Paying Attention to Child Development: Are We Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath?

In the desire to standardize academic expectations through the Common Core academic standards,  to increase rigor and content knowledge, and to leave no child behind, signs are increasing that we may be leaving childhood behind.

Over the course of this past school year, I had the opportunity to help pilot a one-day workshop for the Responsive Classroom® folks called “Child Development Matters”  and to offer two advertised sessions, one in the Boston area and one in the Washington, DC, area. I also conducted this workshop for a sponsored session of public and private school educators in coastal Maine and for an individual school district in northern Maine. Responsive Classroom will be offering this workshop beginning this coming school year; sessions will be led by their consulting teachers. I will also be conducting a limited number of these workshops in the coming year. (For further information, you can contact Allison Henry, manager of school service contracts for Responsive Classroom, at 800-360-6332, extension 143.)

Teachers are experiencing and holding so much tension between what they believe children need and the material they must cover at each grade level.

What struck me most at each of these workshops was the tension teachers are experiencing and holding regarding, on the one hand, their inherent beliefs about what is reasonable to expect from children at different ages and grade levels based on their professional experience and, on the other hand, what they are being told they must now cover at each grade level over the course of an academic year.

The concept that in addition to Common Core academic standards there are equally salient common core developmental stages that children experience in their physical, social-emotional, and cognitive growth is largely absent from conversations in professional learning communities, where data teams dissect academic progress at grade level.

The idea that growth and development is uneven, does not occur at the same rate for all children, and is influenced heavily by culture, context, and character does not mesh with a one-size fits all, increasingly competitive educational culture.

In each workshop, teachers felt and expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to remember what had brought them into the teaching profession in the first place, and to realize what could be sapping their spirit and energy and connection with children more each day. They were able to see that by using strategies that pay attention to both development and standards, a more rational and balanced approach to daily instruction and sustained learning can be attained.

In our schools, curiosity, playfulness, wonder, and imagination must not be thrown out in favor of isolated skills, factual knowledge, and recall of information. A balanced approach to learning is needed to keep us on our toes and from absentmindedly tossing away any more childhoods.



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  1. chip says:

    Katheryne – It is hard to replicate a day-long workshop here, but I want to give you the overview of what we are hoping teachers will think about as they begin Common Core Standards instruction. Our basic belief and pedagogy is that knowing the children we teach is as important as knowing the content we teach, including the content and curriculum designed to meet the Common Core Standards. There are three ways we can know the children in any classroom: individually, culturally and developmentally. By developmentally we mean the normative growth patterns evident at a given age physically, social and emotionally and cognitively. These are detailed in my book Yardsticks and also now as part of the Grade Level Series found in the Responsive Classroom on-line bookstore. By utilizing the Birthday Cluster exercise in Yardsticks (Appendix A) teachers can adjust such variables as room arrangement, time schedules, transitions, length of lessons, homework assignments, etc. to meet the needs of the majority of kids in a classroom. While the standards are locked in place according to grade level, our students are not. We must adjust how we teach what we are required to cover in ways that will make it possible for students to meet standards most successfully. Such an approach is not a guaranteed solution, but without such time and space differentiation there will be fewer students meeting the standards at any grade level.

  2. katheryne Frank says:

    I was unable to attend the workshops referenced above but I am intriguied by the comments re the strategies that address the developmental stages and the standards and would like to know more about them.

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