1. Various theories of child development are utilized to examine physical and other aspects of child growth and psychological development. Some major child development theories include maturational theory, Piaget’s cognitive theory and ecological theory, three of several theories that are used to explore child development and learning.
Maturational, or maturationist theory, advanced primarily by Arnold Gesell, is sometimes classified under the broader umbrella of biological theories. Maturational theory, one of the earliest theories that arose from the study of children and their development, is based on the biological maturation of children, or their physical and psychological changes. Maturational theory holds that generally all children pass through the same developmental changes as their brains and bodies mature. Development changes in childhood range from an infant’s morphing ability to grasp objects to the different ways children collect objects as they mature. This theory basically posits that there is a predetermined developmental timetable that reflects a scheme or plan within the child’s body. The greatest criticisms of maturational theory are that it largely fails to account for cultural, individual, or environmental differences.
Piaget’s cognitive theory, sometimes also called Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, largely developed out of Piaget’s criticism of behaviorism, which he thought failed to promote understanding. According to Piaget, children naturally try to understand their surrounding world. He found that children formed basic theories ant at critical points in development they made fundamental changes to these theories. These important changes marked the end of one stage and the beginning of a new stage of development, creating a total of four different stages of cognitive development. These stages, according to Piaget, include the sensorimotor stage, from birth to two years, the preoperational thought stage until about six years old, when a child learns how to use symbols to represent aspects of the world but only relates to the world through their own perspective, a concrete operational thought stage from about ages seven to 11 and the final stage, formal operational though, beginning in adolescence.
Piaget’s theory is criticized in various ways. Some critics point out that there may be flaws in the stages and that there may not be substantial evidence of significant differences in cognitive capacity between two children in different stages. Additionally, there may not be distinct stages as Piaget holds but instead more gradual development. Finally, as with the maturational theory, Piaget fails to pay attention to cultural influences on cognitive development.
A third theory of child development is the ecological theory. This theory, pioneered by Urie Bronfenbrenner, holds that child development occurs through increasingly complex interactions between a child and the objects, symbols and people around him or her. The ecological model places the child at the center of the model and holds that the child is both affected by and affects their surroundings. In the ecological model, the increasingly complex interactions between a child and his surroundings must be fairly regular and occur over extended periods of time, making the family setting, where a young child spends most of his time particularly important. Of course, community learning sites and other settings like extended family and early education programs also influence development.
In the ecological theory, a child’s experiences in the settings discussed above determine his development. This model holds that experiences in these important settings, also called proximal processes, are of the foremost importance in human development. Thus, these proximal processes and the strengths of the connections between the settings where a young child spends time are very important, highlighting the need for strong communication between, for example, parents and teachers. Finally, according to the ecological theory, even settings where a child does not spend any time can influence child development. For example, laws or community mandates may affect a child’s immediate surroundings and thus proximal processes.
Piaget’s cognitive theory, applied to a classroom, would call for the creation of an education environment with curriculum, environment and teaching that was consistent with student needs. This approach calls for teachers to make sure that children understand processes, checking a child’s thought and understanding rather than simply for correct answers.
This theory also places a greater emphasis on self-initiated involvement in learning. Also very important are patience and understanding as children pass through developmental stages and understanding that while children all pass through the same developmental stages, they do so at different rates.
With this theory, teachers are most responsible for facilitating learning and allowing students to explore and initiate learning. Additionally, because children bass through the stages of development at different rates, individual or small-group projects may be more suitable than classroom-wide activities.
- One of sometimes-many gaps found in different levels of education is a cultural, or minority, gap. Students that find themselves a minority in a school that has a large, established majority can face many different and greater struggles then their peers, especially if their primary language is different than the majority language. It is important that teachers, administrators and others understand and work to address the unique challenges that accompany minority students and affect their performance in school.
One unfortunate but potential aspect that may affect the performance of a minority child in school is the attitude of teachers or other students towards that ethnic group or individual. Unfair attitudes may manifest as unfair or cruel treatment and could include even something as simple as lowering or raising expectations unfairly or giving a minority student who speaks English as a second language insufficient time to answer questions.
Minority students may also fear for the safety or social security and this can negatively affect their classroom performance.
Low-income minority students can face even greater challenges. An individual family’s economic condition could force, for example, a child’s parents to work long hours at challenging jobs and place a greater burden or more responsibilities on the child at home. These students’ families may also be unable to afford certain educational tools like private tutors or technology that might encourage better performance in school. Finally, if the minority student and their family do not speak English as a first language, that student may face even more additional challenges. Not only might a student struggle to understand the language and lessons in the classroom and experience a barrier between themselves and their teacher and peers, their parents may be less involved or able to assist in that student’s education.
A thorough assessment of a student’s needs and English-language proficiency in the first few days after they arrive in the classroom and ongoing informal assessments are important for a teacher to gauge needs and progress. Empathizing with the minority student and making sure the student feels welcome by using positive body language, correctly pronouncing the students name and making efforts like writing a message in their native language, if they are not a native English speaker are valuable.
One lesson potentially useful in a classroom of mostly-majority students that a teacher is trying to teach empathy to could involve inviting an adult fluent in the minority student’s language to give a presentation to the class, then encouraging the class to examine what it felt like to try to learn and be spoken to in a different language.
Assigning a new minority student a rotating buddy in the form of other students, especially if they are unfamiliar with school customs, is another helpful idea. With the help of their buddy, they can be helped with basic tasks or customs inside or outside of the classroom, like in the cafeteria situation or while lining up for the bus.
A teacher can talk to the student using simple English, slowed speech, repetition of instructions and similar techniques to encourage better understanding. Encouraging the student’s family to participate in conferences and other school activities by arranging for an interpreter or inviting the family to bring their own interpreter and clearly explaining classroom and school procedures and expectations and perhaps even having school communications translated can encourage increased family support and participation.
Arranging lessons or activities that highlight cultural diversity like creating an ancestry map with pushpins in the classroom, arranging international food days, making assignments like interviewing relatives or learning words from other languages can help to foster an appreciation for different cultures and make minority students feel welcome. Finally, encouraging the student to continue reading and writing in their native language ad emphasizing the value of bilingualism to encourage mental development and cultural appreciation can allow the student to retain aspects of their native culture while they are acclimating to the majority culture.
4. Teachers are the most important in-school factor influencing student achievement, so it is very safe to assume that many different types of teacher actions and attitudes influence student development, attitude and performance.
One important aspect of teacher behavior includes the expectations that a teacher has for an individual student. These expectations have the power to significantly affect a student’s performance. This thought, that students become what their teachers expect them to become, is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
A famous study by Rosenthal and Jacobson involved the researchers selecting a random group of students at the beginning of the school year and indicating to the teacher that these students were expected to grow intellectually during that school year. At the end of the year, the students were again tested and the researchers found that the students a teacher believed were destined for intellectual growth showed significantly higher intellectual gains than their peers. This demonstrates the power of teacher expectations and the concept of self-fulfilling prophesy in education.
These expectations may result in a teacher treating students differently, even in very slight ways. A teacher may, for example, set lower expectations for certain students and provide little or no feedback on errors or positive answers or give certain students less time to answer questions. For example, one student pausing before answering a question may be thought of by the teacher as being thoughtful, thorough and intellectual while they may think another student pausing before answering a question is struggling or unlikely to achieve at the correct answer. They may, as a result, give that student less time to answer a specific question than they would give to one of the student’s peers.
Various considerations or techniques can help teachers, administrators and policymakers to minimize the presence of unfair teacher expectations and negative self-fulfilling prophesy in the classroom.
Educating teaching students and even seasoned teachers about the risks of self-fulfilling prophecy and inequitable expectations and helping teachers to recognize and adjust negative attitudes that stem from knowledge about a student’s background is impactful. In addition to professional development and regular research, assessments and revisiting teacher behavior and examining select interactions carefully, certain strategies or techniques can help a teacher to eliminate unequal expectations.
Certain methods even allow a teacher to cultivate an environment that nurtures positive self-fulfilling prophesies and high student achievement.
For example, starting out with simple assignments that students can easily accomplish so that students can observe that they are able to successfully meet teacher expectations is valuable. Celebrating student successes, even in small or quiet ways, posting motivational and positive messages throughout the learning environment and rewarding both effort as well as achievement reinforce a positive classroom setting for students. Encouraging a risk-free environment without ridicule or fear of failure, remaining consistent and fair and setting reasonable and measurable class goals are some additional helpful ideas.
Open-ended assignments or questions encourage critical thinking skills and creativity while remaining risk-free. Finally, helping students to learn from mistakes or failures and repeatedly praising all students for their achievements and telling all students that they are capable and believed in can help a teacher to ensure that they are not creating or perpetuating negative self-fulfilling prophesies.