Impact of the Developmental Appropriateness of Teacher Guidance Strategies on Kindergarten Children's Interpersonal Relations

Article excerpt

Abstract. This initial study explored the social behaviors of kindergarten children in two classrooms (one developmentally appropriate, one developmentally inappropriate) where the teacher used either positive or negative guidance strategies. Six pairs of kindergartners-three dyads (boy-boy, girl-girl, boy-girl) from a classroom in which the teacher used positive guidance strategies and three from a classroom where the teacher used negative guidance strategies-were observed while playing in a researcher-designed play center. Observations over a three-month period revealed an increase in positive social behaviors among children from the positive guidance classroom and a decrease in positive social behaviors among children from the negative guidance classroom. Implications are discussed.

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Student accountability is a critical issue in contemporary American education. Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (2002), schools, teachers, and, ultimately, children, have faced increased scrutiny and pressure to provide evidence of academic achievement (McDaniel, Isaac, Brooks, & Hatch, 2005). The idea that the more children learn at younger ages the more success they will have in school has resulted in increased direct teaching and standardized testing in programs for young children (Blaustein, 2005). But, academics are not the only things learned in school. All schools, whether they intend to or not, influence children's social and moral development. DeVries and Zan (1994) assert that schools are not value-free or value-neutral and that non-academic inputs, such as discipline techniques, expectations, and classroom control mechanisms, bear strongly upon children's development. It can be argued that the hidden curriculum may influence child outcomes as much as what is deliberately taught. One important consideration is how school experiences shape children's sociomoral development.

The ability of a child to negotiate social relationships has been related to a wide range of outcomes. The importance of children gaining relationship-oriented competencies is highlighted by studies suggesting that such long-term problems as delinquency, school drop-out, and psychological disturbances accompany unsuccessful childhood social relationships (Ladd, Buhs, & Troop, 2002). Conversely, the ability to form positive social relationships has been described as a significant skill enabling a child to do better in school and, therefore, life (Pianta, 1999). Although researchers have documented the influence of parenting upon children's peer relations (see Hart, Newell, & Olsen, 2003 for a review), today's children are spending increased time away from their parents in school or early care settings. Data provided by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2005) indicates that in 2003, 64 percent of mothers with children under 6 years old were in the labor force. From the earliest years, many children are spending a majority of their days under the care and influence of adults other than their parents. NAEYC also reports that 43 states are now funding pre-kindergarten programs. The reality is that the experience of attending school or other early care and education programs is having an impact upon children at earlier ages. The potential implications of this increased exposure warrant an examination of the many opportunities that early care and education programs have to affect children's sociomoral development.

In addition to learning to read and write, learning to relate to others is a worthy educational goal. Those in the field of early childhood education have argued in favor of practices that emphasize social relationships within classrooms. Dewey envisioned that the classroom atmosphere could bring about a fuller realization of democratic ideals (Parke, Ornstein, Rieser, & Zahn-Waxler, 1994). Piaget (1932/1965) recognized the value of interpersonal relationships as a context for the construction of moral thought and as critical to an understanding of early education. …