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2014 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership

2014 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership

October 31–November 2, 2014, Orlando, Fla.

Learn the secrets to great leadership practices, and get immediate and practical solutions that address your needs.

 

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Curriculum Update

November 1993
Teaching Young Children

Teaching Young Children

Educators Seek 'Developmental Appropriateness'

Scott Willis

A kindergarten student, having observed the classroom aquarium carefully over several days, notices that the water level is slightly lower each day. He says to his teacher: “We have to put more water in the tank because the fish are drinking it.”

How should the teacher respond to best support the child's learning? Should she leave him to continue his observations unaided? Should she try to teach him about evaporation and molecules, simplifying the concepts as far as possible? Or should she do something else?

How best to teach young children—pupils in preschool, kindergarten, and the early grades—has long been a subject of lively debate. Over the past decade, however, a consensus has arisen among experts in early childhood education, most of whom endorse the idea of “developmentally appropriate practice.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), in particular, has championed this idea through its position statements and publications.

What do experts mean by this unwieldy phrase?

Simply put, developmentally appropriate practice “takes into account those aspects of teaching and learning that change with the age and experience of the learner,” says Lilian Katz, director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Today “we have better research than ever on how children learn at different ages,” she notes—and that knowledge has many implications for schooling.

We know, for example, that children aged 4–6 learn better through direct, interactive experiences than through traditional teaching, where the learner is passive and receptive. (The latter might be “okay” for children aged 8 or older, Katz says.) Further, the younger children are, the more what they learn needs to be meaningful on the day they learn it, not just in the context of some future learning.

Developmentally appropriate practice has two dimensions, says Sue Bredekamp, director of professional development for the NAEYC. First, it is age-appropriate: it reflects what we know about how children develop and learn. Second, it is appropriate to the individual child: it takes into account each child's own development, interests, and cultural background. Teachers need to consider both dimensions, she says.

In choosing a learning experience for a child, knowing what's age-appropriate “gets you in the ballpark,” Bredekamp says, but the teacher must also consider the individual. She offers an analogy to choosing a toy for a 3-year-old. Knowing the child's age gives one a general idea of what kind of toy would be suitable, but without knowing the individual child—her interests, whether she's “young” or advanced for her age—one can't choose with confidence.

Given the diversity seen in any group of young children, attention to individual appropriateness is crucial—yet too often neglected, Bredekamp says. “There's a wide range of individual variation that everyone recognizes, but it's rarely paid the attention it deserves,” she asserts. This neglect occurs because the curriculum imposes a norm, and because teachers find it easier to plan to some predicted norm. But teachers whose instruction is developmentally appropriate “don't expect all the children to learn the same things in the same way on the same day,” she emphasizes.

Teachers must also consider all aspects of the child, experts advise. Developmentally appropriate practices “challenge individual children to learn and reach their potential in all areas of development,” says consultant David Burchfield, who teaches at Brownsville Elementary School in Albemarle County, Va. Teachers must attend not only to the cognitive domain but to children's social, emotional, and physical needs as well. “Typically in schools, we pay too much attention to the cognitive,” he says. “We shouldn't ignore the complexity of children.”

Developmentally appropriate practice is not a recipe but a philosophy for teaching young children, experts explain. “It's not a curriculum or an exact prescription,” says Burchfield. “It offers guidelines.” Some teachers may find this unsettling. “Teachers are so used to being told, `Do it this way,'” he notes. By contrast, the developmentally appropriate philosophy says, “`Keep these things in mind' when considering your kids, the classroom environment, what you teach and how.”

Developmentally appropriate practice is “a set of principles, not a methodology,” agrees Barbara Bowman, vice president of programs at Loyola University of Chicago's Erikson Institute. Beyond advising teachers to honor the sequence of child development and their pupils' individual differences, “you can't make hard and fast rules,” she says. Instead, teachers must exercise their professional judgment, based on training and reflection. “That's the piece that's gotten lost” in the past, she believes.

Pushed-Down Curriculum

In large measure, early childhood experts are promoting developmentally appropriate practice in response to a phenomenon dubbed the “escalated” or “pushed-down” curriculum. Over the past few decades, observers say, preschool classes and kindergartens have begun to look more like traditional 1st grade classes: young children are expected to sit quietly while they listen to whole-class instruction or fill in worksheets. Concurrently, teachers have been expecting their pupils to know more and more when they first enter their classrooms.

Experts cite many reasons for this trend. The urge to catch up with the Russians after the launching of Sputnik led to “young children doing oodles of sit-still, pencil-and-paper work”—a type of schoolwork inappropriate for 5- to 7-year-olds, says Jim Uphoff, a professor of education at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Today, the urge to compete with Japan yields the same result, experts say.) Another cause of the pushed-down curriculum is the widespread—yet incorrect—notion that one can teach children anything, at any age, if the content is presented in the right way, says David Elkind, a professor of child study at Tufts University.

In addition, more children today attend preschool, and preschools market themselves as academic, says Marilyn Hughes, an education consultant and veteran elementary teacher from Aspen, Colo. Some parents, too, favor the pushed-down curriculum in their zeal to give their children a head start in life. And, in general, Americans believe that faster is better. “We worship speed,” Uphoff says. “That's an integral part of our beliefs.”

Jacqueline Feare, principal of Todd Hall School in Lincolnwood, Ill., says that a pushed-down curriculum used to prevail in her district. Under pressure from parents and the central office, kindergartners were expected to use workbooks—despite their teachers' concerns. “Now we're saying, `Less is more' then, it was just the opposite,” she recalls. “We were saying, `Let's; see how much we can cram into their heads.'”

While the intentions of those pushing down the curriculum may be good, the effects on children are bad, experts say.

For one thing, giving children material far beyond what they can do is simply inefficient, says Elkind. While 4-year-olds need “eons” of time to learn subtraction, 6-year-olds can grasp the concept in a few hours, he says. Similarly, 4th graders typically need months to learn decimal fractions, whereas 6th graders can master them with far less effort. Although educators can push down the curriculum, “what's the point?” Elkind asks. “Certainly there should be challenge, but it should be intelligent challenge.”

Requiring young children to do overly advanced work has another harmful effect: it causes them to miss something else they should be doing, says Hughes. If children are only responding to teacher cues, “they are missing natural learning experiences”—direct, sensory experiences of their world—which form the foundation for later, more abstract learning.

Yet another drawback of the pushed-down curriculum is its effect on children's attitude toward learning. When young children are introduced to formal instruction too early, in a form that is too abstract, they may learn the knowledge and skills presented, but at the expense of the disposition to use them, Katz says. Obviously, destroying students' enthusiasm for learning in exchange for some short-term gains is a poor bargain.

Further, when young children are repeatedly coerced into behaving as though they understand something—such as the calendar or arithmetic—when they really do not, their confidence in their own abilities is undermined, Katz says. “If you can't relate to what's going on, you believe you're stupid,” she says. And over time, children bring their behavior into line with this belief.

Active Learning

If traditional, lecture-driven teaching is not appropriate for young children, then how should they be taught?

According to Katz, what children learn generally proceeds from “behavioral” knowledge to “representational” knowledge—from the concrete and tangible to the abstract. Therefore, the younger the learners, the more opportunities they need to interact with real objects and real environments.

In a developmentally appropriate classroom, Bredekamp says, the teacher provides lots of organized activity. Children are actively involved in learning: writing, reading, building with blocks, doing project work, making choices. Young children need hands-on experiences and social interaction around content, she says. In math, for example, students grasp concepts better when they grapple with real-life problems and work with manipulatives.

Teachers must respect how young children learn best: through social interaction, Bredekamp says. “It shouldn't be chaos,” but children should be discussing their pursuits with peers. Research shows that children learn to solve problems better when they work in groups, she says. So while some whole-group instruction may be useful, teacher lecture should not be the rule of the day.

For the most part, teachers should avoid whole-group instruction, Katz agrees. When a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, “chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it; and the remaining third won't. So two-thirds of the children are wasting their time.” To learn a particular concept, “some children need days; some, ten minutes,” says Hughes—but the typical lockstep school schedule ignores this fundamental fact.

Because children learn idiosyncratically, teachers need to provide a range of learning opportunities, says Judy Zimmerman, principal of Indian Fields Elementary School in Dayton, N.J. If a teacher wants to teach that every sentence begins with a capital letter, for example, she could introduce that idea to the whole group, perhaps by pointing it out in a “big book.” Some children will immediately grasp the concept; others might recognize an individual capital letter; still others might miss the point entirely, Zimmerman says. Therefore, the teacher must continue to provide opportunities for pupils to learn the concept. “The teacher should constantly expose them to this [idea], and push them along.”

Teachers can help individualize instruction through small-group work and opportunities for children to do their own investigating, Katz says. “Children are born with a powerful natural impulse to investigate their environment. That's what we should be capitalizing on in the curriculum,” she asserts. For young children, investigation is a natural way of learning; they make hypotheses all the time. To capitalize on this inclination, educators should consider how to provide contexts for worthwhile investigations.

How, for example, could the teacher in the anecdote at the beginning of this article best help her pupil investigate whether the fish in the aquarium were actually drinking the water? According to NAEYC's Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children (the source of this example), the teacher should enable the child to test his hypothesis. She could say, “Oh, do you think that if we had another tank of water with no fish in it, the water level would stay the same? Let's try it and find out.” By responding in this way, the teacher engages the child's participation and challenges his thinking, the NAEYC document says.

One excellent way to encourage student investigations is through the project approach, Katz says. Children should study real phenomena in their environment through in-depth projects that combine all the disciplines, she advises.

Children in a small Vermont town, for example, investigated the question: “Who measures what in our town?” They studied the daily measurements of length, time, cost, distance, and so on, made by people throughout their community. The project lasted for weeks, and parents and businesses were involved. The children collected measurement devices and created an exhibit. “The kids got into it,” Katz reports.

Long-term projects help teachers nurture students' interest—which is not to be confused with excitement, Katz says. One mistake teachers make, she believes, is to confuse getting kids excited—“a short-term turn-on”—with engaging their interest: inducing them to “wrap their minds around” a topic for an extended period. Projects help children develop this ability, she says.

Using Themes

The traditional curriculum is fragmented, many experts complain. In too many classrooms, children study South America in the morning and Colonial America in the afternoon, making school studies a “giant Trivial Pursuit,” says Teresa Rosegrant, an associate professor of early childhood education at George Mason University and a former kindergarten teacher. The pieces don't fit together, especially for young children.

Teachers can avoid this pitfall by using a thematic approach, Rosegrant says. For example, a 1st grade class could study the five senses in language arts, science, math, and art. A thematic approach makes learning more coherent, Rosegrant says; it also makes the curriculum accessible to parents, who can reinforce learning at home. A young child is incapable of summarizing “what happened at school today” if learning is a confusing array of unrelated facts, she notes. But with a thematic approach, a young child could say, “We learned about the tongue, and we tasted salt, sugar, and spices.”

Kindergarten teacher Lynn Michelotti uses a thematic approach in her classroom at Todd Hall School. “We do a lot with pumpkins and apples in the fall,” she says, citing one example. Her pupils take a field trip to a pumpkin farm; then they observe pumpkins in science, weigh and measure pumpkins in math, read about how pumpkins grow, and learn to cook pumpkin pie.

Without a thematic approach, the curriculum may ask teachers to do some illogical things, Rosegrant says. As a kindergarten teacher, she was expected to teach about the moon, although teaching about the sun was reserved for 1st grade! (The district has since moved to a thematic approach, she says.)

Learning Centers

Many teachers of young children use learning centers to individualize instruction and to allow pupils some choice and control over their learning, experts say. “Learning centers are designed to give an experiential approach and to provide for student differences,” says early childhood expert Barbara Day of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who is a Past President of ASCD.

In his rural Virginia classroom, Burchfield provides many learning centers, including areas devoted to art, math and science, a library, a computer, blocks, and a stage. Allowing his students some choice yields several benefits. “I see them being able to persist in their work much longer,” he says. His pupils also strive for quality, feel a sense of ownership, and have a tremendous sense of pride. “They see value and meaning in their school experience,” Burchfield says.

Learning centers “allow for the broadest range of interactions,” says Hughes. Her own classroom featured 20 hands-on learning centers, which were run on student contracts. Some of the centers were set up for independent work; others, for pairs or small groups. Students could respond to the centers in a variety of ways: linguistic, visual, kinesthetic. Hughes taught her pupils how to move independently through the centers, giving them a chance to pace themselves. The centers placed “hundreds of materials within the reach of the children,” she says.

The Role of Academics

A common myth about developmentally appropriate practice, experts say, is that it is not academically rigorous—that it allows pupils to “do whatever they want.” Advocates are quick to refute this charge.

Developmentally appropriate practice is not unacademic, Elkind says; it's simply academic in a more appropriate way than traditional instruction. It encourages curiosity, not rote learning, and it creates a sounder base of knowledge that is more retainable.

The belief that developmentally appropriate practice lacks rigor is a misunderstanding, says Bredekamp. “The opposite is true. It can be more rigorous than a basic skills approach” because it is not limited to skills alone. Skills are infused and taught in context—through project work, for example.

Others, however, would prefer more emphasis on the direct teaching of skills.

Donna Siegel, an associate professor of education at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, is a stout supporter of teaching basic skills to young children, especially the disadvantaged. Children who aren't exposed to literacy at home need to be taught basic decoding, she believes. (Children from middle-class backgrounds fare better with less direct teaching because their parents teach them basics such as the alphabet, she says.) Siegel is concerned that an emphasis on allowing children to explore and discover may leave them unprepared academically. “It's hard to discover how to do math or how to read,” she says. “Some things you have to sit down and learn.”

Young children learn basic skills much faster through direct instruction or modeling than through exploration, Siegel says. Further, adults can teach academics to young children without harming their disposition to learn, she believes. The teacher should explain in a step-by-step fashion, help pupils along, and keep them trying. “I'm not talking about drill all the time,” she emphasizes. “You don't want to stress children out.”

If a child can read on entering 1st grade, he or she is more likely to have success all through school, Siegel says. “Reading is so critical to later school success; a little head start can only be beneficial.”

Bredekamp believes formal reading instruction, such as phonics drill, is not appropriate until 1st grade, and then only when needed. She too is concerned about disadvantaged children, but she diagnoses their needs differently. “The key is to have a program in which kids are getting numerous experiences with print, starting at age 3 probably,” she says. In particular, they should be read to constantly.

Too often, children who have not been exposed to literacy at home get only the alphabet and phonics at school, Bredekamp says. They are “drilled and killed on basic skills in isolation,” despite their lack of experiences on which to “hang” this learning. (Children who are exposed to literacy in many ways outside of school can better weather a decontextualized skills approach, she says.)

“In the past we taught language as though it was a jigsaw puzzle: hopefully, by magic, sometime the pieces would fit together,” Uphoff says. By taking this fractured approach, “we've taught a lot of kids to read but to not want to read.”

Challenge to the Teacher

Experts in early childhood education agree that teaching in a developmentally appropriate way is more demanding than traditional, lecture-driven teaching. It “requires more input, time, and energy,” says Elkind, because it demands more individualized instruction “geared to where kids are.”

“It's more challenging,” agrees Bredekamp, because it requires teachers to use their judgment. The traditional notion that “the curriculum rules” is being overturned. “There's no such thing as a teacher-proof developmentally appropriate curriculum,” she points out—a fact some teachers find hard to accept.

Rather than following a skills-based, lockstep approach, teachers must guide and support children through a broad range of strategies, so each child has “more than one pathway,” says Rosegrant. Teachers must be experimenters, willing to try different means to reach a child, sensitive to the fact that children respond differently to materials and strategies. “You can't think that there's a way” to teach a concept, but “many, many alternative ways,” she says.

Teaching in a developmentally appropriate way is “much more difficult,” says Feare. “Ego is part of it.” The teacher used to be the center of attention, the know-it-all, she says; now the teacher must act as a facilitator. Making this shift is difficult for some veteran teachers who are used to being the focal point. “You must have the disposition not to need to be the center of your own universe,” adds Hughes.

Elkind, however, cautions that we must allow a wide range of teaching styles, because some teachers are more at home with direct instruction. Often, this preference is a matter of temperament, he believes—not a reflection of training and habit. Some younger teachers prefer teaching in the traditional way, he notes.

“I don't think we've taken sufficient account of these personality factors,” Elkind says. “Some teachers just feel more comfortable with a traditional, structured classroom organization,” as opposed to giving children more choice. And some children need more structure. “It's wrong to say the traditional approach is wrong for everybody,” he asserts.

Given the challenging nature of developmentally appropriate teaching, it's not surprising that experts underscore the need for better teacher training.

“Generally, teachers are not well-prepared to do this,” Bredekamp says. “A lot of states don't even have an early childhood certificate.” Training is especially important, she says, in light of the fact that more knowledge is being generated all the time—about how children learn in small-group settings, for example.

Teachers “absolutely need training” in developmental appropriateness, says Hughes. “It just isn't happening at the college level.” Schools of education should spotlight the finest teachers of young children as master models, she proposes.

Child development needs to be seen as an integral part of education courses, says Shirle Moone Childs, director of curriculum and instruction for the Windham Public Schools in Willimantic, Conn., who heads ASCD's Early Childhood Education Network. “It's important that we make the connection” between child development courses and education courses, she says, noting that when she was in college, child development courses were considered part of Home Economics.

Better Assessment

Like curriculum and instruction, assessment practices should be developmentally appropriate, experts agree. Most recommend a move to “authentic” forms of assessment.

Compared to paper-and-pencil tests, portfolios and performance assessments give teachers “a much better read on what children really know,” says Feare. “You can see how the child is progressing—and not progressing.” These forms of assessment are “far more diagnostic.”

For many reasons, paper-and-pencil assessments of young children tend to be inaccurate, Elkind says. Children are not very good with symbols; they tend not to understand—or follow—instructions well; and their mood can greatly affect their performance. Fortunately, there are many observational ways to assess children, Elkind says. Their use of language is very revealing, for example. If they use the words “shorter” and “longer,” they have mastered the unit concept. Similarly, if they play games with rules, they have grasped syllogistic reasoning.

Teachers need to be close observers of young children, experts agree. With less direct instruction, “keeping track of what kids know becomes terribly important,” Bowman says. “The teacher must spend a good part of the day not talking,” but “watching and listening a lot,” adds Rosegrant.

Kindergarten teacher Michelotti says she devotes much of her time to observing and evaluating her pupils. “The teacher's a facilitator; the process is more important than the product,” she explains. “I'm trying to spend more time really watching kids and making more anecdotal records.”

Good ways to assess young pupils include observation, portfolios, and interviews, says Bredekamp. “We do far too much testing,” she says, to the degree that our teaching looks like testing: children sitting quietly, filling in blanks. Instead, she believes, the influence ought to flow in the opposite direction: assessment should resemble good instruction.

Portfolios and journals are more appropriate for young children, Uphoff says, because they “allow children to do more at their own rate of development.” Moreover, “the child is part of his own assessment; he can see his own progress.” Thus, the child gains the ability to self-evaluate: “It's not just `the great expert' evaluating you.”

Literacy portfolios are central to the program offered at Indian Fields Elementary School, says Principal Judy Zimmerman. Over the course of each child's K-2 school career, pieces of student work and other indicators are collected in the portfolio (see sidebar, p. 6). Teachers do not collect exactly the same information on every child (more is collected on children who appear to be having difficulties), but what is the same is standardized through a six-point scale.

The portfolios provide “a failsafe method for explaining to parents what we're doing,” Zimmerman says. The school's program is validated when parents see the progress their children are making in writing and spelling. As a public relations tool, the portfolios have been “a savior for us.”

But use of portfolios alone to assess what children know is not adequate, cautions Rosegrant. “You need more than the work itself,” she says. “You need the critical adult,” probing what understandings the child's work represents. “The issue here is to get closer to the process,” she asserts.

Teachers must avoid the “trap” of providing developmentally appropriate instruction yet asking children to show their learning on a written test, Hughes says. Instead, teachers must allow children to demonstrate their learning in a variety of modes. For example, after a science exploration on weather, children could show what they learned through writing, creating charts, or building a model. “It's the children's responsibility to choose a way to show the most they know,” she says—with the proviso that children also need to expand their repertoires.

“Assessment is the key to a developmentally appropriate program,” Hughes says. “It tells you how sophisticated [students'] connections are.” And, she adds, given the power of testing to drive other aspects of schooling, “if your assessment is not developmentally appropriate, nothing else you do will be.”

Relations with Parents

Developmentally appropriate teaching can sometimes be a hard sell with parents, many of whom find the break with tradition disturbing. “Most parents want workbooks and papers to put on the fridge; they understand these things,” says Uphoff of Wright State University. “Parents are anxious to help students at home,” Zimmerman adds, and they feel “insecure and frightened if they don't have worksheets to help them with.”

To give parents confidence in a developmentally appropriate program, educators need to spend time with them, helping them understand what they see in their children's work, Zimmerman says. “We have to help our parents put on a new set of eyes. It's very hard to do.” Teachers at her school communicate with parents frequently, Zimmerman says, explaining what children are learning about and describing what they'll bring home. They use Voice-mail and leave messages almost daily. For example, they tell parents, “Ask your child how we measured the perimeter of the classroom” or “Ask how they dug their garden and what they planted.” Individual conferencing with parents also helps allay concerns, as does inviting parents to observe or volunteer in the classroom.

“The communication is absolutely key,” Zimmerman emphasizes. Teachers need to be “clear, consistent, frequent communicators—and partners—with parents,” she says. And they must show parents, all along, that their children are learning more than they would in a more traditional program.

Teachers do a disservice by not communicating with parents at least weekly, Feare says. (Teachers at her school send home a newsletter.) If parents are kept informed, and their children are happy in school, parents are satisfied, she says.

“We've been highly successful in changing our model,” Feare says. “We've made changes in my school that people said couldn't be done”—including the elimination of workbooks, worksheets, and the spelling book. They won public support for the changes because “parents could see that kids were learning.”

Looming Obstacles

Despite the consensus among early childhood educators that developmentally appropriate practice is best for young children, obstacles loom between theory and practice.

To spread developmentally appropriate practice will be “an uphill fight,” says Bowman, primarily because it is expensive. “The cost factor has not been faced up to,” she says. “To get wonderful results, you have to invest in the program,” including improving teacher-to-pupil ratios and providing training for teachers.

Bredekamp also sees “a real challenge in terms of school financing” to provide smaller class sizes, more materials, and richer experiences—in a time of tighter budgets. “The challenge is to use budgets more wisely,” she believes. For example, rather than buying 30 desks, a school might purchase several tables and some hands-on materials.

For Rosegrant, the main obstacle lies in the lockstep curriculums from publishers, which meet the needs of so few children, yet are so expensive. Developmentally appropriate practice will never become widespread “as long as the curriculum comes in boxes,” she asserts. When teachers must meet the requirements of the curriculum, “there's so much to juggle, they drop concerns for individuals to plow through stuff.” To overcome this obstacle, teachers need time, far in advance of the school year, to plan, she believes.

Yet another obstacle, says Feare, is the tyranny of the expectations of the teacher at the next level, who might complain that incoming children were not well prepared. “The bashing has just got to stop,” she declares. At her school, 1st grade teachers have a new faith that the kindergarten teachers are “giving it their best shot,” she says. “Our philosophy is that we're not getting kids ready for the next grade; we're getting them ready for life.”

“It takes nerve and money” to move to developmentally appropriate practice, Feare adds. “You need to acquire all kinds of hands-on things.” But, she notes, these purchases are actually cost-effective in the long run: manipulatives last a long time, whereas workbooks are consumables.

Burchfield sees an obstacle in the mismatch between instruction and assessment. Teachers are being asked to change their instruction (to literature-based reading, for example) while assessment remains unchanged (most often, standardized tests). The lack of congruence has spawned a great fear among teachers that he finds justified. “We're running into some dangerous territory.”

People in power positions—administrators, school boards, superintendents—are still appealing to “the numbers” for accountability purposes, Burchfield says. Qualitative evidence of children's learning needs to be made understandable, he believes—although he wonders, “How do you take a portfolio and make it understandable to a school board, when you can't present it in an aggregate way?”

Looking to the Future

What do experts foresee for the movement toward developmentally appropriate practice?

Most are cautiously optimistic that the trend will continue, primarily because of the great number of complementary trends, such as the new process orientation in mathematics and the widespread interest in integrated curriculum and whole language. Bredekamp is heartened by the congruence she sees among these trends, but she also fears that the impetus toward national standards could mow down any progress if it perverts the curriculum to a reductive skills-based approach.

“I am optimistic,” says Burchfield of the prospects for developmentally appropriate practice. But he emphasizes that those in leadership positions, including principals and central office staff, need to be involved in training and discussions about the concept. Like teachers, “they must be given a lens to see what good practice can look like.”


Assess Your Curriculum


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends that educators reviewing a curriculum for young children consider these questions, among others:

Does the curriculum

  • promote interactive learning and encourage the child's construction of knowledge?
  • encourage active learning and allow children to make meaningful choices?
  • foster children's exploration and inquiry, rather than focusing on “right” answers or “right” ways to complete a task?
  • lead to conceptual understanding by helping children construct their own understanding in meaningful contexts?
  • embody expectations that are realistic and attainable at this time, or could the children more easily and efficiently acquire the knowledge or skills later on?
  • encourage development of positive feelings and dispositions toward learning while leading to acquisition of knowledge and skills?
  • help achieve social, emotional, physical, and cognitive goals and promote democratic values?
  • promote and encourage social interaction among children and adults?

Condensed from NAEYC's Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children, Vol. I (see Resources).





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