Monday, June 17, 2013

EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULUM

Infant, toddlers and young children are a very difficult lot of learners to assess due correctly since they have a very high level of distractibility and therefore very short attention spans. In addition to this, children at these stages tend to engage in a lot of activity and are vary mistrustful of strangers (McCauley, n.d, p. 1). All these factors-when combined- tend to bring about an inconsistent performance by young children particularly when exposed to unfamiliar environments. There are a number of other factors in the young children’s environments that may also impede any effort to assess the children. These include the children’s backgrounds, interaction with peers and parent involvement in the educational processes of their children. The socio-cultural theory in education is formulated with the main objective of describing the manner in which the cognitive and mental functioning of the learners is impacted by the historical, cultural and social environments in which they exist. This paper aims at using Te Whariki, the New Zealand Curriculum as well as the theories and concepts in education to examine the benefits and challenges of using socio-cultural assessment to support effective learning for infants, toddlers and young children. A range of teaching strategies that can be used to support children's learning of mathematics, science and technology will also be discussed before a summative conclusion of the essay is drafted followed by an alphabetical bibliography of the references quoted in the essay. Schurr (2009, p. 2) claims that the introduction of Te Whariki in New Zealand’s early childhood education transformed the education of children such that it is currently perceived from a socio-cultural perspective. With the transformations in the system of education, it was necessary that a new format of assessment be formulated to evaluate the young children’s learning processes. According to Pae (n.d, p. 2) the principles of Te Whariki describe in detail the socio-cultural perspective of assessment of young children. This approach is mostly accredited to Urie Brofenbrenner who came up with the ecological-contextual model in 1979 in order to describe human development. This model tends to emphasize the importance of interrelations between the children and their families and communities. According to Pae (n.d, p. 2) the most important aspect of socio-cultural assessment is that it should acknowledge that one of the features of a learning community is regular evaluations of the content learnt and that such assessment will impact upon the manner in which children engage in learning. Ritter (10095) purports that a socio-cultural approach to assessment must be characterized by a number of practices. Firstly, this form of assessment must include the perspectives and opinions of the young children as much as possible. The socio-cultural assessment process must also appreciate the fact that assessments have a propensity to impact upon the young children’s perceptions of themselves as learners. In addition to this, the assessors must be able to come up with an assessment structure that considers the cultural and social circumstances of the children being tested. The Te Whariki is founded upon a socio-cultural process of teaching and learning. One of the major aspects of this system of education is consideration for the “aspirations of the children” (Schurr, 2009, p. 4). This implies that the education given to children must be able to equip them with the competence and confidence that they require to develop a sense of belonging and contribute positively to their society. Te Whariki in New Zealand is thus described as “assessment for learning” which is learner based and intended for documentation of everything that the young children have learnt. There are several benefits of the socio-cultural form of assessment. Firstly, the socio-cultural form of assessment makes sure that the identity of the young children as learners who are not only competent but also self assured is safeguarded and increased by the evaluation processes that they are exposed to. This is referred to as empowerment or Whakamana in Te Whariki education system that is utilized in New Zealand. In addition to this, the socio-cultural format of young children assessment ensures that the young learners are considered holistically and their entire developmental process is put into consideration as stipulated in Te Whariki’s Kotahitanga. This form of infant, toddler and young children evaluation is also beneficial since it ensure that the children’s family and community members participate in educational processes of their children as indicated in Te Whariki’s Whanau Tangata. More over, socio-cultural assessment of young children puts into consideration the different associations that young children form with others in their social and cultural surroundings (Nga Hononga). Socio-cultural assessment enables educators to comprehend the manner in which children react when confronted with challenges or transformations in their surroundings. According to Gibbs and Teti (1990, p. 77) socio-cultural perspective of learning and assessment is very advantageous due to the fact that it enhances the social associations that young children have with others that are more informed; this enables the young children to increase their knowledge. Socio-cultural assessment is also very important in the Te Whariki educational system of New Zealand due to the fact that it enhances the identification of cultural identities and diversity and allows the assessors and children alike to gain insight into their own cultures and those of other. There are a number of challenges that the socio-cultural perspective of assessing young children is confronted with. In the last couple of years, it was presupposed that the assessment of infants, toddlers and young children was too much and mostly very inappropriate. Consequently, assessors of young children are vested with the responsibility of ensuring that assessment of such children is indeed beneficial to young children and that it can be carried out without any form of abuse to the children (Shepard, 1994, p. 1). One of the major challenges that assessors are confronted with in their use of the socio-cultural framework of assessment is ensuring equity in education. This is indicated when assessors have to evaluate the readiness of the young children to learn. It is noteworthy that the readiness of a child to learn is greatly influenced by their past opportunities and exposures to learning. Consequently, socio-cultural assessment in this case will lead to a disproportionate number of young children from minority and low socio-economic backgrounds being identified as “unready” to learn and therefore being shut out of the learning process (Shepard, 1994, p. 3). Young children from unprivileged socio-cultural environments are thus sent back home and denied the learning opportunity that they need most to transform their realities. Those from minority groups that are allowed into school have to spent extra time- sometimes as long as one year- in the kindergarten before they can proceed to the next grade. This causes the young children to suffer from disproportionate stigma as well as the adverse effects of retention (Shepard, 1994, p. 3). Starkey and Klein (2007, p. 253) claim that there are a range of teaching strategies that can be used to support children's learning of mathematics, science and technology. For a very long time in history it was believed that young children lack any form of mathematical knowledge before they join elementary schools learning theorists were convinced that young children in elementary schools were empty slates since no formal teaching of mathematics, science and technology took place at home. Theorists such as Piaget, in his Cognitive Development Theory, further argued that children could only engage in substantial and concrete educational processes from the ages of 6-7 years. Starkey and Klein (2007, p. 254) claim that in order to disapprove these theorists, investigative studies were conducted by researchers making use of concrete objects so as to investigate the progress of mathematical and science knowledge in young children; these researches were very successful in identifying mathematical competence in infants, toddlers and young children. Starkey and Klein (2007, p. 257) point out that that the theory by Vyotsky investigated the influence of cultural factors such as schooling and economic occupation on the mathematical knowledge of infants, toddlers and young children. One of the first strategies that teachers should apply in teaching mathematics, science and technology to young children is that they should ensure that they young children are actively engaged in the learning process. Educators can achieve this by presenting the children with questions on nature or any other phenomena in the environment that the children find interesting (Starkey and Klein, 2007). Ball (1993, p. 373) claims that this not only gets the learners acquainted to the subject matter being taught but also attracts their interest. Grieve (1992) claims that another effective strategy used by the teacher is to ensure that the young children are presented with tasks that match their level of maturity and stage of cognitive development, Learners should also be encouraged to clearly express their ideas or opinions and base all their contributions on evidence that they have collected or analyzed. Moreover, educators can group the young children into teams during mathematics, science and technology classes (Starkey and Klein, 2007). Conclusively, the introduction of Te Whariki in New Zealand’s early childhood education transformed the education of children such that it is currently perceived from a socio-cultural perspective. This paper has clearly indicated that infants, toddlers and young children are a very sensitive category of learners to assess due to the myriad of factors that influence their behavior and involvement in assessment processes. The most important factor is the child’s socio-cultural surroundings. Since the early development of infants, toddlers and young children tends to be transactional children are easily impacted by what occurs around them. The associations that children forge with those around them have a propensity of affecting their cognitive development greatly and this in turn influences the results of the assessment process. Due to the fact that children have very short attention spans and are easily distracted, educators need to ensure that the tasks offered to children are not only very intriguing but also pleasurable. Moreover, educators conducting educational assessment of infants, toddlers and young children have to put into consideration the different developmental stages in which children function since this will be very significant in determining their behavior and conducts during the process of assessment. In addition to this, different strategies that can be utilized by educators in teaching young children science, mathematics and technology have been discussed. One of the first strategies that teachers should apply in teaching mathematics, science and technology to young children is that they should ensure that they young children are actively engaged in the learning process. Educators can achieve this by presenting the children with questions on nature or any other phenomena in the environment that the children find interesting. As already indicated in this paper, there are a number of benefits presented by the socio-cultural form of assessment. Firstly, this assessment ensures the children’s identity as learners who are competent and self-assured is safeguarded and enhanced (empowerment or Whakamana). Secondly, the socio-cultural format of young children assessment ensures that the young learners are exposed to holistic developmental. This form of infant, toddler and young children evaluation is also beneficial since it ensure that the children’s family and community members participate in educational processes of their children as indicated in Te Whariki’s Whanau Tangata. References Ball, D. L., (1993), With an eye on the mathematical horizon: Dilemmas of Teaching Elementary School Mathematics, Elementary School Journal, 93, pp. 373–39 Dunphy, E., (2008), Supporting Early Learning and Development Through Formative Assessment, A Research Paper Commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA McCauley, L., (n.d), The Developmental Assessment of Young Children, A Practical and Theoretical View Pae, K. T. O., (n.d), Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars-What is Socio-cultural Assessment? Learning Media Wellington Gibbs, E.D. and Teti, D.M. (1990), Interdisciplinary Assessment Of Infants: A Guide For Early Intervention Professionals, Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, pp.4-10, 77-88 Grieve, K. W., (1992), Play Based Assessment Of The Cognitive Abilities Of Young Children, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Unisa, Pretoria, pp. 5.6-5.21 Ritter, S. H., (1995), Assessment of Preschool Children, New York: ERIC DIGEST Schurr, V., (2009), Assessment for Learning in Infant and Toddler Education and Care: A Study of Teachers’ Talk and Practice at One Centre, University of Canterbury College of Education, pp. Shepard, L. A., (1994), The Challenges of Assessing Young Children Appropriately, Phi Delta Kappan Magazine, November Issue, pp. 1-13 Starkey, P. and Klein, A., (2007), Socio-cultural Influences on Young Children’s Mathematical Knowledge: Contemporary Perspectives on Mathematics in Early Childhood Education, Information Age Publishing, p. 253–276