities (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
As might be expected, differing ages have different developmental needs for teacher guidance. Caregivers of toddlers model their behavior according to the ways they want the children to behave. This is important for any age, but toddlers do not yet have the receptive or expressive verbal skills to separate adult actions from their words. People who work with toddlers can expect to see themselves mirrored in the children’s actions and speech patterns. Toddlers express their newly found need to test limits by making use of their new favorite word: No! In the spirit of avoiding communication they do not wish to see mirrored, caregivers will do well to redirect youngsters’ behavior and interests, saying “no” only when immediate safety or emotional well-being are involved (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Sometimes the toddler’s need to exert a negative control over the environment can lead to an amusing interchange. Here is the conversation one teacher observed between 2-year-old Mark and his mother when she came to pick him up:
Mother: It’s time to go home now, Mark. Let’s get in the car.
Mark: No! Don’t wanna.
Mother: Do you want to stay at school?
Mother: Well then, how about getting in the car?
Mother: There are raisins and juice next to your car seat. If you want them, you’ll need to climb in now.
Mark: No! (Long silence and a look of uncertainty.) Yes. No! Okay.
(Teacher and mother stifle a chuckle. Mark gets in the car, having been successfully redirected.)
By preschool, most youngsters are moving beyond the emotional negativity of their toddler years and are ready, and generally thankful for, the setting of clear limits. Teachers need to “enforce these limits with explanations in a climate of mutual respect and caring. They attend to children consistently, not principally when they are engaging in problematic behaviors” (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009, p. 159). The preschool years are also a good time to observe children in their dramatic play and provide them with scaffolding toward more complex storytelling and mature levels of communication skills. Scaffolding is help provided by a teacher or more advanced child that takes a student to the next level of performance or understanding. Teachers can do this within dramatic play by participating for a time as a minor character, offering suggestions within the children’s plot line. Guidance toward solving social and emotional problems that arise as part of play also helps children develop the self-regulation needed for eventual success in school.
If there are children who consistently or frequently demonstrate challenging behaviors, teachers need to observe when these take place, events or activities that seem to provoke them, and the responses the children have to teacher intervention. If solutions fail to present themselves, it may be important to involve the family and, if needed, other professionals who can help develop an individualized plan (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
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Teachers can facilitate self-regulation by creating opportunities for their students to interact with others both in the classroom and on the playground.
Kindergarten children are still in need of consistency and predictability from adults as they develop an internal need to be good, particularly because they are not always quite sure what “good” means unless the adults define the term very specifically. When teachers set limits for kindergartners, they can now offer brief and logical explanations for them. When limits are tested or defied, the teacher can follow up by asking what the limits are and the reasons for them.
In kindergarten, children have developed more skill at playing and working cooperatively, and they like having rules to follow. They also like to point out when others are not following the rules and are, thus, inclined toward some tattling. Class meetings provide an opportunity to talk about and create rules together. When children have had a hand in rule creation, it is especially effective when a rule is broken to ask the child, or children, to recite the rule and then ask who created it. A follow-up discussion might focus on whether the rule actually needs changing or not. Kindergartners often believe that rules, once made, cannot be changed, and such a discussion can expand their understanding.
During the primary grades, self-regulation becomes important for both academic and social development. Providing opportunities for making individual choices, for working and playing with others, and for involving children in making class rules works toward that end. Teacher behaviors that work against the development of self-regulation include stern lectures about proper behavior, punishments, public humiliation, taking away privileges such as recess, and engaging in threatening comments and behavior. The more time children have to interact with others, both in work and in play, and the less adult-regulated the classroom is, the more self-regulation children will be able to develop (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Topic 6: The Physical, Social, and Emotional Environment
What will your classroom look like? Even if your curriculum is chosen for you, even though your approach to behavior is prescribed by the director or principal, you will probably have some freedom in this regard. Do you want to provide cozy and comforting surroundings for children? Is a large space important because you want children to engage in movement activities frequently? Should there be a large space for art-related creativity and messes? Are you more at home, perhaps more secure, with tidy rows of tables or desks? Your answers to these questions will affect the way your children feel about being in your classroom and the ways they interact with one another. As you gain experience, you will learn to adapt to the needs of your specific children and curriculum; however, for now you simply need to think about getting a good start. Being intentional will serve you well.
All the various conditions and influences surrounding young children constitute their environment, and these contribute in important ways to their development. The Standards address this fact as a major portion of Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning. According to this standard, there are four critical features that promote “healthy, respectful, supportive, and challenging learning environments.”
1. Beginning teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to “promote young children’s physical and psychological health, safety, and sense of security.”
2. Beginning teachers model anti-bias perspectives through respecting all children, as well as their home culture and language, abilities and disabilities, and communities.
3. Play, spontaneous activity, and guided investigations are provided for children and demonstrate the beginning teacher’s belief that all young children have the ability to learn.
4. Contemporary theory and research underlie the beginning teacher’s creation of a learning environment. Thus, the environment will be appropriately challenging, providing “achievable and stretching experiences for all children—including children with special abilities and children with disabilities or developmental delays” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 11).
NAEYC has set these Standards for beginning teachers as well as for those who are experienced. Although it might seem overwhelming at first to keep everything in mind, it can be useful for beginners to ask themselves four related questions when making classroom decisions: Does this decision promote all aspects of my children’s health and safety? Does this decision respect every one of my children? Does this decision provide time for play, spontaneous activity, or investigation? Is this decision based on good theory and research?
One helpful way to ensure good decision making is to attend to the physical environment. The types of walls, floors, and furnishings in a classroom convey specific messages to children (and adults) about the kind of teaching and learning expected to take place, who is respected and cared for, and what should happen next. Wide, open spaces send a message that promotes movement. Desks in rows indicate serious, quiet learning with the teacher in charge. Walls filled with posters, pictures, and inspirational sayings invite creativity. As is true for all elements of the environment, there is a need for age appropriateness in the physical environment.
For infants, this means having a clean and safe floor area where they can move freely. Toys are within reach, or just beyond, to encourage crawling for those who are ready. Interesting objects can be placed on low shelves and should be a mixture of familiar and new items. There should never be so many items that they become an over-stimulating blur or so few that the environment is sterile and dull. All materials and physical areas must be completely safe, with a caregiver nearby at all times (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Toddlers also need a clean and safe floor, one that has uncarpeted areas for messy activities and pull toys, and carpeted areas for quiet play. Divided areas provide space for varying kinds of play, from solitary, to small group, to blocks. Area dividers offer privacy for the children but should remain low enough for adult supervision. Both indoor and outdoor areas include space for active, large muscle play. Finally, just as infants need low, open shelves with easily accessible, safe-to-handle toys, so do toddlers (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
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Because infants spend much of their time on the floor, it is important to keep this space clean and safe.
During the preschool years, children become capable of a wider range of large motor skills, although they develop with some awkwardness. Providing them with safe indoor and outdoor opportunities to test their skills is appropriate. Fine motor skills can be encouraged through provision of materials, but children should not be pushed to achieve. Within the boundaries of safety, children should be permitted to do as much for themselves as possible, all with good supervision (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Kindergartens continue the use of discrete areas for playing and learning and open shelves for free access. There are tables and chairs of varying sizes, places for group meetings, spaces for keeping personal belongings, and a dramatic play area. Materials provide the optimal amount of challenge, including varying levels for the different capabilities children bring to school (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
By the primary grades, most classrooms contain desks or tables designed for serious work. These can be arranged for flexible groupings so that children can work alone or in groups. There should still be kindergarten-style spaces where construction and other noisier projects can take place, and quiet spaces for solitary or shared reading. While safety is still a consideration, children should gradually be given more freedom of movement within the school and permitted, with supervision, to use tools of various sizes (Copple&Bredekamp, 2009).
Topic 7: Interactions with Families and Community
Today, perhaps more than ever before, there is a wide variety of family structures that provide young children with the love and support they need to flourish. Children may come from a single-parent home, for example, where either the mother or father is the primary caregiver. Or they may live in a household where they are being raised by a member of the extended family, such as an uncle or an aunt. As teacher or caregiver, you will have many interactions with these “first teachers,” and the quality of those interactions will be important to the academic, social, and psychological growth of the children you serve. There are many ways to communicate with families. Some of these ways require essential skills, but all need a positive outlook. Do you look forward to these interactions, or do you feel you need more skill before being able to communicate with your students’ families? What about your interactions with the larger community? There may well be opportunities to be an advocate for your children and their families. Are you comfortable taking a public stance?
The importance of maintaining family and community relationships is apparent when we consider the fact that two of the six Standards are devoted to this topic. (See Table 1.3 for a brief overview.) Standard 2, “Building Family and Community Relationships,” emphasizes the need to help children learn and develop by having a deep understanding of their lives. This would include, for example, knowledge of various family structures, cultural values, and socioeconomic conditions. Also important is knowing how to build positive and respectful relationships with families of all kinds, including skills for both informal and formal communications. Being supportive of families also includes assisting them in finding needed resources such as health care, economic assistance, and adult education opportunities.
Standard 4, “Using Developmentally Effective Approaches to Connect with Children and Families,” brings teachers, children, and families together to create positive relationships and high-quality school or center experiences: “Through these connections children develop not only academic skills but also positive learning dispositions and confidence in themselves as learners” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 14). Even more than that, “the warmth and responsiveness of adult-child interactions are powerful influences on positive developmental and educational outcomes. How children expect to be treated and how they treat others are significantly shaped in the early childhood setting” (p. 14).
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Schools, families, and communities should collaborate to provide the best learning environment for children to learn and grow.
Referring to family and community members as “the other teachers in children’s lives,” researchers Susi Long and Dinah Volk (2010) indicate, “All children and their families bring knowledge and skills about how to support their own and others’ learning to classrooms every day. Homes and communities are rich in teaching strategies and resources from which teachers can learn as they expand their own instructional repertoires” (p. 178). Based on their observations of, and participation in, outside-school teaching and learning, these researchers suggest the following:
· Redefine “home visits” by seeing them as “opportunities to learn from family and community members as experts in their children’s lives.” Long and Volk found that doing this resulted in uncovering “rich funds of knowledge, networks of support, and strategies used by the other teachers in students’ home and community contexts” (p. 195).
· Regularly include family and community members in conversations about everyone’s concerns, interests, conflicts, need for support, and so on. These conversations should be scheduled at a time and place convenient to most people.
· Find creative ways to counter the problems of too little time in overcrowded schedules and lives. One suggestion is to have administrators take over classes so that teachers and children can explore their community together. Another is to combine classes for a while to free up teacher time for a community-related activity, meeting, or research.
· Within the center or classroom, share songs, family traditions, and recipes. These often help teachers learn about their children’s “other teachers.”
The seven topics just discussed, along with the NAEYC Standards, should provide some food for thought as you engage in the final activities of your early childhood program. While you should refer back, as needed, to any or all of the seven, the following exercise is designed to give you an opportunity to focus more deeply on one in particular.
Reflecting on a Single Topic
Choose one of the seven previous topics to think about in depth. Write a short position statement that reflects your current thinking on this topic in the style of an entry for an occasional blog you send to your children’s parents. As an example, you might decide to write about the classroom environment, explaining a bit about how the room is set up and why materials are presented as they are. This would include explanations of the developmental appropriateness of the environmental decisions you have made.
When writing parents, your message should be engaging, clear, and free of jargon that only educators would understand. In addition, spelling should be perfect and grammar standard. Avoid slang while still maintaining a friendly tone.
Careful writing of this sort is important to maintain a sense of professionalism, and it will go a long way toward earning the respect of your children’s parents. If you teach in the primary grades, such careful editing will be an expectation for your students as well.
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Early childhood professionals capitalize on their knowledge and professionalism to make decisions, even for routine tasks like organizing nap time.
Whatever your career goals in early childhood care and education might be, an attitude and demonstration of professionalism is a must for serving the interests and needs of young children. Becoming a professional is the sixth and final NAEYC Standard.
The hallmark of a professional, according to this standard, is “continuous, collaborative learning to inform practice.” In other words, completion of a program in early childhood education is not “the final demonstration of competence but is one milestone among many, including professional development experiences” (NAEYC, 2009, p. 18). Another mark of an early childhood professional is to make decisions—even routine ones related to choosing materials or ways to organize nap time or circle time—using research-based knowledge and values. Choosing appropriate professional development experiences will help ensure success in this aspect of professionalism.
Standard 6 also includes advocacy for children and families as an aspect of professionalism, and suggests that this be informed advocacy based on knowledge about policy and ethical issues along with societal concerns. In one community, for example, early childhood care and education centers have banded together to create a strong league of stakeholders. Each center sends one teacher or administrator to the monthly meetings to discuss the current issues they are all facing as well as to learn from each other. On occasion, one or two members are sent to the state capital as representatives to advocate for the community’s children.
To be effective professionals in such an organization or as representatives to larger groups, administrators, teachers, and caregivers must be able to demonstrate verbal and written communication skills that will allow them to be respected and heard.
Finally, Standard 6 reminds beginning teachers, as well as their instructors, of NAEYC’s code of ethical conduct. It includes sections on ethical responsibilities to children, to families, to colleagues and employers, and to the larger community. The importance of ethical dispositions and conduct is great enough that this text devotes a large section of Chapter 9 to the topic. There, you will find much more about the code. If you would like to preview it now, however, you can find it at www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/ethical_conduct.