Educational practices that are developmentally appropriate seek to encounter children at their point of physical, mental and emotional need. Developing a set of standards gives each teacher a firm basis by which to judge whether each student is ready to move on from a particular skill level. Each DAP (developmentally appropriate practice) serves to inform teachers about the best ways to foster learning in each child. The most important part of making a DAP is giving children a milieu for their learning with the fewest limitations possible. This will give each student maximum access to the projects, centers, materials and curriculum.
One of the first items to consider when evaluating a classroom’s practices for appropriateness is the children’s age. Are the arrangement and layout of the room’s tables, chairs, and centers appropriate to the age level of the children in the room? This is one of every teacher’s primary objectives. As children grow developmentally during the school year, adding skills and abilities, the teacher must change learning centers and activities accordingly, so that the students continue to receive age-appropriate challenges each day when they come into the classroom.
After age, the next area of consideration is learning styles. Even in the preschool that I observed (Ulysses S. Grant Public School #7, Passaic, New Jersey), it was clear that the teacher had students with all three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Teachers must plan activities that will suit each style, so that no one feels left out from a particular instructional activity (Tomlinson & Hyson, p. 118). There is a strong tendency for teachers who work most effectively with one of the three styles to teach primarily in that style; however, that is detrimental for the students who need instruction through one of the other learning styles. Providing a balance is a must for teachers at any age, so that all students receive equal access to the information. Grouping students from different learning styles together can help each of them become stronger in activities involving the other two styles, as they view the strategies that the other students use and work towards using them as well.
Finally, it is important to take a student’s life outside of the classroom into account when individualizing instruction. If students come from different cultures, incorporating content from that culture into the curriculum will not only increase those students’ engagement in your lessons, but will also enrich the learning of your other students, who will gain a broadened sense of the world by learning about other perspectives (Tomlinson & Hyson, p. 120). In the classroom that I observed, 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, and so the teacher incorporates many elements from Hispanic culture in her lessons, including music, art and English-language literature with information about that culture.
In the class that I observed at Ulysses S. Grant School #7, it is clear that the teacher uses many developmentally appropriate practices when working with her students. When you walk into the classroom, the bright decorations and pleasant ambiance from the posters, calendar and wall charts make the children feel comfortable and confident (Tomlinson & Hyson, p. 111). The care that the teacher has taken to organize the room, so that students can move independently among stations and choose their own learning activities, also goes a long way toward creating self-motivated learners.
Moving to more specific strategies, though, the teacher has placed her students in three groups of 3 and a group of 4. Each group appears to have at least one student from each learning style, as well as students of different skill levels, so that struggling learners have a peer to help them. Student artwork has been posted at eye level on one of the walls, so that students feel like their work has gone into creating the learning space on some level. Daily routines such as setting a line leader, changing the calendar for the day and choosing a story for the day, make students feel like they are true partners in learning – they want to be involved, because involvement gives them some control over the learning they will experience that day. An example of students experiencing lessons in all three learning styles happened when the teacher had Play-Doh out at the art station, having students make some of the different shapes they had learned about that day, such as circles, triangles and squares. In the computer station they had a short instructional movie they were supposed to watch about shapes before playing a game. As a whole class, they learned a song about shapes, and so all three learning styles were accommodated.
Tomlinson, H.B. & Marilou Hyson. “An Overview.” in Developmentally Appropriate
Practice in Early Childhood Programs. (Revised Edition), Bredekamp, S. &
Coppe, C. (eds.). Washington, DC: NAEYC, 2009.