I was first introduced to Child Development Theories while completing my degree in social work when I was in my 20's. I enjoyed re-learning this history during my completion of my Education Degree, and this time, it was directly relevant to my own experiences of watching my children grow. I find that learning the history and appreciating the theoretical lens through which to view the children I am working with is invaluable in my practice. I have summarized the 6 theorists that I feel are the most influential to my practice today. I've also included a fun youtube parody song: Epic Rap Battles of Psychology! Vygotsky VS Piaget!
Zone of Proximal Development: The range of skills that are a bit more difficult than what a student can do independently.
Scaffolding: Changing the level of support to meet the ability of the child.
Discussion: How do you decide the level at which to instruct your students? Vygotsky says to determine their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This means the skills that are just a little bit beyond their reach. When you are working with a small reading group, don’t pick books that kids can read perfectly. Pick ones that are just a little bit challenging, that students will need some support to read. Eventually a student’s ZPD bumps up higher because they have mastered the skills you were supporting them with.
Scaffolding is not a term that Vygotsky actually used but it’s a concept that developed based on his work. When you scaffold a student, you give them support to complete a task that they can’t quite do on their own. For example, at first, students need to be walked through every step of long division. Gradually the scaffolding can be reduced. Maybe they just need a couple of reminders at tricky spots. Eventually the scaffolding can be removed because the student can complete the task on their own.
Schema: The things a child already knows. Students connect new knowledge to an existing schema. Constructivism: Students learn by doing, rather than by being told.
Discussion: Piaget was a constructivist which means he believed that kids learn by manipulating, modifying, and otherwise working with concepts. They construct their own learning rather than just being told something. Piaget worked with the idea that the things people know are organized into schemas. When a child learns something new, they either assimilate it into an existing schema, change their schema, or develop a new schema. Do you activate background knowledge before a lesson? You’re helping students tap into their existing schema!
Behaviourism: Positive reinforcement (praise, rewards, etc.) strengthens behaviour or increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated. Negative reinforcement (punishment) pushes a child away from a a behavior.
Discussion: Teachers demonstrate this as a class management tool. When surveying an unruly class, they can say, “Wow, I love how Jesse is standing with his hands to his side and his voice turned off.” As the teacher positively reinforces this behavior with praise, other students will jump on board, too. This is the heart of behaviorism. It’s the idea that praise and rewards positively reinforce a behavior and encourage kids to continue with it. Punishments discourage students from a behavior. Beyond following rules, there are learning actions we can reinforce. If you display quality student work, praise students for using strategies, let students publish on cool paper when they have their writing perfect, etc. you are using behaviorism to guide students toward the behaviors and actions of successful adults.
Spiral Curriculum: Children can tackle challenging topics in age appropriate ways. These topics can be revisited and expanded upon year after year.
Discussion: If you have decent curriculum to use, you’ve probably seen Bruner’s idea of spiral curriculum at work. Elementary students can’t design roads and bridges but they can begin to learn about the physics of how the slope of a ramp affects the speed of a ball rolling down that ramp. Each year they can revisit and build on their previous learning.
Blooms Taxonomy: A hierarchy of learning objectives starting with knowledge and growing in complexity to evaluation.
Discussion: You may have heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s a hierarchy of intellectual behaviors. The lowest level is remembering facts. The highest level is using your knowledge to create something new. One way to increase rigor in our classes is to make sure we’re involving our students in higher order thinking activities at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, not just in memorizing facts.
Multiple Intelligences: Humans have several ways of processing information (musical, visual, verbal, logical, etc.)
Discussion: Gardner found that people have more than one way of processing information and that a typical IQ score doesn’t completely measure intelligence. He created the theory of Multiple Intelligences. In the classroom we can engage multiple intelligences by singing educational songs, allowing students to work through concepts verbally, through art, through writing, with partners, and through movement.
Karina Strong is currently a full time Education student at VIU in the Post Bac program. Her undergraduate degree is in Social Work and Small Business Management. She is a professional Circus performer and owner of Vesta Entertainment, a multifaceted entertainment company on Vancouver Island.