Planning Meaningful Curriculum: A Mini Story of Children and Teachers Learning Together

By Hughes, Eileen | Childhood Education, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Planning Meaningful Curriculum: A Mini Story of Children and Teachers Learning Together


Hughes, Eileen, Childhood Education


The constructivist approach to education espouses the belief that children are capable learners with many questions, ideas, feelings, and theories about their world (Cadwell, 1997; Cadwell & Fyfe, 1996; Chaille & Britain, 1997; Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1999). Consistent with the constructivist perspective is the view that teachers and young children are "co-learners" in the classroom who benefit from learning experiences that offer: 1) connections to their prior knowledge, 2) opportunities for observation, 3) opportunities to construct questions and hypotheses, and 4) time to revisit ideas and to reflect on their actions. This environment encourages children to work and learn together by asking questions, developing theories, planning investigations, and reflecting on actions. As children collaborate they share their ideas or theories, and exchange points of view. Thus, constructivist classrooms encourage active, shared learning experiences that lead to the co-construction of knowledge (Berk & Winsler, 1995).

For both children and teachers, observation plays a critical role in the development of a meaningful curriculum. Careful study of children's classroom behavior provides teachers with the information to plan connected learning experiences that build on children's interests and allow for continued inquiry, thus sustaining children's active engagement. In the process, teachers become "researchers" with children. Teachers may record their observations using photographs, videotapes, audiotapes, or written notes. Such documentation can be used when teachers collaborate to study aspects of the children's actions. Using the information collected, teachers can generate questions, formulate hypotheses, and propose next steps for their curriculum.

As children learn to hone their observation skills, they will construct a broader range of questions and theories. Observation encourages both teachers and children to slow down and direct their attention to, and reflect on, their actions. By adding depth to their observations, young children can become critical thinkers and learn to appreciate multiple perspectives.

The following article describes how practicum students, university faculty, and preschool children at one school used their observations to create connected learning experiences. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1999; Hendrick, 1996), the practicum instructor and university students used observation and documentation to plan curriculum. The teachers recorded their observations of children using videotapes, audiotapes, photographs, and written notes, paying particular attention to the children's use of drawing. The children studied their natural world and shared their ideas through conversations with others.

Tools for Observation

The children in Ms. Carl's preschool class were observing changes to the outdoor environment in their neighborhood. During the Alaskan summer months, flowers, shrubs, and trees grow rapidly. Ms. Carl introduced the children in her class to the signs of summer as they walked to the park, noting the variety of flowers and plant life. Practicum students from the local college, who were placed in Ms. Carl's class to learn about planning meaningful learning experiences, helped plan curriculum that evolved from the questions or ideas expressed by the children as they observed the world outdoors.

The practicum students recorded the children's actions and words, and introduced the children to several observation tools, such as cameras, camcorders, a light table, and drawing tools. These observation tools enabled the children to record their interests and obtain documentation to use as referents. Recordings (audiotapes, videotapes) of children's dialogue with each other and the adults served as another observation tool for documentation. During conversations, the children would pause to think about, or revisit, their ideas. …

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