Schoolwork Problems and Discipline (page 2)
Intellectual development stages determine what kinds of materials and activities best help children learn. If you don’t match the experiences and materials to the children, you are sure to have behavior problems as well as academic problems. Piaget’s (1960) work explains the importance of young children having real experiences with real materials to construct their knowledge about the world. The term concrete is often used to describe the type of materials children need for productive explorations. They include the water in the water table, the hammer and nails in the woodworking center, and the blocks in the block center.
Some teachers present letters, numbers, and other symbols to children who cannot yet make sense of them. This developmentally inappropriate instruction can create discipline problems. When children are not capable of doing what they are asked to do, they are likely to behave in ways adults dislike. Certainly they are not likely to complete the work on schedule. Often youngsters who are frustrated and discouraged by school tasks that are beyond them are then punished for not doing the work. It is common to see these children sitting dejectedly at their desks during recess, staring helplessly at a worksheet. Is it any wonder that they are tempted to be less than cooperative or even to lash out in anger?
Some people get confused and think that plastic magnet letters or wooden letters that fit into puzzles are concrete. These letters can be touched and moved around, but they are still only representational symbols. Some representational materials are more easily recognized than letters or numbers are. For instance, a doll is more recognizable as a symbol for a baby than are the letters in the word baby. Pictures of real things are not concrete either, but they may be useful symbolic representations.
Sometimes teachers are striving for developmentally appropriate education but don’t realize that their teaching materials are not concrete. Not everything that a child can touch and manipulate is concrete. Clocks and quarters are examples of apparently concrete materials that are actually representational rather than concrete. Young children can’t construct knowledge of time or money through manipulation or observation of clocks or coins. No wonder lessons in telling time and making change are such difficult activities for young children. They involve both symbolic representation and arbitrary social knowledge. As such, they cannot be learned through an exploration of materials.
Teachers who understand how young children learn have fewer problems with child behavior because they provide age-appropriate learning activities and materials for children. They provide many real-life experiences and choices. A classroom that provides choices for children allows them to decide for themselves what type of materials and activities make sense. Mrs. Jensen’s first grade has a wide assortment of concrete and representational materials accessible on open shelves for children to make selections. Miss Wheeler next door keeps everything but the worksheets in closed cupboards and rarely brings out anything else. She doesn’t realize that the worksheets are entirely representational and meaningless to many of the children in her classroom.
Dylan was in Mrs. Jensen’s room, and his identical twin brother, Devon, was in Miss Wheeler’s class. Devon tried to pretend he was Dylan so he could get into the room with all the interesting things, but he was sent back. Dylan was having a happy and productive year while Devon was in trouble constantly. One day Devon took matters into his own hands and got out an armload of special things from the teacher’s cupboard, placing them enticingly on the tables as he had seen them in Mrs. Jensen’s room. Now his room was a nice place to be, just like his brother’s. But Miss Wheeler didn’t appreciate his efforts. She was upset that he would dare to get into the cupboard without permission. How sad that she missed the important message Devon was sending about his learning needs.
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