Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Learning, Progression and Development Principles for Pedagogy and Curriculum Design

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Learning, Progression and Development Principles for Pedagogy and Curriculum Design

Article excerpt


This paper contrasts frameworks for pedagogy and curriculum design that have emerged from traditional theories with those arising from recent research evidence. Importantly, with the development of brain imaging technology and other neuro-scientific advances, many theoretical hypotheses--including the important role of early experience in development--are being confirmed. Evidence is converging from a number of different scientific fields that enables a more certain account of early learning and development to inform policy and practice. The key finding from this wide range of evidence is the significance of early experiences in contributing to the architecture of the brain (Brandsford, Brown & Cocking, 1999). Development is clearly not only the unfolding of pre-programmed patterns. Rather, experience actually modifies the structure of the brain and the complexities of the linkages necessary for later learning.

Some early theorists may have indicated that, within the early childhood profession, views of learning and development included notions suggesting that young children have limited knowledge and abilities, but with age (maturation) and experience (of any kind) they become increasingly competent. However, substantial evidence of the remarkable abilities young children do possess now stands in contrast to this older emphasis on what they lacked. It is now known that very young children are competent active agents of their own development (Gelman & Brown, 1986). This view challenges the notion of `readiness', and challenges the view of `waiting' for children to show interest in (for instance) literacy or numeracy, before engaging them in appropriate activities. It is now understood that there is a corresponding relationship between experience in a complex environment and structural change in the brain. The following points summarise these contemporary views, giving early childhood professionals the opportunity to refocus their endeavours.

* Development is an active process that derives essential information from experience.

* Learning changes the physical structure of the brain and organises and reorganises the linkages within the brain.

* These physical changes give rise to structural changes that alter the functional organisation of the brain.

* Different parts of the brain will be critical for specific learning at different times.

* Some experiences have the most powerful effects during sensitive periods, while others can affect the brain over a much longer period.

There is a set of principles that underpins learning, development, and progression for all children. This is not to suggest that all children follow the same developmental pathway (Clay, 1998). The research of Hill and colleagues (1998) highlights how the children in their study demonstrated greater within-group differences than between, indicating the diversity of developmental pathways among young children. Because of this, the mismatch between an externally imposed curriculum and what individual children can do is not overcome by gathering together information from research reports leading to some averaged description of sequences of acquisition. Such research-based sequences are in danger of driving the expectations of teachers while individual children are working their way forward through a variety of avenues.

In this respect, equity is not served by making equal provision for unequals. A clear understanding of the principles for learning and how best to implement them effectively in a variety of settings is required. These principles include: first, respecting what children already know, and using it as the basis for acquiring new knowledge; second, taking account of the transformations which take place as a result of learning and experience; and third, distinguishing between concepts essential to, for example, literacy and numeracy development, and contexts within which literacy and numeracy are embedded, while clearly articulating the links between the two. …

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