Academic journal article Childhood Education

Beyond Early Childhood: Restructuring Efforts at the Middle Level

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Beyond Early Childhood: Restructuring Efforts at the Middle Level

Article excerpt

A debate now rages in the U.S. that focuses on the curriculum, instruction and environment of elementary and middle schools. The two sides seek similar results, but oppose each other in terms of how to reach the goals. One group embraces a developmentally appropriate, child-centered approach, while the other group espouses an academic subject-centered approach. Most education reform today is moving in the direction of the developmentally appropriate, child-centered approach. Developmental child-centered programs for children 5 through 8 years old differ significantly from the traditional K-2 system (Barbour & Seefeldt, 1993; Slade, 1994).

Middle school educators can learn from early childhood educators, particularly in such areas as developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), comprehensive literacy, continuous progress, alternative assessments and multiage classrooms. Middle school classroom teachers should build upon early childhood practices and, in the process, consider three basic questions as they form their reform agenda:

* What should a developmentally appropriate classroom be like?

* What can be done to increase the odds of success for restructuring changes?

* Why does the retrenchment phenomenon occur?

What Should a Developmentally Appropriate Classroom Be Like?

As a young adolescent progresses through developmentally appropriate classrooms, a different type of learner emerges. This learner is intrinsically motivated, and takes an interest in the learning process, evaluation methods and selection of learning materials. Students will grow at individual rates along a curriculum continuum (Goodlad & Anderson, 1987).

DAP proponents believe that youngsters reach developmental milestones within a time frame that is consistent with those of similar ages (British Columbia Province Ministry of Education and Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Human Rights, 1993). DAP teachers understand cognitive, affective and psychomotor characteristics and the importance of having learning and behavior expectations for individual learners. Once they recognize individual students' respective development, teachers can meet students' current needs and expand their learning opportunities.

There are several characteristics of a model DAP classroom. First, theme-based, multi-level and integrated units are aligned with an approved, developmentally appropriate curriculum. To meet curricular objectives, learners can be organized into flexible non-graded, multiaged groups. Curricular activities may include large-group activities, small-group activities, self-selected activities and conceptual student projects.

Second, middle school educators should develop students' abilities to direct learning, while fostering their critical thinking capacity (Charney, 1992). Developmentally appropriate activities should reflect an experiential emphasis and begin the transition from concrete to symbolic representations. Educators can assess cognitive levels to determine whether students need concrete or abstract learning activities, avoiding learning activities that are either too difficult or too easy.

Third, middle school educators should use a variety of authentic and alternative assessment tools to monitor student progress (e.g., learning contracts, checklists, teacher observations, teacher-made tests and portfolios). As students increasingly accept responsibility for their own learning, they will be able to use self-assessment as another tool for continued growth.

Four characteristics of developmentally appropriate practices are: 1) age appropriateness, which allows teachers to plan, deliver and assess learning activities; 2) individual appropriateness, which provides the teacher with information necessary to create learning opportunities; 3) meaningful learning experiences, which allow learners to actively learn by participating in real-life situations; and 4) an environment in which responsible learners invest in their own learning, and that encourages growth in all developmental domains (Griffin Center for Human Development, 1993b). …

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