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Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2000)

Chapter: 5	Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education

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Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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-

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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):

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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-

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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).

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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).

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

BOX 5–3 Literacy as a Source of Enjoyment

Children need to feel positive about reading and literacy experiences. They often make displays of reading or writing attempts, calling attention to themselves: “Look at my story” Such displays provide opportunities for positive reinforcement.

Children need access to a variety of paper, writing utensils, and materials for bookmaking—glue, tape, stapler, and book covers. A well-equipped art area should offer paper in several sizes and colors, paints, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. You may also wish to set up a separate writing or office area that includes blank books, paper, envelopes, mailing labels, stickers, and stamps. Don’t discourage scribbling and pretend writing, but do provide support and encouragement for writing letters. As you do so, expect, gradually, that more letters will be recognizable. As the children learn to form letters and develop phonological awareness, expect, too, that invented spellings will appear. It may take a few years before many conventional spellings come. Some, such as the child’s own name and special phrases such as “I love you,” may appear early and be memorized, but a true appreciation of conventional spelling comes later.

Source: National Research Council (1999c).

Knowledge of Narrative. Once children reach school age, stories will become a central part of their reading classes, so it is helpful for young children to become comfortable with narrative and its elements, such as characters, dialogue, and “what happens next.” Young children are sensitive to sequence in language, such as following directions, and to sequences of events in stories.

Letter and Early Word Recognition. Preschool-age children can begin to recognize some printed alphabet letters and words, such as their own names. Many children learn the names of the letters first by singing the alphabet song or reciting them to pushes on the swing. At 3 and 4 they begin to attach the names of letters to their shapes. With help, they may soon begin to attend to beginning letters and sounds in words that they are familiar with in printed form. Children should have easy access to letters in many

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

forms: alphabet blocks, letter cards, and board games, ABCs on wall charts at the child’s eye height.

Listening Comprehension. As children move from toddlerhood to school age, they should increasingly be able to grasp the meaning of language they hear spoken in everyday conversation, as well as in narrative forms, such as books. They show this understanding through their questions and comments in a conversation or about a book. When read a story, they should freely relate information and events in the book to real-life experiences. As they get older, they should become comfortable with following who said or did what in a story.

Nonlanguage Outcomes

Compared with research examining the relation between home literacy environments and children’s oral language skills, there has been relatively little quantitative research concerning home literacy environments and other emergent literacy skills. Both Wells (1985) and Crain-Thoreson and Dale (1992) found that the frequency of shared reading was related to concepts of print measures. Purcell-Gates (1996), in a study of 24 4- to 6-year-old children from low-income families, reported that families in which there were more higher-level literacy events occurring in the home (i.e., reading and writing texts at the level of connected discourse) had children with a higher level of knowledge about the uses and functions of written language, more knowledge of the written language register, and more conventional concepts about print. Mason (1992) reported that shared reading and children’s reading and writing at home were associated with children’s abilities to label environmental print. Print motivation may also be the product of early experiences with shared reading (e.g., Lomax, 1977; Lonigan, 1994).

Existing studies do not support a direct link between shared reading and growth in phonological skills (e.g., Lonigan et al., 1996; Raz and Bryant, 1990; Whitehurst, 1996). For example, Lonigan et al. found that growth in preschool phonological sensitivity was related to parental involvement in literacy activities in the home, but growth in phonological sensitivity was not associ-

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ated with shared reading frequency. Recently, Sénéchal et al. (1998) reported that kindergarten and first grade children’s written language knowledge (i.e., print concepts, letter knowledge, invented spelling, word identification) was associated with parental attempts to teach their children about print but not with exposure to storybooks. In contrast, children’s oral language skills were associated with storybook exposure but not with parents’ attempts to teach print.

Literacy Environments in Child Care Programs

Neuman (1996) studied the literacy environment in child care programs. Child care providers were targeted because of their role in providing care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; in many situations, the literacy needs of these children are not the caretakers’ primary concern.

Caretakers were given access to books and training on techniques for (a) book selection for children at different ages, (b) reading aloud, and (c) extending the impact of books. The program was evaluated with a random sample of 400 3- and 4-year-olds who received the intervention, as well as 100 children in a comparison group. Results showed that literacy interaction increased in the intervention classrooms; literacy interactions averaged 5 per hour before the intervention and increased to 10 per hour after the intervention. Before the intervention, classrooms had few book centers for children; after the intervention, 93 percent of the classrooms had such centers. Children with caretakers who received the intervention performed significantly better on concepts of print (Clay, 1979), narrative competence (Purcell-Gates and Dahl, 1991), concepts of writing (Purcell-Gates, 1996), and letter names (Clay, 1979) than did the children in the comparison group. At follow-up in kindergarten, the children were examined on concepts of print (Clay, 1979), receptive vocabulary (Dunn and Dunn, 1981), concepts of writing (Purcell-Gates, 1996), letter names (Clay, 1979), and two phonemic awareness measures based on children’s rhyming and alliteration capacity (MacLean et al., 1987). Of these measures, children in the intervention group performed significantly better on letter names, phonemic awareness, and concepts of writing.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×
Dialogic Reading

Whitehurst and colleagues have demonstrated that a program of shared reading, called dialogic reading, can produce substantial changes in preschool children’s language skills. Dialogic reading involves several changes in the way adults typically read books to children. Central to these changes is a shift in roles. During typical shared reading, the adult reads and the child listens, but in dialogic reading the child learns to become the story-teller. The adult assumes the role of an active listener, asking questions, adding information, and prompting the child to increase the sophistication of descriptions of the material in the picture book. A child’s responses to the book are encouraged through praise and repetition, and more sophisticated responses are encouraged by expansions of the child’s utterances and by more challenging questions from the adult reading partner. For 2- and 3-year-olds, questions from adults focus on individual pages in a book, asking the child to describe objects, actions, and events on the page (e.g., “What is this? What color is the duck? What is the duck doing?”). For 4- and 5-year-olds, the questions increasingly focus on the narrative as a whole or on relations between the book and the child’s life (e.g., “Have you ever seen a duck swimming? What did it look like?”). See Box 5–4 for a fuller description of this procedure.

Dialogic reading has been shown to produce larger effects on the language skills of children from middle- to upper-income families than a similar amount of typical picture book reading (Arnold et al., 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1988). Studies conducted with children from low-income families attending child care demonstrate that both child care teachers and parents using a six-week small-group center-based or home dialogic reading intervention can produce substantial positive changes in the development of children’s language as measured by standardized and naturalistic measures (Lonigan and Whitehurst, 1998; Valdez-Menchaca and Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst et al., 1994a) that are maintained six months following the intervention (Whitehurst et al., 1994a).

Whitehurst evaluated the combination of dialogic reading and a center-based phonological sensitivity training program. It

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

was adapted from Byrne and Fielding-Barnsley’s (1991) sound foundations program with a group of 280 children who attended eight different Head Start centers as 4-year-olds (Whitehurst et al., 1994b, 1998). Children in control classrooms received the regular Head Start curriculum, and children in the intervention condition were involved in small-group dialogic reading several times each week in intervention classrooms over the course of the school year. These same children brought home the book that was being used in the classroom each week for use with their primary caregivers.

Children were pretested on entry into Head Start, posttested on exit from Head Start, and followed up at the end of kindergarten, the end of first grade, and the end of second grade. During Head Start and kindergarten, children were tested in five areas of emergent literacy skills: memory (naming letters, identifying sounds and letters, blending C-V-C words), linguistic awareness

BOX 5–4 Dialogic Reading

The fundamental reading technique in dialogic reading is the PEER sequence. This is a short interaction between a child and the adult. The adult prompts the child to say something about the book, evaluates the child’s response, expands the child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and repeats the prompt at some later point to make sure that the child has learned from the expansion.

Here is an example of a PEER sequence: The teacher is sitting with a group of four children. They are reading the picture book, Dibble and Dabble. In the book, two ducks, Dibble and Dabble, see what appears to be a furry snake. They alert their friends, vole, frog, fish, kingfisher, and heron. Everyone becomes frightened as they imagine that the horrible snake is chasing them. They meet a boy, Pete, who calms them down. He takes them to see the furry snake. As the furry snake begins to move behind the reeds, a cat appears. It turns out that the furry snake was only the cat’s tail.

At the page in the story in which the furry thing is shown stick

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ing out of the reeds, the teacher asks, “What’s this?” That is the prompt. Prompts are often questions, but can be statements or requests such as “Tell me about this page.” When one of the children responds to the teacher’s prompt by saying “grass,” the teacher follows by saying “You can say grass. It’s kind of a grass.” That is the evaluation. An evaluation involves both the teacher’s judgment about the child’s performance and feedback to the child. In this case, she is acknowledging that the children are on the right track in saying “grass” but also gently telling them that a better word is available with the phrase “It’s kind of a grass.” She immediately gives the children the information they need to improve their response. She says “It’s called reeds”; that is the expansion. An expansion is a form of feedback. It takes what the child has said and demonstrates how the answer could be improved. Even correct answers can be expanded by modeling for children how to make their answers longer or better. The teacher pauses and lets the children repeat what they have heard; that is the repetition. At this time, one of the children says, “weeds.” The teacher provides another evaluation and repetition sequence by saying, “Not weed, reed.” She pauses and gives them another chance to repeat, which they do.

Except for the first reading of a book to children, PEER sequences should occur on nearly every page. For many books, the adult should do less and less reading of the written words in the book each time the book is shared with the child and leave more to the child.

Prompts are not always necessary. If a child says something spontaneous about a book, then the adult can follow with an evaluation, expansion, and repetition. This is just a PEER sequence without the initial prompt. The child begins it instead of the adult.

There are five types of prompts that are used in dialogic reading to begin PEER sequences. You can remember these prompts with the word CROWD:

C stands for completion prompts. The adult leaves a blank at the end of a sentence for the child to fill in. These are typically used in books with rhymes or books with repetitive phases. Completion prompts provide children with information about the structure of language that is critical to later reading. An example of a completion prompt is: “I think I’d be a glossy cat. A little plump but not too ___.”

Recall prompts are questions about what happened in a book that a child has already read. Recall prompts work for nearly everything except alphabet books. They help children in understanding

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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story plot and in describing sequences of events. They can be used not only at the end of a book, but also at the beginning if a child has been read that book before. An example of a recall prompt is: “Remember when we read Dibble and Dabble yesterday. Who were Dibble and Dabble?”

Open-ended prompts focus on the pictures in books. They work best for books that have rich, detailed illustrations. Open-ended prompts help children increase their expressive fluency and attend to detail. They are open-ended because there is no single correct response and many things that a child might say in response to the prompt. An example of an open-ended prompt is: “I read that page. Now it’s your turn to read this page. What is happening on this page?”

Wh- prompts include what, where, when, and why. Like open-ended prompts, Wh- prompts focus on the pictures in books. Their primary function is to teach children new vocabulary. An example of a Wh- prompt is: The teacher points to the reeds that are illustrated in Dibble and Dabble and says, “What’s this?”

Distancing prompts ask children to relate the pictures or words in the book they are reading to experiences outside the book. Distancing prompts help children form a bridge between books and the real world, as well as helping with verbal fluency, conversational abilities, and narrative skills. An example of a distancing prompt is: The teacher is reading the picture book, Rotten Ralph. She says, “I don’t think Ralph likes the cake. What’s your favorite dessert? Are there any desserts that you don’t like?”

Dialogic reading techniques should be used while reading a book with a small group of children for repeated readings, spread out over several days. Procedures should differ when reading the book the first time versus after children have mastered the book. The first reading of a book should consist much more of straight reading than prompting so that children can be exposed to the story that the book conveys. Children should be oriented to the book the first time with a few comments about the cover and the title. Subsequent readings should introduce prompts and increasingly turn the task of talking about the book to the children. After children have a lot of experience with a book, they can be given classroom activities that incorporate it. For instance, they can dramatize the book.

Dialogic reading is just children and adults having a conversation about a book. Children will enjoy dialogic reading more than traditional reading as long as the adult mixes up prompts with straight reading, varies questions and focus from reading to reading, and follows the child’s interest. Children shouldn’t be pushed with more prompts than they can handle happily. Keep it fun.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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(identifying same/different words, segmenting sentences, segmenting compound words, segmenting words, rhyming), print concepts (holding a book/turning pages, identifying people engaged in reading, differentiating print from pictures and letters from numerals, identifying functions of print, identifying components of written communication), writing (demonstrating left/ right progression, printing first name, drawing a person); and language (matching pictures to words, describing pictures with words). For the first and second grade assessments, children were tested on decoding (pronouncing nonsense words) and comprehension (matching pictures to printed words). Results showed significant overall effects of the intervention at Head Start posttest and kindergarten follow-up. At posttest, the largest effects were in the domains of memory, print concepts, and writing. At kindergarten follow-up, the largest effects were in the domains of language, memory, linguistic awareness, and writing. Effects of this emergent literacy intervention did not generalize to reading at the end of second grade: differences between children in the intervention condition and those in the control condition did not approach statistical significance. As other studies have suggested (Campbell and Ramey, 1995; Ramey and Ramey, 1998; and Reynolds, 1999), in order for benefits to persist, support for student achievement must continue.

Mathematics and Science

Findings from research support moves to develop suitable learning opportunities for preschool children in mathematics and science, opportunities that embed language learning, strengthen conceptual knowledge, and develop metacognitive skills. Preschool children can develop skills in observing, predicting, and measuring, while learning to lengthen their attention span and regulate their thinking.

Numerical Thinking

The fundamentals of numerical thinking are present very early in life; even babies possess an informal mathematics (Canfield and Smith, 1996; Saxe, 1991; Starkey, 1992; Wynn, 1996).

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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These fundamental abilities are implicit and sketchy. For example, they can see that there is more here than there or that this has the same amount as that. They realize that adding makes more and taking away makes less. Although crude and effective only with very small numbers of objects, their judgments seem to be genuinely quantitative. Much of this is manifest before the onset of language.

The social environment provides young children in virtually all cultures with rich counting systems that can serve as a basic tool for mathematical thinking (Lave, 1988; Rogoff, 1990). Children are active in making good use of this environment. They learn the counting words. But more important, children’s counting usually employs mathematical principles of one-to-one correspondence, order, and cardinality in fairly short order (Gelman and Gallistel, 1978). To a large extent, early counting is an abstract, principled activity.

Before entering school, many (but not all) children spontaneously develop operational definitions of addition and subtraction (Griffin and Case, 1998). Addition is combining sets and then counting the elements to get a sum; subtraction is taking away a subset from a larger set and then counting the elements to get a remainder. Over the course of the preschool years, children refine these strategies, making them more efficient and extending their use from concrete objects to imaginary ones. Young children’s reasoning about these operations has some basic limitations, but it reflects the beginnings of what could be a sound understanding of basic mathematical ideas (Griffin and Case, 1998).

Children’s early, informal conceptions in mathematics can serve as a useful foundation for formal instruction. Mathematics educators need to appreciate young children’s informal mathematics on entry into school—their versions of counting, adding and subtracting, and understanding.

That appreciation is a starting point: preschool programs can play an important role in consolidating children’s informal understandings by providing opportunities to use and extend mathematical concepts and skills. Moreover, while most children have a well-developed intuitive understanding of number in the preschool years (Hiebert, 1986; Case 1985; Siegler and Robinson,

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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1982), some children do not. In tests of conceptual knowledge administered to groups of kindergarten children in low-income, inner-city communities, a significant number had not acquired the knowledge typical of their middle-income peers (Griffin et al., 1994, 1995; Griffin and Case., 1996, 1998; Case et al., 1999).

Based on a series of studies done in the 1980s, Case and Sandieson (1987) argue that 4-year-olds generally differ predictably from 6-year-olds in their conceptual understanding of quantity. A typical 4-year-old can solve a problem that requires a distinction between objects that are bipolar: large vs. small, heavy vs. light, etc., and can solve problems where their only task is to count small arrays of objects. But unlike the typical 6-year-old, they have not combined these two understandings into a “central conceptual structure” in which quantity is represented with two poles (e.g., heavy and light) with a continuum of values in between.

The conceptual structure that 6-year-olds generally have in place allows them to successfully master a first grade mathematics curriculum. Students who have difficulty with that curriculum (a disproportionate number of whom come from low-income families) appear not to have that structure in place (Griffin et al., 1994, 1995). The structure requires that the very young child who understands only the distinction between two poles (i.e., a little and a lot) must learn:

  1. to verbally count from 1 to 10 forward and backward;

  2. to understand the one-to-one correspondence with which the sequence of numbers is mapped onto objects;

  3. to understand the cardinal value of each number (i.e., that 3 represents a set whose size is indicated by the number);

  4. to understand the rule that relates the adjacent values (that 4 is a set like 3 but with one more added, or that 3 is a set like 4 but with one taken away).

When all four understandings are mastered and integrated, the child is able to solve problems as if he or she is using a mental number line.

The Rightstart curriculum (now incorporated into a more extensive preK-2 curriculum called Number Worlds) was designed

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Box 5–5 Rightstart™ The Number Line Game

The Rightstart Curriculum is a series of 30 games designed to put in place a conceptual structure required to use a “mental number line.” Each game allows for multiple levels of understanding so children with different knowledge and learning rates learn something from each activity. Each game is designed to be affectively as well as cognitively engaging, and each involves physical, social, and verbal interaction.

The Number Line Game is a board game played in small groups, and each child is assigned a color-coded number line. After a roll of the die, the player computes the quantity, then asks a banker for that many counting chips. She places the chips in sequence on the number line while counting aloud. She then moves her playing piece along the chips (counting again), and rests the piece on the last chip. When children are comfortable with this level of play (i.e., when they can count reliably, quantify sets, match sets to numbers), they are asked to make judgments about who is closest to the goal, and how they know. Chance cards are introduced that require that their position on the number line be incremented or decremented by 1.

The 29 other games are distinct from the number line game, but they too provide opportunities for children to consolidate the same knowledge structure. More than 50% of the games are cooperative rather than competitive. Opportunities or requirements to explain a quantitative assessment are built into many of the games, and are scripted into the teacher’s manual in the form of questions to be asked as the students play.

to explicitly put this central conceptual structure into place. It consists of a series of 30 games that can be played at a variety of levels depending on the understanding of the children playing (See Box 5–5). The activities are sequenced so that the child masters each one in the order (1 through 4 above) that they are normally acquired.

The curriculum was tested in multiple sites in Canada, California, and Massachusetts, with multiple sized groups of kindergarten children from inner-city schools with large minority populations. The Rightstart children were compared to matched control groups of children who were given an equal amount of

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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attention with a more traditional math program designed to provide a level of affective engagement that was commensurate with the Rightstart program, or to a control group that was given a language program designed with similar criteria in mind. The programs extended over a 3- to 4-month period. In a variety of tests including number knowledge and knowledge transfer, the Rightstart group significantly outperformed the control group. While almost all children in the sample failed the number knowledge test before the training, 4 or 5 months later the vast majority of children who received the training passed, while only a minority of the children in the control groups passed.

In follow-up tests at the end of first grade, many of the control children did acquire the number knowledge to pass level 1 of the test that the Rightstart children had acquired earlier. But the two groups differed in other important respects. Some children in the Rightstart group were able to solve problems at level 2, whereas none of the control children could do so. Moreover, the majority of the Rightstart group passed an oral arithmetic test and a word problem test, whereas a large portion of the control group failed. Teachers also rated the Rightstart children higher, particularly on the items: “demonstrates number sense,” “understands the meaning of numbers,” and “understands the use of numbers” (Griffin et al., 1996).

Big Math for Little Kids™

Another preschool mathematics curriculum that incorporates the principles of learning discussed above is Big Math for Little Kids™. In the words of its developers, it is a challenging mathematics curriculum with the following characteristics:

  • It exploits and builds on the informal mathematics that all children construct in everyday life. Informal mathematics is a solid foundation on which at least some formal mathematics can be built (Baroody, 1987; Ginsburg, 1989; Resnick, 1989).

  • It presents the study of mathematics both as a separate subject and as an integrated part of other preschool activities. Sometimes, the curriculum presents math activities like counting or

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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studying shapes. Sometimes, it blends the mathematics into such activities as stories, songs, block building, and the like.

  • It helps children to explore mathematical ideas in depth. The goal is to explore key mathematical ideas over a lengthy period of time through extended activities.

  • It engages the child in thinking like a mathematician— making interesting conjectures, engaging in problem solving, looking for patterns.

  • It aims at taking young children to advanced levels and to investigate complex ideas. For example, instead of limiting the study of shapes to the standard circle, square, and triangle, the program introduces symmetries. Instead of teaching counting to 20 or 30, the program helps children to count into the hundreds. Why? Because they want to and are capable of it. Moreover, mastering challenging tasks fosters feelings of confidence and competence (Stipek, 1997).

  • It encourages the rudiments of a reflective, metacognitive approach to early mathematics: self-awareness, verbalization and communication, checking and monitoring one’s work, generalization, seeing relations and appreciating abstractions. This is consonant with children’s spontaneous efforts and with the Vygotskian approach of helping the child to develop “scientific” concepts (Vygotsky, 1986).

  • It prepares children for the formal symbolism of mathematics by establishing clear links between informal mathematics and some basic formalisms. The program does not have a heavy emphasis on symbolism, but does introduce it where it can be made meaningful.

  • It employs large-group activity, small groups, and individual exploration. Young children need to learn how to behave and learn in large groups. They profit from the greater degree of teacher attention possible in small groups. And they need time for individual learning and exploration.

The goals of the program are to foster young children’s enthusiastic and joyful mathematics learning and to help them prepare for later learning in school. Although the curriculum was designed primarily for 4- and 5-year-old children, it appears to be

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

useful for 3-year-olds as well (Ginsburg et al., 1999). The curriculum is organized into six major strands or basic ideas:

Number. This strand covers such topics as counting (into the hundreds), enumerating objects, and the meaning of number (cardinality).

Shape. These activities focus on identifying and constructing various shapes in both two and three dimensions and exploring their properties, including symmetry.

Putting together and taking apart. This set of activities focuses mainly on adding and subtracting, and also deals with the relations between sets and subsets.

Spatial relations. This strand covers relations like in front of, behind, and left-right, as well as maps—all of which are important for navigating in the world.

Measurement. The exact quantification of physical attributes (like length, weight, and temperature) as well as time and money are explored in this strand.

Patterns and predictions. These activities introduce the child to patterns involving shapes, numbers, and sounds and encourage detection and use of patterns for the purpose of prediction.

The strands are covered in two ways—one involves systematically organized activities and the other daily “pastimes.” In working with organized activities, the teacher introduces the six strands, in the sequence described above, over the course of a year. Of course, the level at which teachers cover the material will differ according to the age and ability of the children. Nevertheless, in all cases, the teacher employs activities designed to be continued over a fairly lengthy period of time in order to introduce children in a systematic way to the various “big ideas” or strands.

The developers believe that one distinctive feature of Big Math for Little Kids™ is that the activities are arranged systematically, lead to deep exploration of complex topics, and are pursued intensively throughout the year. The program does not involve discrete bits and pieces: it is a coherent system. And besides being conceptually rich, the activities are a great deal of fun (Box 5–6). The children enjoy the activities and get engrossed in them.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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BOX 5–6 Bag It

Bag It is a deceptively simple activity which the teacher begins by presenting children with a collection of plastic ziplock baggies on which are written the numerals 0, 1, 2, 3. The teacher shows how to read the numerals written on each bag and explains that a special number of things should be placed in each. She then presents them with a collection of small objects—buttons, toy cars, miniature people, or similar objects available in the room. The first task is to place in each bag the appropriate number of objects. To do this, each child has to read the numeral on the bag, count out or otherwise determine the corresponding number of objects, carefully place them in the bag, and zip it up. After this has been done, the teacher shows them some “counting bins,” boxes on which are written the numerals 0, 1, 2, 3. The job now is to place the plastic bag in the correct bin. This requires reading and matching the numeral on each. This basic task can of course be extended to larger numbers. After a while, children become quite proud of their ability to count out 20 or even 100 objects in the bag.

In fact, when working on the activities, the children often display a very lengthy attention span.

Research shows that young children are capable of and often interested in a variety of mathematical activities. Some of these activities are surprisingly complex and challenging, like constructing symmetries in three dimensions or trying to count beyond 100. In effect, through their often joyful choices, the children are telling us that engagement in challenging mathematics is within their developmental range. Young children do not have to be protected from the study of mathematics or made ready for learning (Greenes, 1999).

Scientific Reasoning

Infants, toddlers, and preschool children have considerable implicit knowledge about topics that are found in science books. Infants, for example, can form general categories that differ as to

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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whether photographs or toys depict animals or various inanimate categories (Mandler and McDonough, 1998). Indeed, they can make inferences about them (e.g., of references for above: Baillargeon, 1994; Leslie, 1994; Spelke and Van de Walle, 1995).

Toddlers who move on their own are surprisingly sensitive to the characteristics of surfaces. For example, they adjust their gaits when moving up as opposed to down inclined surfaces; they inspect unfamiliar surfaces like ice, waterbeds, nets, etc., and then adjust their ways of moving. Sensing that a surface is not sturdy, they get down and crawl (Gibson, 1969). These capacities of obsrvation and prediction are the foundation of scientific inquiry.

Toddlers and very young children experiment with tools and work to learn about objects in the world. For example, Ann Brown has shown that 2-year-old children learn quickly about the kinds of objects they can use to retrieve something that is out of reach (Gelman and Brown, 1986). Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder’s (1974) classic experiment in which children are given blocks to stack, some of which are weighted (reported in Chapter 2), is but one of many that reveal how young children persist at a task, trying out different hypotheses, until they reach a solution.

By age 3, children have learned a surprising amount about the differences between animate and inanimate objects. Indeed, evidence is accumulating that they also know that machines constitute a category separate and different from either animals or inanimate objects (Gelman, 1998; Spelke et al., 1983; Keil, 1989, 1994; Wellman and Gelman, 1992). They already know enough to classify and make inferences about photographs of unfamiliar objects. For example, when asked whether an echidna (an “animal” from Australia that looks a lot like a cactus) can move itself up and down a hill, they give the correct affirmative answer. They also provide reasonable explanations, saying, for example, it must have feet, even if these are not visible in the photograph (Massey and Gelman, 1988).

A wide range of studies converge in concluding that preschool children are eager to learn a great deal about the animal world and to work at learning about the differences between the insides and outsides of objects, the different ways things move and change over time, and a variety of cause-and-effect relationships. They are also able to benefit from language and environments

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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that provide opportunities to use methods of science, including data collection, predicting, recording, and talking about findings (Gelman, 1998).

Especially noteworthy is the young child’s propensity to experiment with solutions and to invent solutions to simple arithmetic tasks. These interests of young children can be used as a bridge from entertainment to ongoing efforts of the staff to encourage learning about relevant language, methods, and tools of scientific and mathematical work (which is also fun). This can lead to building a knowledge base that is likely to stand young children in good stead as they move on to other experiences, both in and out of school, about the scientific and technical aspects of the world they will grow up in.

ScienceStart!™

One of the major developmental tasks of childhood is to learn about the surrounding world. Research shows that young children actively process their experiences to form mental representations of “the way things are.” Important in themselves, these mental representations (often referred to as scripts or generalized event representations) also form a crucial foundation for the development of a variety of competencies, including language, social interaction, understanding of social roles, classification, and planning (French, 1985; Nelson, 1981; Nelson and Gruendel, 1981).

Young children are cognitively prepared and eager to learn about the surrounding world. Their commonly observed approach to learning—active, experiential, open-ended exploration—makes science an ideal domain for early childhood education. In ScienceStart!™, coherently sequenced science activities become the hub of an integrated curriculum with the following characteristics:

  • It focuses on aspects of the everyday world that are familiar, meaningful, and apparent to young children. In general, the program addresses science topics and concepts that the child can experience in the immediate environment. This limitation excludes some popular topics with no contemporary referents (e.g.,

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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BOX 5–7 ScienceStart!™ Air

Air is a subunit of a unit on Properties of Matter (dealing with solids, liquids, gas, and change). During Phase I, Exploration, children explore a variety of features of air, including using straws, hand-held fans, and hair dryers to blow an assortment of objects. During Phase 2, Asking Questions, the teacher guides the students in organizing their explorations and observations into a set of questions. During Phase 3, Follow the Questions, the class carries out a series of activities that address the questions they have developed. During Phase 4, Culmination, children might make and fly kites, use innertubes while going swimming, or invite family members for a Wind Party featuring a dramatic enactment of a book about wind, a garden containing windsocks and pinwheels made in the classroom, and refreshments containing air (e.g., whipped cream and meringues).

dinosaurs), no local referents (e.g., oceans for children who live inland), and mechanisms that are highly abstract and largely invisible (e.g., magnets). See Box 5–7 for an example from a unit on Properties of Matter. (In describing ScienceStart!™, the committee does not intend to suggest that young children are incapable of learning about these more abstract topics when presented in ways that engage their imaginations. Indeed, research reviewed in Chapter 2 suggests the contrary.)

  • It is coherent. Science activities are coherently organized, with each day’s activities building on those of the previous day and providing a foundation for those of the next day. Activities are organized into units (e.g., Measurement and Mapping; Color, Light, and Shadow) that are investigated for four or five weeks and that are sequenced so that increasingly complex skills and concepts are developed and reinforced over time. This approach contrasts with what occurs in many early childhood classrooms, where topics change on a daily or weekly basis (e.g., Valentines, dinosaurs, and presidents’ birthdays might be covered during February) or activities are organized around arbitrary themes (e.g., the color red).

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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  • It is integrated. Activities in all areas of the classroom are linked to the daily science investigation. Books relevant to the topic are read aloud during large group time. Activity centers contain props that allow alternative ways of approaching the topic (e.g., during a unit on machines, the dramatic play area might become a car repair shop or the block area might be supplemented with pulleys and ramps). Activities include topic-appropriate extensions into mathematics and social studies and are also regularly extended into outdoor play and art and expression.

  • It is open-ended. Children enter preschool with myriad patterns of interests and abilities. To accommodate this diversity, activities in the early childhood classroom must be sufficiently rich and open-ended to permit children to find their own level of participation and developmental challenge. For example, when children mix drops of colored water, some may focus on creating a variety of shades of orange while others practice the small motor skills needed to operate an eyedropper.

  • It explicitly models and teaches a scientific approach to problem solving. Individual activities follow a cycle of “Reflect and Ask, Plan and Predict, Act and Observe, Report and Reflect.” Early in the year, teachers assume most of the responsibility for articulating and following this cycle; over the course of the year, children gradually take increasing responsibility for doing so. This approach to problem solving extends beyond science into social disputes and carrying out complex, multiphase projects.

  • It is language-rich. Language development is a primary developmental task of early childhood and language skill is a potent predictor of learning to read and subsequent academic success. The activities therefore emphasize relevant receptive and expressive language and introduce key vocabulary.

  • It uses science activities to involve parents in recognizing and fostering their children’s intellectual development.

The primary goal of ScienceStart!™ is to engage children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning about the surrounding world. At the same time, ScienceStart!™ also seeks to support the growth and development of essential cognitive foundations for academic success (French and Song, 1998), including:

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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  • vocabulary, receptive and expressive language skills, and guidelines for appropriate discourse,

  • different forms of self-regulation (including attention management, appropriate participation in large and small groups, and persistence),

  • skills in identifying and solving problems, and

  • a rich knowledge base that can support comprehension and higher-order intellectual skills, such as inference and prediction.

ScienceStart!™ was developed in the context of a Head Start program serving low-income children, but it is sufficiently rich, open-ended, and developmentally appropriate that it can be used successfully with all preschool-age children. Children who are in a ScienceStart!™ classroom for more than the typical one year continue to develop and extend the essential cognitive foundations; they provide leadership in exploration of the science investigations and further enrich their own knowledge base about the topics covered.

ScienceStart!™ fits easily into the typical early childhood classroom. There are periods for large group activities, choice time in activity centers, and outdoor or large motor play. Teachers have a great deal of flexibility and autonomy in terms of which activities they select for investigation within a given topic area. However, an underlying structure supports the coherence and integration of the curriculum. Daily “leading activities” are organized into units (e.g., Properties of Matter; Simple Machines) and units are composed of phases (Exploration, Asking Questions, Following the Questions, Culminating Project).

Each day, the science-based leading activity serves as a core around which other classroom activities (including vocabulary, expressive and receptive language opportunities, read aloud books, mathematics, social studies, arts and expression, and center-based and outdoor play) are organized. The leading activity is presented during large group time following a simple cycle of scientific reasoning (Reflect and Ask; Plan and Predict; Act and Observe; Report and Reflect) and is subsequently available for individual or small group exploration. Every two weeks, an open-ended science activity related to the unit being covered in the classroom (a Science ZipKit™) is sent home for the child to

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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complete with parents or other family members. Three times a year, classrooms join together in a science celebration in which parents and children work together on science activities.

ScienceStart!™ is both within the developmental range of preschool children and focused on areas critical to readiness and school success. The essential cognitive foundations that form the goals of the curriculum are based on (1) what is known about the ordinary course of development during the preschool years, (2) skills commonly identified as problematic during the early school years, and (3) competencies that are believed to emerge in environmental situations to which children may have differential levels of access depending on family background.

In Head Start classrooms in which ScienceStart!™ has been used, children acquire substantial portions of the knowledge base to which they are exposed during the class investigations of the everyday environment; they show a significant increase on standardized measures, such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test; their participation and language use show a marked increase; and an increase in engagement and group participation is matched by a decrease in disruptive, off-task behavior. Children appear to love the program, learn a great deal about the surrounding world, and develop essential cognitive foundations for later academic success.

Katz (1995) has suggested that all curricula at every level of education address, explicitly or implicitly, the acquisition and strengthening of four dimensions of growth: knowledge, skills, dispositions, and feelings. While young children can be instructed by adults to acquire much knowledge and many skills, dispositions and feelings are not likely to be learned from direct instruction, but by the application of particular pedagogical approaches and the nature of teacher/caregiver-child interaction. Much of the discussion above on curriculum content, particularly as it is described through exemplary programs, implies a pedagogical approach. We now turn more explicitly to research on issues of pedagogy.

PEDAGOGY/TEACHING STRATEGIES

The spectrum of education programs provided for preschool children reflects diverse philosophical beliefs and related ap-

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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proaches to pedagogy. They range from those in which children engage primarily in play or self-initiated activities, to those in which children sit in chairs and passively receive direct instruction. In practice, most programs combine elements of both direct instruction and free play.

Constructivists, for example, take a position between the extremes. They suggest that development results from a complex interaction between children and their environments (Dewey, 1976; Piaget, 1970). Education is child-centered, but the adult takes responsibility for placing the child in environmental circumstances that will provoke active construction of new understandings. The ideal form of education, in this view, involves neither instruction nor laissez-faire free play, but rather the adult’s assumption of the responsibility to provide environmental food for thought—that is, circumstances appropriate to the child’s current cognitive state that facilitate his or her natural propensity to develop and learn (Copple et al., 1979; Hohmann et al., 1979). These and other programs based on constructivist theory place a strong emphasis on children’s construction of ideas and ways of thinking through social interaction.

Sociocultural theory places primacy on cognitive activity occurring through social interaction with more knowledgeable peers and adults who provide support as a child explores new understandings, knowledge and skills, a disposition toward learning, and insight about himself or herself as a learner (Dewey, 1976; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986). Pedagogy is not ultimately about free play, instruction, or placing the child in carefully chosen stimulating environments; the critical factor is a high degree of direct adult engagement and guidance in the process of construction (Bodrova and Leong, 1996). Vygotsky (1978) and Rogoff (1990) provide a description of this learning process. Its central feature requires addressing children within their zone of proximal development, the zone within which a child can actively participate in learning under the guidance of more knowledgeable peers or adults, who structure the learning so as to guide the child through tasks that are just beyond current capability. See Box 5–8 for an example of a program based on this theory.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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BOX 5–8 Tools of the Mind

A series of early childhood programs based on sociocultural theory was developed by Bodrova and Leong (1996). They have engaged in long-term intervention studies using programs they have developed for teaching writing and reading as two major intervention efforts. In Tools of the Mind (1996), they describe their procedures for instruction in great detail built on the Vygotskian notion of the zone of proximal development (p. 3). These programs are unusual in that they have a well-established theoretical base from which all measures and teaching strategies are derived.

In addition to developing an emergent writing program, these investigators have also developed the Early Literacy Advisor (2000), which is an “advisor to teachers helping them make informed decisions about the pace and direction of classroom practices for those areas of literacy development that can be impacted by instruction.” A battery of assessments has been developed and validated. Reports from teachers using the approach indicated satisfaction with its use and the help it provides in developing classroom instruction. (For more information on the Early Literacy Advisor, see Bodrova, et al., 1999.)

Play as a Teaching Strategy

The propensity to play is inherent in children (Franklin, 1999) and has been a focus for most of the major theorists and practitioners in education and developmental psychology. The interest in play is shared by ethnologists who have recognized the role of play in the development of animal species that have long childhoods, complex social organizations, and high-level skill requirements. Piaget and Vygotsky, both of whom have strongly influenced the field of early education, explicitly link symbolic play with language and literacy (Pellegrini et al., 1991) and with developing skill in representation and transformation (Schwartzman, 1978).

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Different types of play are more prevalent at different ages, although all forms continue throughout the early childhood period. Infant play involves interaction with caregivers (peek-a-boo) and motor actions (dropping spoons from the high chair), and toddlers engage in locomotive and manipulative play (pull/ push toys, construction toys). Infants and young children will engage in “functional play,” which involves performing physical actions repetitively and simply for the sake of being active (Fein, 1981). Beginning at around age 4, children engage in “constructive play” by manipulating objects to build or make things. Gradually pretend play (taking on different characters) and language play (nonsense words) are added, with social dramatic play (collaborative social activities) and games (rule play) usually occurring in 4- and 5-year-olds. Young children are highly motivated to play, and play offers the opportunity for self-expression, social collaboration through speech and shared ideas, emotional and social understanding, and self-regulation.

Teachers have long been encouraged to use playful activities as a method to stimulate learning (Pestalozzi, 1905; Froebel, 1886; White, 1905; Dewey, 1976), and in preschools “free play” activities (child-directed interactions with materials and other children) are a large component of the daily program. Most early childhood programs structure children’s play (and presumably their learning) by the provision of materials (blocks, dress-up clothes, games, toys), space (housekeeping corners, tables, building areas), and time to use them. While choice and self-directed play are highly valued in preschool programs, teachers are often directly involved and encouraged to intervene more directly in children’s play by providing field trips and relevant props, for example, grocery stores, libraries, and by becoming involved in the play themselves by suggesting new activities, vocabulary, and rules (Dyson, 1993; Morrow, 1990; Neuman and Roskos, 1993).

Play as a pedagogical tool has not been extensively researched (Howes and Smith, 1995). There are two likely reasons for this: first, play often has been viewed as noneducational and not related to intentional teaching (Hall, 1991). Second, play is difficult to define (Fein, 1977); thus, much of the research is labeled for attributes of the playing process, such as social interaction, symbolic representation (literacy), role rehearsals, fantasy, enactments,

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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and motor/perceptual coordination, rather than under the generic term “play.” It is assumed that underlying children’s involvement in these activities is an intrinsic motivation to derive personal pleasure and satisfaction from their chosen activities— to play. Howes and Smith (1995) found play and positive social interactions with teachers predicted more complex cognitive activities in child care centers. When adults, either mothers or teachers, play with children, the children manifest more complex combinations of pretend and are able to demonstrate distancing and decontextualization more readily (O’Reilly and Bornstein, 1993; Howes and Matheson, 1992). However, Kontos (1999) reported that the Head Start teachers she studied, although actively engaged in enhancing and managing children’s play—particularly around play with objects—did not in that context provide much rich and stimulating conversation. Below we present additional studies addressing the pedagogical aspects of play, focusing on cognitive and language activity, children’s development of self-regulation, and the development of social competence.

Cognitive and Language Activity in Play

Constructing narratives makes cognitive demands for recalling and sequencing information, linking references to prior utterances rather than to tangible objects, and so disembedding language from the here and now (Blank, 1982). Umiker-Sebeok (1979) recorded in three classrooms the intraconversational narratives of 62 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children during preschool free play. The 3-year-olds initiated narratives to start a conversation: a child would suddenly launch into a story about an event or person at school and, if there was no response, he or she would simply walk away as though no answer had been expected. The 4-year-olds stated the who, when, and where in 64 percent of their narratives, and they reported events that occurred outside school. The 4-year-olds also got a response 56 percent of the time. All the narratives of the 5-year-olds contained information about the who, where, and when of the story, and a third contained one or more comments that elaborated on a current or preceding topic.

Children adapt their speech style to the listeners they are addressing and the roles they are playing. Anderson (1986) asked

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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24 children ages 3 to 7 to speak for puppets in a doctor’s office, a school setting, and a family setting. When role-playing fathers in the family setting, the children used a direct, forceful speech style. Mothers were role-played as more polite and more talkative, using more endearments such as “honey.” Unlike the fathers, the mothers that the children role-played qualified or explained almost everything they said. The children shifted into baby talk when role-playing the family child (see also Dunn and Kendrick, 1982; Sachs and Devin, 1976; Wilkinson et al., 1982; Tomasello and Mannle, 1985; Vandell and Wilson, 1987). Children exhibit rudimentary metalinguistic abilities for thinking about language, analyzing it, and playing with it.

Play fosters the use of symbols and symbolic representations (Piaget, 1962; Sigel, 1993). Young children’s recall with toys is better after participating in play. In an experimental study of 4-and 5-year-olds’ recall memory, children were asked to either “play” with a set of toys or to “remember” the toys (Newman, 1990). In the “remember” session, the children tended to study the toys, rehearsing, sorting, etc., and their language focused on naming the toys. In the “play” session, the children tended to play with the toys both functionally and representationally, and their language focused on elaboration about the toys (e.g., “I’m squeezing the lemon”) (Newman, 1990:249). The children had better recall in the “play” condition.1

Self-Regulation and Play

Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong (Bodrova, 1997; Bodrova and Leong, 1996, 1998a, 1998b) describe the work of Vygotsky (1977) and his colleague Elkonin (1978) on play and set this work within a U.S. context. In this framework, play is defined as containing three elements: an imaginary situation, defined roles, and implicit rules. Play is described as necessary for the preschool child in that it provides them with the social and self-regulatory

1  

This study also included a similar contrast using pictures instead of toys, and no significant differences in recall were found between the “remember” and “play” conditions. Overall recall with toys was significantly higher than with pictures.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

skills needed for learning complex information. In addition to the cognitive features mentioned in the previous section, Bodrova and Leong emphasize that play provides an arena for using language or symbols to practice self-regulation and is therefore central in the young child’s mental development. In play children act according to a set of rules and roles that inhibit and restrain their behavior as they dramatize a scenario. Vygotsky proposes that in this type of play young children are able to function within their zone of proximal development as the roles and rules of the scenario support activity that they often could not do without support. “In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself…as though the child were trying to jump above the head of his normal behavior” (Vygotsky, 1978:74).

Play can provide an important opportunity for children to practice self-regulation in a variety of dimensions. It often takes place with other children and involves the teacher’s provisions of an appropriate physical context and time for play It can involve group or individual intervention to support rule-governed play and to help children plan for play (Bodrova, 1997; Bodrova and Leong, 1996, 1998a, 1998b).

It is important to mention that solitary play may also function as practice for self-regulatory behavior if the play contains all of the features of the above-mentioned group play (imaginary situation, roles, implicit rules). In this context, with support for the child’s working within their zone of proximal development, the child is participating in what Vygotsky (1977) terms “director’s play.”

Social Competence and Play

In the early, preverbal years, pretend play appears to serve the primary function of communicating intent and ideas to others (Howes and Matheson, 1992). Beginning at around age 3, social integration becomes an important function or goal of pretend play (Gottman, 1983). Indeed, social competence is one of the primary skills that children develop and practice through engagement in pretend play.

Early childhood programs are often considered contexts for the development of social competence with peers. Certainly one

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

of the tasks for children in these programs is to construct relationships and positive interactions with peers. These social interactions and relationships become the basis of peer group social structure (Corsaro, 1988; Howes, 1988; Howes and Matheson, 1992). Through these early developmental experiences, children internalize representations of social relationships and social networks, which influence their individual orientations to the social world as older children and adolescents (Howes and Smith, 1995). The developmental advance in social competence with peers that children experience from ages 3 to 8 involves the construction of more and more complex forms of social pretend play.

Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy

The support provided to a child to go just beyond current capability into “the zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky, 1962) is referred to as scaffolding: an image that suggests a support to help one work where one could not reach if unsupported. The adult provides just enough but not too much support, matching the amount of support to the skill level the child displays, providing more support if the child falters and decreasing support just enough to challenge the child to move ahead.

Ideally, teachers structure content learning so that experiences are within the children’s current range of competence yet challenging to further development. The teacher must then embed newly established skills into still newer routines (Snow, 1986; Wood, 1998). In language learning, a primary occasion for teachers to deliberately use scaffolding is during book reading, since books incorporate vocabulary, rhymes, sentence structures, and narratives into stories that engage children’s attention and provide a context for conversation (National Research Council, 1998). Correlational studies have shown that parents’ scaffolding behaviors facilitate language learning (Ellis and Wells, 1980) when children are 1–2 years old, in the early stages of acquiring vocabulary and syntax.

Scaffolding can be used to extend a student’s competence in all areas. Student observations about the world (the flower in that window is growing faster than the one in this window) can be used as opportunities to think about scientific explanations,

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

about hypotheses and experimentation. Similarly, student interests that involve quantity can be used as opportunities to extend understanding.2

Math Talk While Mixing Flour and Water

5-year-old:

I want to make an experiment with flour and paste.

Teacher:

Why? What’s your prediction?

5-year-old:

The flour will make it thicker and drier and it’ll be play dough for me to play with.

Teacher:

Well, how much flour would you need for this experiment?

5-year-old:

I need one cup of flour.

Teacher:

And how much paste?

5-year-old:

Two cups.

Teacher:

How much paste do you have now? (She gets a one-cup measuring cup and fills it halfway).

5-year-old:

One-half a cup.

Teacher:

Let’s see. You want 2 cups of paste and 1 cup of flour. That’s twice as much paste as flour. But we only have one-half a cup of paste. So how much flour should we use?

5-year-old:

One-half of a one-half a cup.

Teacher:

Okay, a quarter of a cup it is.

Peers as Scaffolders

Peers are important to learning that involves such activities as projects, block building, cooperative learning, and any activity that requires the joint involvement of children. Children’s performance on a number of cognitive tasks has been found to improve as a result of social interaction with more advanced peers (Murray, 1982; Perret-Clermont et al., 1991; Roazzi and Bryant, 1998).

2  

Excerpted from a transcript of circle time conversations recorded as part of a collaborative study between the Child Care Service Centers of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Rochel Gelman’s Laboratory.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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-

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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.

Suggested Citation:"5 Curriculum and Pedagogy: The What and the How of Early Childhood Education." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Clearly babies come into the world remarkably receptive to its wonders. Their alertness to sights, sounds, and even abstract concepts makes them inquisitive explorers--and learners--every waking minute. Well before formal schooling begins, children's early experiences lay the foundations for their later social behavior, emotional regulation, and literacy. Yet, for a variety of reasons, far too little attention is given to the quality of these crucial years. Outmoded theories, outdated facts, and undersized budgets all play a part in the uneven quality of early childhood programs throughout our country.

What will it take to provide better early education and care for our children between the ages of two and five? Eager to Learn explores this crucial question, synthesizing the newest research findings on how young children learn and the impact of early learning. Key discoveries in how young children learn are reviewed in language accessible to parents as well as educators: findings about the interplay of biology and environment, variations in learning among individuals and children from different social and economic groups, and the importance of health, safety, nutrition and interpersonal warmth to early learning. Perhaps most significant, the book documents how very early in life learning really begins. Valuable conclusions and recommendations are presented in the areas of the teacher-child relationship, the organization and content of curriculum, meeting the needs of those children most at risk of school failure, teacher preparation, assessment of teaching and learning, and more. The book discusses:

  • Evidence for competing theories, models, and approaches in the field and a hard look at some day-to-day practices and activities generally used in preschool.
  • The role of the teacher, the importance of peer interactions, and other relationships in the child's life.
  • Learning needs of minority children, children with disabilities, and other special groups.
  • Approaches to assessing young children's learning for the purposes of policy decisions, diagnosis of educational difficulties, and instructional planning.
  • Preparation and continuing development of teachers.

Eager to Learn presents a comprehensive, coherent picture of early childhood learning, along with a clear path toward improving this important stage of life for all children.

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