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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers 5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education IN THIS CHAPTER WE TAKE A FOCUSED LOOK at curriculum and pedagogy. In an important sense, pedagogy is the overarching concept; it refers broadly to the deliberate process of cultivating development within a given culture and society. From this point of view, pedagogy has three basic components: (1) curriculum, or the content of what is being taught; (2) methodology, or the way in which teaching is done; and (3) techniques for socializing children in the repertoire of cognitive and affective skills required for successful functioning in society that education is designed to promote. Curriculum, or the content of teaching, may be designed to encourage learning processes (memory, attention, observation) and cognitive skills (reasoning, comparing and contrasting, classification), as well as the acquisition of specific information, such as the names of the letters of the alphabet (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998). The teaching strategies or methods used in implementing the curriculum are the arranged interactions of people and materials planned and used by teachers. They include the teacher role, teaching styles, and instructional techniques (Siraj-Blatchford, 1998). The third aspect of pedagogy, which might be thought of as cognitive socialization, refers to the role that teachers in early childhood settings play, through their expectations, their teaching strategies, their curricular emphases, in promoting the reper-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers toire of cognitive and affective characteristics and skills that the young child needs to move down the path from natal culture to school culture to the culture of the larger society. CURRICULUM GOALS This intellectual framing of the idea of pedagogy supposes a coherence and deliberateness that is often absent in practice. Indeed, a review of the literature on early childhood curriculum suggests some reluctance to spell out even a limited set of specific goals. The three well-known programs briefly mentioned below are ones that have clearly articulated goals. The Montessori approach (Montessori, 1964) promotes children’s active, independent observation and exploration of concrete materials to develop concepts/skills. Through this activity children develop a clear image of what they were trying to accomplish, thus developing self-discipline, self-reliance, and intrinsic motivation. J.McV.Hunt, in his introduction to the above referenced volume, describes the teacher’s role in this method, giving clarity to the pedagogical goals: “If a teacher can discern what a child is trying to do in his informational interaction with the environment, and if the teacher can have on hand materials to that intention, if he can impose a relevant challenge with which the child can cope, supply a relevant model for imitation, or pose a relevant question that the child can answer, that teacher can call forth the kind of accommodative change that constitutes psychological development or growth” (p. xxxiv). High/Scope is one of the most widely adopted preschool curriculum models to have emerged during the early days of Project Head Start (Hohmann and Weikart, 1995). The curriculum offers children active engagement in planning their learning, as well as opportunity to enhance language and develop concepts through experiencing and representing different aspects of classification, seriation, number, spatial relations, and time. Core Knowledge Foundation (2000) advocates a curriculum designed to immerse preschoolers in a clearly sequential set of experiences that will ensure their “cultural literacy.” At the preschool level of core knowledge, children follow a curriculum that addresses five dimensions of readiness: (1) physical well-being
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers and motor development, movement, and coordination; (2) language development, oral language, nursery rhymes, poems, finger plays and songs, storybook reading and storytelling, emerging literacy skills in reading and writing; (3) social and emotional development, autonomy, and social skills; (4) approaches to learning, work habits; and (5) knowledge acquisition and cognitive development, mathematical reasoning and number sense, orientation in time and space, scientific reasoning and the physical world, music, visual arts. Although the various advocates of curriculum models or approaches may differ in emphasis on particular goals associated with their own orientations, all would agree that the early childhood educator must be concerned with supporting children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth. Efforts to compare curriculum effectiveness do not identify one curriculum as clearly superior to others. This is not surprising if one considers the evidence pointed to in previous chapters regarding the importance to learning of the adult-child relationship, temperament, social class, and cultural traditions. The effect of the individual teacher may overwhelm the effect of the curriculum. Moreover, the fidelity of implementation may vary from teacher to teacher and program to program. And because learning takes place on so many dimensions simultaneously, a particular curriculum might do better than others on one dimension and worse on another. We do know, however, that having a planned curriculum in a preschool program is better than having none (see Chapter 4). And there is a research base on learning that can inform the development and evaluation of curriculum components. While no single program can be claimed superior, quality programs will be those that incorporate knowledge regarding what children are capable of learning, and how they learn effectively. A recent report of the National Research Council suggests three principles of learning that have a solid foundation in research and are directly applicable to classroom teaching (National Research Council, 1999b). Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that these principles are applicable in the preschool years as well as in later years (National Research Council, 1999a):
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Children develop ideas and concepts at very young ages that help them make sense of their worlds. Learning is not the transfer of new information into an empty receptacle; it is the building of new understandings by the child on the foundation of existing understandings. Learning will be most effective when the child’s preconceptions are engaged. Curricula can be evaluated on the extent to which they draw out and build on children’s existing ideas. Developing expertise requires both a foundation of factual knowledge and skills and a conceptual understanding that allows facts to become “usable” knowledge. In the preschool years, key concepts can be quite basic and therefore easily overlooked. In mathematics, for example, children need to develop more than verbal counting skills and number recognition. They need to grasp “quantity.” Similarly, emergent literacy requires not just that children recognize letters, but that they grasp the concept of “representation” involved in written words and illustrations. Because the preschool years are a time when children are rapidly developing skills and acquiring new knowledge, the importance of concepts can be overlooked. Curricula can be judged on the extent to which they promote learning of concepts as well as information and skills. Children can be taught to monitor their thinking in the form of learning strategies. These “metacognitive skills” are used by some children spontaneously. But efforts to help all children learn more deliberately can be incorporated into curricula. These three principles are woven into the discussion below of children’s learning in early literacy, math, and science. Preschool programs often provide learning experiences in a great many areas beyond these three, including music, social studies, arts and crafts, and physical education (for coverage of the research in these areas see Spodek, 1993). The development of social competence is also a central feature of many preschool programs, and research suggests its importance to later school success (Katz and McClellan, 1997; Ladd, 1990). We emphasize that our focus on the more academic subjects does not imply that these are of greater or singular importance. Rather, we focus on these areas because a dynamic research literature provides insight into learn-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers ing in the preschool years, with implications for the development of preschool curricula. CURRICULUM CONTENT Emergent Literacy There are few more attractive cultural icons in late 20th century America than the image of a parent sharing a picture book with a child. Shared reading embraces goals of educational advancement, cultural uplift, and literate discourse. It is, to use a phrase of Jerome Kagan (1994), “a pleasing idea.” This pleasing idea is the foundation of “emergent literacy,” a term that denotes the idea that the acquisition of literacy is best conceptualized as a developmental continuum with its origins early in the life of a child, rather than an all-or-none phenomenon that begins when children start school. This departs from other perspectives on reading acquisition in suggesting that there is no clear demarcation between reading and prereading. Current inquiry into emergent literacy represents a broad field with multiple perspectives and research methodologies. The study of emergent literacy includes the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are presumed to be developmental precursors to conventional forms of reading and writing (Sulzby, 1989; Sulzby and Teale, 1991; Teale and Sulzby, 1986) and the environments that support these developments (e.g., shared book reading; Lonigan, 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1988). In addition, the term refers to a point of view about the importance of social interactions in literacy-rich environments for prereaders (Fitzgerald et al., 1992) and to advocacy for related social and educational policies (Bush, 1990; Copperman, 1986). Components of Emergent Literacy Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (1998) suggest that the components of an emergent literacy curriculum can be stratified in a manner that distinguishes between “enduring understandings” that are critical to development at a particular preschool age, features that are “important to know and do,” but are somewhat less
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers FIGURE 5–1 Possible emergent literacy examples of curriculum priorities, ages 2–3. central, and those that are “worth being familiar with” but are less critical still. Figures 5–1 and 5–2 provide an illustration for emergent literacy at ages 2–3 and 3–4. The importance of development in multiple domains can be seen clearly: at age 2–3, the cognitive concept of an illustration in a book serving as a symbol for the real object is an “enduring understanding.” A grasp of representation is central to cognitive development at this age; it is a key concept that allows other information to become usable or meaningful. But also of enduring importance is the ability to have a relationship with a caregiver that allows for book-sharing (a social-emotional task) and the ability to attend during the story (a task of physical regulation). An environment that is well endowed with books, providing opportunities for children to pretend to read (“important to know and do”) and to learn to identify and handle books (“worth being familiar with”) is certainly very positive. But pretending to read presupposes a grasp of the idea of a book, just as treating a book
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers FIGURE 5–2 Possible emergent literacy examples of curriculum priorities, ages 3–4. with respect will come more easily in the context of a child-caregiver relationship characterized by shared understandings— thus the distinction between enduring understandings and those that are important or worthwhile. The principles of learning outlined earlier suggest that the understanding of concepts must go hand in hand with the acquisition of skill and knowledge to develop competence. The skill and knowledge base of emergent literacy includes the domains of language (e.g., vocabulary), conventions of print (e.g., knowing that writing goes from left to right across a page), beginning forms of printing (e.g., writing one’s name), knowledge of graphemes (e.g., naming letters of the alphabet), grapheme-phoneme correspondence (e.g., that the letter b makes the sound /b/), and phonological awareness (e.g., that the word bat begins with the sound /b/) (Whitehurst and Lonigan, 1998).
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers A substantial body of research suggests that individual differences in emergent literacy are positively correlated with later differences in reading achievement. Within the language domain, for example, a longitudinal relation between the extent of oral language and later reading proficiency has been demonstrated with three broadly defined types of children: typically developing, reading delayed, and language delayed (e.g., Bishop and Adams, 1990; Butler et al., 1985; Pikulski and Tobin, 1989; Scarborough, 1989; Share et al., 1984). This relationship is much stronger for reading comprehension (reading for meaning) than for reading accuracy (sounding out individual words), and much stronger for older children than for children who are just beginning to read (Gillon and Dodd, 1994; Share and Silva, 1987; Vellutino et al., 1991; Whitehurst and Lonigan, 1998). Another domain in which there is substantial evidence of developmental continuity is phonological awareness. Individual differences in phonological sensitivity are related to the rate of acquisition of reading skills (Bradley and Bryant, 1983, 1985; Mann and Liberman, 1984; Share et al., 1984; Stanovich et al., 1984; Wagner and Torgesen, 1987). Children who are better at detecting syllables, rhymes, or phonemes are quicker to learn to read (i.e., decode words), and this relation is present even after variability in reading skill due to intelligence, receptive vocabulary, memory skills, and social class is removed statistically (Bryant et al., 1990; MacLean et al., 1987; Wagner et al., 1994). Literacy Environments Understanding the source of differences among children in emergent literacy skills is critical to the development of interventions to enhance emergent literacy. Most relevant research has focused on differences in home environments. This research is relevant to preschool pedagogy in pointing the way towards interaction patterns that are likely to be as important in organized preschool settings as in the home. Significant correlations exist between the home literacy environment and preschool children’s language abilities (e.g., Beals et al., 1994; Crain-Thoreson and Dale, 1992; Mason, 1980; Mason and Dunning, 1986; Rowe, 1991; Snow et al., 1991; Wells et al., 1984; Wells, 1985; see also recent
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers review by Bus et al., 1995). It has also been suggested that the home literacy environment is associated with the development of other components of emergent literacy (e.g., Anderson and Stokes, 1984; Purcell-Gates, 1996; Purcell-Gates and Dahl, 1991; Teale, 1986); however, there has been less quantitative work that has focused on these components. Language Outcomes The protoypical and iconic aspect of home literacy, shared book reading, provides an extremely rich source of information and opportunity for children to learn language in a developmentally sensitive context (e.g., DeLoache and DeMendoza, 1987; Ninio, 1980; Pellegrini et al., 1985; Sénéchal et al., 1995; Wheeler, 1983). For instance, Wells (1985) found that approximately 5 percent of the daily speech of 24-month-old children occurred in the context of story time. Ninio and Bruner (1978) reported that the most frequent context for maternal labeling of objects was during shared reading. Shared reading and print exposure foster vocabulary development in preschool children (e.g., Cornell et al., 1988; Elley, 1989; Jenkins et al., 1984; Sénéchal and Cornell, 1993; Sénéchal et al., 1996; Sénéchal et al., 1995). Print exposure also has substantial effects on the development of reading skills at older ages, when children are already reading (e.g., Allen et al., 1992; Anderson and Freebody, 1981; Cunningham and Stanovich, 1991; Echols et al., 1996; Nagy et al., 1987). Sénéchal et al. (1996) reported that other aspects of the home literacy environment (e.g., number of books in the home, library visits, parents’ own print exposure) were related to children’s vocabulary skills; however, only the frequency of library visits was related to children’s vocabulary after controlling for the effects of children’s print exposure. Payne et al. (1994) found that adult literacy activities (e.g., the amount of time a parent spends reading for pleasure) were not significantly related to children’s language, which was best predicted by activities that directly involved the child (i.e., frequency of shared reading, number of children’s books in the home, frequency of library visits with child). Other aspects of adult-child verbal interactions have also
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers been implicated in the acquisition of some emergent literacy skills. For example, Dickinson and Tabors (1991; see also Beals et al., 1994) reported that features of conversations among parents and children during meals and other conversational interactions (e.g., the proportion of narrative and explanatory talk) contributed to the development of language skills valued in the classroom. Book and Print Awareness. A child’s sensitivity to print is a major first step toward reading. Young children can begin to understand that print is everywhere in the world around them, and that reading and writing are ways for them to get ideas, information, and knowledge. Children quickly settle into book-sharing routines with primary caregivers. Toddlers start recognizing favorite books by their cover, pretend to read books, and understand that books are handled in certain ways. As they reach their fourth and fifth years, children increasingly come to understand that it is the print that is read in stories, and that this print contains alphabet letters that are a special category of visual items, different even from numbers. They begin to recognize that print in English has a number of features, such as starting at the top of the page (top to bottom) and on the left side of the page (left to right). They recognize print in their home, neighborhood, and other local environments (Box 5–1). Efforts to engage children in early literacy activities cultivate that emerging awareness. Functions of Print. Children need to understand that print is meaningful in their daily lives and has many functions. For example, young children can learn that print provides information—such as directions to a friend’s house, how to bake a cake. They can learn that print helps solve problems, like written instructions for assembling a toy. Through exposure to a wide array of books, children learn that print can entertain, amuse, and even comfort. Through experiences with “writing,” children learn to distinguish between drawing and writing. Their scribbling becomes more purposeful, and as older toddlers they make some scribbles that, to their total joy, look somewhat like English writing. In the preschool years they can be encouraged to write (scribble) messages as part of playful activity (Boxes 5–2, 5–3).
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers BOX 5–1 Little Books Even simple emergent literacy interventions can be effective if they are sufficiently intensive. McCormick and Mason (1986) conducted two quasi-experimental studies evaluating the efficacy of providing their “Little Books” to prereaders from low- and middle-income families. Little Books are small, easy-to-read books that contain simple words, simple illustrations, and repetitive text. Intervention group children in the first study were given a Little Book to keep, their parents were provided additional Little Books and a printed guideline for their use, and more Little Books were mailed to the child’s home during the summer and fall. The intervention group of the second study received only the first packet of Little Books. Emergent literacy skills were assessed at the beginning and end of the following school year. In the first study, the intervention group scored higher than the control group on several composite measures, including word knowledge, spelling knowledge, and number of words read from the Little Books. In the second study, the intervention group read more words from the Little Books but did not differ on any other measure. BOX 5–2 Literacy Enhanced Sociodramatic Play Every preschool classroom should have special materials and play areas geared toward developing children in particular domains while appealing to their interests. Such play centers might include an art center, a nature center, a puppet center, and “real world” play areas, such as a store or a restaurant. These areas should be stocked with writing supplies and printed materials that can be incorporated into play. For example, in the block area, maps and labeled photos of buildings and construction sites might be provided. In the toy area, use some originally labeled toy containers for storage. In a woodworking area, add tool catalogs, home repair magazines, and picture reference books about building. In the house area, include food packaging, menus, appliance instructions, plane tickets, travel brochures, and computer keyboards. In the outdoor area, provide colored chalk, gardening books, and bird and tree guides.
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Roazzi and Bryant (1998) examined children’s performance on a simple, inferential task (about numbers) and found that children who had interacted with more competent peers improved in task performance when posttested 3 days after the interaction and then again 3 weeks later. They also found that children who interacted with peers at their same level of competence did not improve in performance. Children need to be competent in their social interactions with peers in order to engage in such activities. Social competence is defined as the ability to engage the interest of the partner, to attend to the social communication of the partner, to work collaboratively with the partner to construct complex and interesting play sequences, to sustain interaction, and to resolve conflict. There is a literature that identifies individual variations in children’s ability to engage in socially competent behaviors with peers. The largest component of this literature is based on sociometric status within peer groups. In essence, children who receive higher sociometric ratings and more sociometric nominations are those children whom classmates perceive as easy to get along with. There also is a large literature that finds strong relations between sociometric ratings and children’s observed behaviors. So there is good agreement between behaviors that adults consider socially competent and children’s perceptions of who they prefer as friends and work associates. Scaffolding as a teaching technique need not imply a particular pedagogical approach; indeed, it can encompass multiple approaches. Teachers might simply invite children to engage in a learning activity when they have an initial high level of competence (Wood et al., 1978) and might provide direct instruction when a child is less competent in regard to the new learning. The teaching method employed may change as a child learns a particular skill or concept. Below we elaborate on two types of teaching behavior, child-initiated instruction and teacher-initiated, direct instruction. Most examples of research selected to explain these approaches focus on language development; however, the teaching strategies presented are applicable to other content areas, such as social skills development, emergent reading and writing, and mathematics and science.
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Child-Initiated Instruction In the area of language learning, White (1978) observed that language learning was facilitated in brief episodes precipitated by the child rather than arranged by the adult. When a child initiated interaction, the adult first tried to identify what the child wanted. “Once the interest of the child was accurately identified, the adult had what would seem to be the ideal teaching situation—a motivated student and knowledge of exactly what it was the student was focusing on. The adult then responded with what was needed and generally used some words at or above the child’s apparent level of understanding. Once the child showed a lessened interest in the interchange, he was released, allowed to then return to whatever it was he was doing or wanted to do. The entire episode rarely took more than 20 or 30 seconds, although at times there were much longer interchanges” (White, 1978:156). Hart and Risley (1995) found that although a group of 15 4-year-old children from a poverty community learned to name colors accurately in a group teaching situation, color names were rarely used (an average of less than once per hour in the group) in spontaneous speech. The teachers began requiring that children ask for the materials available during free play. When a child initiated a request for material, the teachers used incidental teaching procedures. The teacher focused on the child’s topic when a child initiated, “I want paint,” for example, and asked for an elaboration, “What color of paint?” With some children, teachers modeled appropriate answers, as, “Red paint?” or “I have red paint and blue paint. What color do you want?” If necessary, teachers instructed the child, to “Say red paint.” When the child answered, the teacher confirmed by repeating what the child said and provided what the child requested. Children’s use of color-noun combinations increased to an average of 15 per hour in the group during free play. When children were no longer required to ask for materials during free play, color names decreased to an average of 8 per hour in the group. Empirical evidence supports the efficacy of these teaching practices (Hepting and Goldstein, 1996; Kaiser et al., 1992) on learning-specific, readily measured aspects of language (such as, adjective-noun combinations, use of prepositions, action-object constructions). However, there is lim-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers ited evidence of effects on language performance outside intervention contexts or on overall language development. Teacher-Initiated Direct Instruction Direct instruction refers to the teaching strategy commonly used to facilitate learning academic content. Learning objectives are explicitly stated, materials are carefully sequenced to promote errorless learning, and teachers’ activities are specifically focused on ensuring that every child masters the content (Bereiter, 1972). Cole and Dale (1986) compared direct instruction in language to child-initiated language-teaching, as described above. Each program was presented 2 hours a day, 5 days a week for 32 weeks to two groups of 22 children with language delays ages 38 to 69 months in each group. Significant gains on posttests were found for both groups of children. The authors concluded that there was “little difference between the effectiveness of a direct instruction program and an interactive program in facilitating language development in language-delayed children” (Cole and Dale, 1986:213). They note, however, that like Weikart’s (1972) comparisons, each program was well staffed with enthusiastic teachers highly trained in the respective methodologies. Because quality preschool programs address cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, and because young children vary considerably in each of these domains, teaching strategies need to be adapted to meet the specific needs and prior knowledge and understanding of individuals and groups of children. In effective instruction, multiple teaching strategies are used flexibly, the teacher understanding the effective use of these strategies based on curriculum goals. Direct instruction allows for the efficiency of simultaneous attention to a group of children, indirect instruction (taking advantage of moments of opportunity) makes use of the child’s focus of attention, and opportunities for children to learn on their own (self-directed learning) allow for children to work at their individual developmental level. The committee believes that children’s enthusiasm for learning should be encouraged and maintained by integrating their self-directed interests and a teacher-directed curriculum.
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Using Computers to Support Curriculum and Pedagogy Computers are increasingly a part of preschoolers’ lives. Toward the end of the 1980s, only a fourth of licensed preschools had computers. The vast majority now have one or more computers. Unfortunately, computer access is not equitable across society. Children attending poor and high-minority schools have less access to most types of technology (Coley et al., 1997). Younger and older preschoolers do not differ substantially in the way they use computers (Beeson and Williams, 1985; Essa, 1987), although 3-year-olds take longer to acclimate to the key-board than 5-year-olds (Sivin et al., 1985). Those that are most interested in using computers do exhibit higher levels of cognitive maturity (e.g., vocabulary development, more organized and abstract forms of free play). They do not differ from less interested peers in creativity, estimates of social maturity, or social-cognitive ability (Hoover and Austin, 1986; Johnson, 1985). Some research suggests 3 years of age as an appropriate time for introducing a child to discovery-oriented software. However, even younger children might be introduced to simple software, possibly for developing positive attitudes. The key is appropriately designed software (Shade and Watson, 1987). With the increasing availability of hardware and software adaptations, children with physical and emotional disabilities also can use the computer. Besides enhancing their mobility and sense of control, computers can help improve their self-esteem. Research has moved beyond the simple question of whether computers can help young children learn. What we need to understand is how best to aid learning, what types of learning we should facilitate, and how to serve the needs of diverse populations. This does not mean every use of technology is appropriate or beneficial. The design of the software and curriculum and the social setting are critical (Clements and Nastasi, 1993). Social Interaction An early concern, that computers will isolate children, was dismissed by research. In contrast, computers serve as catalysts for social interaction. In one study, children spent nine times as much time talking to peers while on the computer than while
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers doing puzzles (Muller and Perlmutter, 1985). It does appear that the kind of software children use affects social interactions. For example, open-ended programs foster collaboration. Drill-and-practice software, in contrast, can encourage turn-taking but also competition. Similarly, games with aggressive content can engender aggressive behavior (Clements and Nastasi, 1992). As they interact at the computers, children seek help from each other and seem to prefer help from peers rather than the teacher (King and Alloway, 1992; Nastasi and Clements, 1993). Preschoolers may find it difficult to take the perspective of their partner and also may have trouble balancing the cognitive demands of simultaneously solving problems and managing the social relation (Perlmutter et al., 1986). Such developmental limitations do not necessarily have to preclude collaborative work for the very young. Less demanding tasks are appropriate for collaboration. Also, teachers can provide the additional support and help that they may need (Clements, 1991). The physical environment also affects children’s interactions (Davidson and Wright, 1994). Placing two seats in front of the computer and one at the side for the teacher can encourage positive social interaction. Placing computers close to each other can facilitate the sharing of ideas among children. Centrally located computers invite other children to pause and participate in the computer activity. Such an arrangement also helps keep teacher participation at an optimum level. They are nearby to provide supervision and assistance as needed, but are not constantly so close as to inhibit the children (Clements, 1991). Computers can also contribute to the social interaction of young children with disabilities who are often unable to participate in play experiences with their peers due to physical, communicative, or other impairments. Toddlers and preschoolers with developmental disabilities who use computers exhibit more communication and social pretend play than comparison groups who do not use computers (Howard et al., 1996). Teaching and Learning The computer offers unique opportunities for learning. Even the simplest software, drill and practice, can provide immediate
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers feedback, management of levels of difficulty (although this is often neglected in commercial software), and motivation. Such software helps children gain lower-level knowledge and skills. Drill has not been as effective in improving the conceptual skills of children (Clements and Nastasi, 1993). To develop concepts and higher-order thinking skills, discovery-based software that encourages and allows ample room for free exploration is more valuable. Such software is also more consonant with widely accepted principles of early childhood education (Clements, 1993). A long-standing concern is that software would replace other early childhood activities. Research indicates that substituting computer experience for hands-on activity is not desirable, but combining them is beneficial. Computer activities yield the best results when coupled with suitable off-computer activities. For example, children who were exposed to developmental software alone showed gains in intelligence, nonverbal skills, long-term memory, and manual dexterity. Those who also worked with supplemental activities, in comparison, gained in all of these areas and improved their scores in verbal, problem-solving, and conceptual skills (Haugland, 1992). These children spent the least amount of time on the computer. The control group that used drill-and-practice software spent three times as much time on the computer but showed less than half of the gains that the on- and off-computer group did using developmental software (Haugland, 1992). Other similar research shows that computers make a substantial, unique contribution to learning, and that this contribution is greatest when computer and noncomputer activities are combined (Clements and Nastasi, 1992). Computers also benefit teachers. For example, observing the child at the computer provides teachers with a unique “window into a child’s thinking process” (Weir et al., 1981). Research has also warned us not to curtail observations after a few months. Sometimes beneficial effects appear only after a year; ongoing observations also help to chart children’s growth (Cochran-Smith et al., 1988). Similarly, differences in children’s approaches to learning are more readily visible at the computer when children have the freedom to follow diverse paths towards the goal (Wright, 1994). This
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers is particularly valuable with children with disabilities, as the computer seems to reveal their hidden strengths. Gender difference also can be observed and should be monitored so that equity is maintained. Some studies find that preschool boys may choose the computer more often than girls (Beeson and Williams, 1985; Escobedo and Evans, 1997). However, many studies report that girls and boys do not differ in the amount or type of their computer use (Clements and Nastasi, 1992). Considering the traditional heavy dominance of computer use by males, these researchers recommend that the early years are the ideal time to introduce students to computers. All teachers should ensure that boys do not dominate computer use. In summary, teachers should seek to fully integrate developmentally appropriate, bias-free software matched to educational goals. Multimedia capabilities should be used when they serve educational purposes. Features such as animation, music, surprise elements, and especially consistent interaction get and hold children’s interest (Escobedo and Evans, 1997). They can also aid learning if designed to be consistent with, and supporting, the pedagogical goals. Curriculum and Computers Effectively integrating technology into the curriculum demands effort, time, and commitment. Much preschool software has been found effective in the language arts area. It includes drill-and-practice software (Clements, 1987; Clements and Nastasi, 1992) and word processing programs with speech (Borgh and Dickson, 1986; Moxley et al., 1997). Talking word processors allowed 4-year-olds to take control of and experiment with language. For example, two young girls were examining a picture-word card with a colored triangle. They were unsure what the word (“triangle”) was and, after a brief discussion, walked over to the word processor, typed it in, and satisfied their curiosity. A girl who knew she confused “b” and “d” experimented with the talking word processor on her own (she typed: dead dird dlue, and then bead, bird, and blue). A week later, she always chose the correct letter (Clements, 1994). Language interventions with special populations have shown
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers positive results. Severely handicapped children who were trained on communication skills using a computer increased their receptive and expressive language more than those with regular classroom training (Schery and O’Connor, 1992). Most were incapable of using the computer intervention without supervision and support from a trainer, but they were able to sustain interest and respond to the format over 10 weeks. In mathematics, the computer can provide practice on arithmetic processes and foster deeper conceptual thinking. Drill-and-practice software can help young children develop competence in counting and sorting (Clements and Nastasi, 1993; Elliott and Hall, 1997). Enhancement of these environments through self-regulatory instruction results in significantly increased achievement. Such metacognitively oriented instruction includes the strategies of goal identification, active monitoring, modeling, questioning, reflecting, peer tutoring, discussion, and reasoning (Elliott and Hall, 1997). Other approaches are also useful, especially for higher-level concepts and problem solving. Using programs that allow the creation of pictures with geometric shapes, children have demonstrated growing knowledge and competence in working with concepts such as symmetry, patterns, and spatial order (Wright, 1994; Tan, 1985). The “Building Blocks” project (Clements and Sarama, 1998) shows that software design based on current theory and research can help children use and develop processes, such as composing and decomposing shapes and numbers, in sophisticated ways. The basic educational approach is finding the mathematics in, and developing mathematics from, children’s activity to help them extend and mathematize their everyday activities. Computers help even young children think about thinking, as early proponents suggested (Papert, 1980). In one study, preschoolers who used computers scored higher on measures of metacognition (Fletcher-Flinn and Suddendorf, 1996). They were more able to keep in mind a number of different mental states simultaneously and had more sophisticated theories of mind than those who did not use computers. In summary, across several subject matter areas, computers can positively affect how children learn and think, as well as their
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers metacognitive skills. When selecting and using software, teachers should remember that while drill-and-practice software can increase basic skills and knowledge, other approaches prove more valuable in developing higher-level concepts and thinking skills. SUMMARY What should children learn in preschool? Our first answer— one with which few would disagree—is that preschool programs need to address social, emotional, and physical development as well as cognitive development. Given the committee’s mandate, however, we have focused on the latter. Much of the research base on young children’s learning investigates cognitive development in language and literacy, mathematics, and science. Because these appear to be “privileged domains” in which children have a natural proclivity to learn, experiment, and explore, they allow for nurturing and extending the boundaries of learning in which children are already actively engaged. Developing and extending children’s interests is particularly important during the preschool years, when attention and self-regulation are nascent abilities. What should be taught in a preschool curriculum? Few would disagree that a heavy emphasis should be placed on language and literacy. While we do not advocate an extension downward of the elementary school literacy curriculum, much can be done to develop emergent literacy skills that will better prepare children for elementary school, promoting an interest in, and enthusiasm for, language in oral and written form. While no single curriculum is identified as best, an extensive body of research suggests the types of activities that promote emergent literacy skills, from story reading and dialogic reading to providing materials for scribbling and “writing” in pretend play, and from participating in classroom conversation to identifying letters and words. In mathematics and science, research suggests that children are capable of thinking that is more complex and abstract than was once believed. Curricula that work with children’s emergent understandings, providing the concepts, knowledge, and opportunities to extend those understandings, have been used effectively in the preschool years. When these activities operate in the
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers child’s zone of proximal development, where the learning is within reach, but takes the child just beyond his or her existing ability, these curricula have been reported to be both enjoyable and educational. As with learning throughout life, learning in the preschool years will be most effective if it engages and builds on children’s existing understandings. In the early years, there is already substantial variation among children in their knowledge, skills, and thinking. It is therefore important that teachers attend to the developmental level of the child in whatever domain the curriculum is addressing. The body of research suggesting that competence requires both factual knowledge and a grasp of key concepts applies in the preschool years as well. Key concepts involved in early literacy (representation), math (mental number line), and science (causation) are acquired by many, but not all, young children (see Chapter 3). If all children are to enter the school years with an adequate foundation for learning, it is particularly important that preschool curricula develop those core concepts. Finally, the metacognitive skills that allow students to learn more deliberately and have been shown to raise achievement in all three academic areas can be introduced in preschool curricula as well. “Theories of mind” research suggests that children begin to consider what it means to learn and how to go about the task already at an early age (see Chapter 2). Curricula that encourage children to reflect, predict, question, and hypothesize set them on course for effective, engaged learning. How should teaching be done in preschool? Research suggests that many teaching strategies can work. Both direct instruction and child-initiated instruction, teaching through play, teaching through structured activity, and engagement with older peers and with computers are effective pedagogical devices. The panoply of strategies can be used as a toolkit, with each tool serving different ends, but none being most effective for all purposes. Since preschool programs serve so many ends simultaneously— including the development of self-regulation, attention, social competence, and motor skills as well as development in language, literacy, numeracy, and science—multiple pedagogical approaches should be expected. Children are less likely to develop
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers social competence during direct instruction than during play, but direct instruction may be efficient at building a knowledge base. Organized storytelling may help develop attention span as well as vocabulary, but vocabulary is made active when children engage—as in child-initiated instruction or in interaction with older peers. While understanding of teaching and learning in the preschool years has broadened considerably, increasing knowledge suggests just how challenging is the task of the preschool teacher. There are no magic bullets, no right curriculum or best pedagogy. We know that children can learn a great deal in the care of an adult who is tuned into the child’s current level of development and his or her developmental challenges. We know that when carefully supported or scaffolded, children can be happily engaged in relatively complex thinking and problem solving. Sensitivity to individual children’s current competence may be one reason for the links between developmental outcomes, positive caregiver behaviors, and formal professional education that is observed in empirical research. In the next two chapters, we turn to the tasks of assessing young children’s development and of professional development that prepares those who take on the multifaceted, complex job of preschool teacher.
Representative terms from entire chapter: