The Center’s Belief about Developmental Education
Developmental education is a set of guiding principles not a set of practices, curriculum, or style. It is a commitment to the understanding that growth and development happens in children and adults along a continuum, in an orderly fashion, and, although somewhat predictable, is individual in nature. This simple statement has huge implications as to how we address learning, or view children.
First of all it implies that we must understand the orderly nature of the developmental process in order to guide, shape, and mold children’s education. We must know how current development fits in the context of where a child has been and where he is going. Without that, it becomes directionless or education without a purpose. It is a difficult process. Research is becoming clearer, but is still somewhat confusing on the path that development takes. This implies that we must first study the general traits of developmental states, and then be able to assess children in that context. (i.e. understanding that learning social skills at the preschool level is a general developmental characteristic for preschoolers, therefore necessitating programming to address this issue.)
Secondly, this assessment must address where a child is in the context of what we consider normal development. For the adolescent developing a sense of independence, we must be able to understand what is normal individuation at that age to be able to assess whether students need encouraged to develop more independence, or challenged to slow down the individuation process to a level they can handle. Once again, it is difficult.
Thirdly, this assumption of developmental nature includes a holistic view of children. By this we mean that students not only grow at different rates from others, but that they may be growing at different rates on each of the five areas of development within themselves. So we must assess a child’s cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual development in the context of themselves, but also developmental milestones for their age group. The concept of critical periods of brain development are essential for us to understand. However, in the early years, teachers assess all five areas plus individual students’ learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, and potential before placing students in groups where they have the most opportunity to become successful. An important goal of developmental education is training the student from being dependent to becoming independent learners who go on to become productive members of society and reach their God-given potential.
Fourthly, it is assumed that certain practices are more practical for a variety of areas of development. Therefore, almost any instructional level can be developmentally appropriate to some area of development. Once again, we would think about general developmental principles matching certain areas of cognitive growth. For example, lecture is not appropriate for a preschooler, because of the cognitive processes required for that style of learning (attention, formal operations, etc.). However, appropriate amounts of lecture are developmentally appropriate for older students. It is the matching of these instructional styles to the developmental periods of learning that is the art of teaching.
Finally overlaid as guiding principles along these dimensions are certain principles that relate in different ways to each developmental stage, and each style of instruction. They are:
Integration: when learning fits together it is much more likely to be retained. Active learning: When learning is active (more so physically in the early years and active cognitively in older years) it is much more effective. Development must be stimulated externally as well as internally driven: Students and adults grow and learn naturally in many ways, but also at times need stimulated from external sources as well. It is the art of developmental education to understand our roles in each. To get preschoolers to play is not difficult, but for most of us to learn times tables it required some outside stimulation.
In the context of individual instruction these concepts are relatively manageable. But what about managing the process for 15 children all with 5 areas of development. It seems difficult. But if grouping becomes a comprising of individual needs along individual subjects, we have found that the process becomes more manageable. Not perfect, or ideal, but committed to the principles of developmental education.