Contrasting Curriculums: Approaches to Learning
Not only are there a variety of centers for early education and care but the proograms in these centers vary according to their beliefs about how children learn best. A model is a framework for content, teaching methods, and evaluation. Different models or programs can be grouped according to the roles given to the teacher and to the child in the learning process. The teacher's role may be that of an initiator who plans and directs the curriculum. The child's role would then be that of a receiver who responds to the teacher's directions and information. In another model, these roles are reversed. The child is the initiator, picking up cues from the environment with the teacher responding, taking cues from the child. Another group of programs represents an interactive approach in which both the teacher and child share, to varying degrees, the initiator role. Each of these approaches has a number of variations. In addition, some curriculum models are designed to improve the overall quality and predictability of early education and care for mainstream programs and other models are designed to improve early education and care for children from low-income families.
Teachers plan programs for children using the principles of behaviorism and Skinner's doctrine (Skinner, 1957). Children learn from observations and tend to repeat tasks that are reinforced. Children learn or respond to the values and information from adults. These programs have been criticized for a lack of creativity and for a negative effect on children for incorrect answers. The researchers have partially corrected for children's mistakes by teaching the correct responses in a program before the children need the information, reducing errors to approximately 10 to 15 percent. Bereiter and Engelmann developed the DISTAR model at the University of Illinois (1966). This curriculum was designed especially for low-income preschoolers and is found in academic preschools.
Child- Teacher-Initiated Approaches
This open framework encourages both the child and adult to initiate activities that use play as a vehicle for learning. Children learn through direct contact with their environment. They are encouraged to question what is happening and to solve problems. Rather than telling the child that what she or he said about something is wrong, the child might be asked, "What makes you think that?" Often this approach is referred to as cognitive developmental, based on Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Two early models emerged based on Piaget's theory, the Kamii-DeVries approach and the High-Scope Curriculum. Both Kamaii and DeVries studied under Jean Piaget and colleagues at the University of Geneva in 1966 to 1967. The Kamii-DeVries approach relied solely on Piaget's ideas in the beginning whereas the High Scope Curriculum also incorporated the ideas of nonPiagetians (Goffin and Wilson, 2001).
The High-Scope Curriculum was developed by David Weikart and his colleagues, working in Ypsilanti, MI. Their preschool curriculum emerged in 1962 and the K-3 curriculum in 1978, with the hope of alleviating the academic disadvantages of some of Ypsilanti's children (Goffin and Wilson, 2001). This model not only encourages creativity, decision-making skills, and taking responsibility for one's problems, but also lays the foundation for moral development. Other examples of the teacher-initiated approach are the British Infant and Primary Schools and Susan Gray's Demonstration and Research Center for Early Education, known as DARCEE.
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