Contrasting Curriculums: Approaches to Learning (page 3)
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.
The Developmental-Interaction approach focuses on the whole child, both the cognitive and the emotional parts. It recognizes the complexity of the child's development and interactions with the environment (Goffin and Wislon, 2001). Children choose their own activities and what they want to learn. Teachers act as facilitators and provide a safe and stimulating environment for them, responding to individual needs. Creative self-expression and growth through play are valued. Children's self-confidence and emotional, social, and intellectual development are stressed.
This approach has been influenced by the teachings of Freud, Erikson, and cognitive developmental psychologists such as Piaget, all of whom believe in a stage theory of development. Educational theorists and practitioners such as John Dewey also contributed to this approach (Goffin and Wilson, 2001). The word model is avoided because the approach is never static, but open to change. The Bank Street School for Children reflects this approach. Other slight variations are the Tucson Early Educational Model and Nimnicht's Responsive Program.
The Montessori program, based on children's individual self-paced interaction with specially designed materials, is considered child-directed. However, it does have more teacher control than most child-initiated programs. It is based on Marie Montessori's philosophy of respect for children as individuals who must educate themselves rather than adults giving them their ideas. Yet, the materials that children choose are to be used in a specific way and in order of difficulty. Montessori believed that the prepared environment with an emphasis on freedom provided a setting where children could respond to their inner forces without being stifled (Montessori, 1917/1965).
Comparison of Programs
Schweinhart (1997) believes that recent research suggests that preschool programs based on child-initiated learning activities contribute to children's short- and long-term academic and social development, while those based on teacher-directed lessons produce a short-term advantage in children's academic development but sacrifice the long-term contribution to their social and emotional development.
Findings from the High-Scope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1997), the Louisville Head Start (Miller and Bizzell, 1983), and the University of Illinois Study (Karnes, Schwede!, and Williams, 1983), include outcomes for the different approaches to curriculum. Each of these studies includes programs with direct-instruction models and child-initiated models with minimum to moderate teacher direction. The High-Scope programs have more teacher input than do the nursery school models.
These studies suggest that preschool programs based on a child-initiated approach with some teacher directions facilitate children's short- and long-term academic and social development whereas programs based on teacher-directed activities show short-term but not long-term academic advantages and fewer emotional or social developmental gains. Other researchers see a cultural influence. For example, some African American and Asian American children appear to learn better in a direct instruction approach to teaching (Delpit, 1995). Perhaps the key to success is not the instructional approach but the commitment of the teacher to a program with clearly defined educational goals and parents who support the program.
The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education
Observation, Documentation, Community Involvement, and the Environment as a Teacher
The infant-toddler centers and preprimary schools of Reggio Emilia began almost fifty years ago in Italy. The philosophy, teaching methods, and the interests and needs of the children, parents, and the community provide the framework for a program that is always sensitive to current conditions. Teachers are keen observers of the children and involved with parents and the community in exploring the possibilities for new and exciting learning experiences for their children. Children are viewed as having limitless possibilities. The environment is seen as a teacher. The Reggio Emilia philosophy cannot be put in a box with other curriculums. It is not a model and cannot be replicated in a different environment. However, the Reggio Emilia approach to learning and the role of the child, teacher, and community in this process can be adapted to each individual setting (Goffin and Wilson, 2001).
Reggio Emilia schools are part of the public system in the community of Reggio Emilia. They support the child's right to grow and learn in a favorable environment surrounded by caring, professional adults. In addition, their schools support the social needs of families and are an integral part the community (Gandini, 1997).
Interest in the Reggio approach to early childhood education continues to grow in the United States. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has a Reggio Emilia track at their annual conferences. In addition, there are newsletters, publications, conferences, and a quarterly journal, Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange.
© ______ 2004, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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