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A 50 YEARS AGO , it was widely believed that the major tasks for children during the preschool years were those of socialization: separating from home, learning how to interact with peers and unfamiliar adults, and experiencing new materials in a novel environment. Today we recognize the first five years as a time of enormous growth of linguistic, conceptual, and social competence. Right from birth, healthy infants use their limited response abilities to explore—and even control—their environments. They gather information about faces, about sounds and language, about objects and events Morton and Johnson, ; Spelke, ; Kuhl et al. How do we know that infants are active participants in their learning when their abilities and competence are so clearly limited?
Vygotsky thus gives instruction a more central role in development than does Piaget. Another critical concept in the Vygotskyan perspective is that of mental tools.
For a child to acquire these tools en route to higher-order mental function like abstract reasoning, the child has to be helped by knowing individuals, teachers, or parents. This can occur in school or at home. Mental tools come in various forms including the development of strategies to remember and to solve problems such as trial-and-error and counting-on strategies , developing analogies, or reviewing related information or ideas.
Their common characteristic is that they help the child restructure his thinking. Gelman, in discussing the teaching of arithmetic to young children, emphasizes the importance of recognizing that even the young child develops some knowledge and concepts of mathematics that can be built on Gelman, The last 30 years have witnessed a considerable growth in evidence of strategic and metacognitive competence at an early age, especially when children are asked about topics or problems they understand Brown and DeLoache, ; DeLoache et al.
The more they understand what the learning process requires—that it is not simply a matter of knowing or not knowing, of performing well or of failing to perform—the more directed they will be toward the learning goal Dweck, ; Dweck and Elliott, ; Dweck and Leggett, Researchers have documented cases of preschool children using strategies to remember Wellman et al.
This reciprocal and responsive adult-child interaction is related to better cognitive and language outcomes Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, ; Crockenberg and Litman, ; Maccoby and Martin, ; Power and Chapieski, ; Olson et al. This literature is based primarily on maternal behavior. Its relevance to early education and care is expanded in Chapter 5 and also in Chapter 7 , when we discuss professional development.
They conducted many research studies on children between 3 and 18 years of age to measure the influence of contextual support on competence. Performances were then rated on a developmental scale. In one such study conducted with 7-year-olds, the children were asked to produce stories about mean and nice, and their spontaneous responses were scored at or below stage 3 on the developmental scale, whereas their independently executed response after modeling was at or below stage 6, suggesting a potentially powerful influence of context Fischer et al.
The adult does not actually help the child do the more difficult aspects of the task. Rather, the child observes through exposure or modeling more developmentally sophisticated approaches to a task, which changes his or her own performance.
Much research has also emphasized the role of cultural context on cognition. Culture is seen as providing the content—the objects and ideas—of thinking. Both the rural unschooled and schooled children outperformed children from the United States when the task involved seeds and grains.
However, children from the United States did much better than the other children when the same task was presented using a set of colored disks. Thus, although the children were asked to do the same thing with the seeds and grains as with the colored disks, the content of the task affected their performance.
Cultural context also determines the tools people use to support thinking. Brazilian children who work as street vendors mentally complete mathematical computations in their normal business transactions every day. Schliemann et al. The children had become experts in solving problems according to one strategy, but not the other.
In her studies of problem solving in work contexts, she observed the ways in which individuals developed problem-solving strategies that capitalized on features of their work environments. Functional familiarity also affects thinking. An expert-novice study of recall for the configuration of chess pieces by Chase and Simon demonstrated the role of functional familiarity in a memory task. When the chess pieces were arrayed in meaningful chess patterns, i.
However, when the chess pieces were placed in random positions on the board, the experts did not do any better than the novices—even though the task was ostensibly the same task. Chi replicated these results comparing expert child chess players with novice adult chess players. And in doing so, culture influences their thought processes.
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Another implication of the changes in young children's thinking during the preschool years concerns the motivational features of early learning.
Preschool-age children are developing a sense of themselves and their competencies, including their academic skills Marsh et al. Their beliefs about their abilities in reading, counting, vocabulary, number games, and other academic competencies derive from several sources, including spontaneous social comparison with other children and feedback from teachers and parents concerning their achievement and the reasons they have done well or poorly.
These beliefs influence, in turn, children's self-confidence, persistence, intrinsic motivation to succeed, and other characteristics that may be described as learning skills and are discussed more extensively later in this chapter. Consequently, how teachers provide performance feedback to young children and support for their self-confidence in learning situations also is an important predictor of children's academic success Hamre, In the early elementary years, children's cognitive processes develop further, which accordingly influences the strategies for educators in early elementary classrooms.
Primary grade children are using more complex vocabulary and grammar. They are growing in their ability to make mental representations, but they still have difficulty grasping abstract concepts without the aid of real-life references and materials Tomlinson, This is a critical time for children to develop confidence in all areas of life.
Children at this age show more independence from parents and family, while friendship, being liked and accepted by peers, becomes more important.
Being in school most of the day means greater contact with a larger world, and children begin to develop a greater understanding of their place in that world CDC, Children's growing ability to self-regulate their emotions also is evident in this period discussed more extensively later in this chapter.
Children understand their own feelings more and more, and learn better ways to describe experiences and express thoughts and feelings. They better understand the consequences of their actions, and their focus on concern for others grows. They are very observant, are willing to play cooperatively and work in teams, and can resolve some conflicts without seeking adult intervention CDC, Children also come to understand that they can affect others' perception of their emotions by changing their affective displays Aloise-Young, Children who are unable to self-regulate have emotional difficulties that may interfere with their learning.
Just as with younger children, significant adults in a child's life can help the child learn to self-regulate Tomlinson, Children's increasing self-regulation means they have a greater ability to follow instructions independently in a manner that would not be true of preschool or younger children. Educators can rely on the growing cognitive abilities in elementary school children in using instructional approaches that depend more independently on children's own discoveries, their use of alternative inquiry strategies, and their greater persistence in problem solving.
Educators in these settings are scaffolding the skills that began to develop earlier, so that children are able to gradually apply those skills with less and less external support.
This serves as a bridge to succeeding in upper primary grades, so if students lack necessary knowledge and skills in any domain of development and learning, their experience during the early elementary grades is crucial in helping them gain those competencies. Building on many of the themes that have emerged from this discussion, the following sections continue by looking in more depth at cognitive development with respect to learning specific subjects and then at other major elements of development, including general learning competencies, socioemotional development, and physical development and health.
These skills and abilities include the general cognitive development discussed above, the general learning competencies that allow children to control their own attention and thinking; and the emotion regulation that allows children to control their own emotions and participate in classroom activities in a productive way the latter two are discussed in sections later in this chapter.
Still another important category of skills and abilities, the focus of this section, is subject-matter content knowledge and skills, such as competencies needed specifically for learning language and literacy or mathematics. Content knowledge and skills are acquired through a developmental process.
As children learn about a topic, they progress through increasingly sophisticated levels of thinking with accompanying cognitive components. These developmental learning paths can be used as the core of a learning trajectory through which students can be supported by educators who understand both the content and those levels of thinking.
Each learning trajectory has three parts: a goal to develop a certain competence in a topic , a developmental progression children constructing each level of thinking in turn , and instructional activities tasks and teaching practices designed to enable thinking at each higher level.
Learning trajectories also promote the learning of skills and concepts together—an effective approach that leads to both mastery and more fluent, flexible use of skills, as well as to superior conceptual understanding Fuson and Kwon, ; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, See Chapter 6 for additional discussion of using learning trajectories and other instructional practices.
Every subject area requires specific content knowledge and skills that are acquired through developmental learning processes.
It is not possible to cover the specifics here for every subject area a young child learns. To maintain a feasible scope, this chapter covers two core subject areas: 1 language and literacy and 2 mathematics.
This scope is not meant to imply that learning in other areas, such as science, engineering, social studies, or the arts, is unimportant or less subject specific. Rather, these two were selected because they are foundational for other subject areas and for later academic achievement, and because how they are learned has been well studied in young children compared with many other subject areas.
Language and Literacy Children's language development and literacy development are central to each other. The development of language and literacy includes knowledge and skills in such areas as vocabulary, syntax, grammar, phonological awareness, writing, reading, comprehension, and discourse skills. The following sections address the development of language and literacy skills, including the relationship between the two; the role of the language-learning environment; socioeconomic disparities in early language environments; and language and literacy development in dual language learners.
Development of Oral Language Skills Language skills build in a developmental progression over time as children increase their vocabulary, average sentence length, complexity and sophistication of sentence structure and grammar, and ability to express new ideas through words Kipping et al. Catts and Kamhi define five features of language that both work independently and interact as children develop language skills: phonology speech sounds of language , semantics meanings of words and phrases , morphology meaningful parts of words and word tenses , syntax rules for combining and ordering words in phrases , and pragmatics appropriate use of language in context.
The first three parameters combined phonology, semantics, and morphology enable listening and speaking vocabulary to develop, and they also contribute to the ability to read individual words. All five features of language contribute to the ability to understand sentences, whether heard or read O' Connor, Thus, while children's development of listening and speaking abilities are important in their own right, oral language development also contributes to reading skills.
Developing oral communication skills are closely linked to the interactions and social bonds between adults and children. As discussed earlier in this chapter, parents' and caregivers' talk with infants stimulates—and affects—language comprehension long before children utter their first words.
This comprehension begins with pragmatics—the social aspects of language that include facial and body language as well as words, such that infants recognize positive and negative interactions. Semantics understanding meanings of words and clusters of words that are related soon follows, in which toddlers link objects and their attributes to words. Between the ages of 2 and 4, most children show dramatic growth in language, particularly in understanding the meanings of words, their interrelationships, and grammatical forms Scarborough, Karmiloff and Karmiloff-Smith suggest that children build webs among words with similar semantics, which leads to broader generalizations among classes of related words.
When adults are responsive to children's questions and new experiences, children expand their knowledge of words and the relationships among them. Then, as new words arise from conversation, storytelling, and book reading, these words are linked to existing webs to further expand the store of words children understand through receptive language and use in their own conversation.
The more often adults use particular words in conversation with young children, the sooner children will use those words in their own speech Karmiloff and Karmiloff-Smith, Research has linked the size of vocabulary of 2-year-olds to their reading comprehension through fifth grade Lee, One of the best-documented methods for improving children's vocabularies is interactive storybook reading between children and their caregivers O' Connor, Conversations as stories are read improve children's vocabulary Hindman et al.
Book reading stimulates conversation outside the immediate context—for example, children ask questions about the illustrations that may or may not be central to the story. This introduces new words, which children attach to the features of the illustrations they point out and incorporate into book-centered conversations.
This type of language, removed from the here and now, is decontextualized language. Children exposed to experiences not occurring in their immediate environment are more likely to understand and use decontextualized language Hindman et al.
Repeated routines also contribute to language development. As books are read repeatedly, children become familiar with the vocabulary of the story and their conversations can be elaborated. Routines help children with developmental delays acquire language and use it more intelligibly van Kleek, Conversation around a story's content and emphasis on specific words in the text i.
The quality of adult readers' interactions with children appears to be especially important to children's vocabulary growth see also Coyne et al. In a study with preschool children, Zucker and colleagues found that teachers' intentional talk during reading had a longer-lasting effect on the children's language skills than the frequency of the teachers' reading to the children.
Moreover, the effect of the teachers' talk during reading was not moderated by the children's initial vocabulary or literacy abilities.
The long-term effect of high-quality teacher—child book-centered interactions in preschool lasted through the end of first grade. New research shows that the effects of interactive reading also hold when adapted to the use of digital media as a platform for decontextualized language and other forms of language development.
A study of videobooks showed that when adults were trained to use dialogic questioning techniques with the videos, 3-year-olds learned new words and recalled the books' storylines Strouse et al. However, a few studies of e-books also have shown that the bells and whistles of the devices can get in the way of those back-and-forth conversations if the readers and the e-book designers are not intentional about using the e-books to develop content knowledge and language skills Parish-Morris et al.
See also the discussion of effective use of technology in instruction in Chapter 6. Alongside developing depth of vocabulary including the meaning of words and phrases and their appropriate use in context , other important parameters of language development are syntax rules for combining and ordering words in phrases, as in rules of grammar and morphology meaningful parts of words and word tenses. Even before the age of 2, toddlers parse a speech stream into grammatical units Hawthorne and Gerken, Long before preschool, most children join words together into sentences and begin to use the rules of grammar i.
Along with these morphemic changes to words, understanding syntax helps children order the words and phrases in their sentences to convey and to change meaning. Before children learn to read, the rules of syntax help them derive meaning from what they hear and convey meaning through speech. Cunningham and Zibulsky , p. This becomes an important reading skill after first grade, when text meaning is less likely to be supported with pictures.
Construction of sentences with passive voice and other complex, decontextualized word forms are more likely to be found in books and stories than in directive conversations with young children. An experimental study illustrates the role of exposure to syntactic structures in the development of language comprehension Vasilyeva et al.
Four-year-olds listened to stories in active or passive voice. After listening to ten stories, their understanding of passages containing these syntactic structures was assessed.
Although students in both groups understood and could use active voice similar to routine conversation , those who listened to stories with passive voice scored higher on comprehension of this structure. Children's understanding of morphology—the meaningful parts of words—begins in preschool for most children, as they recognize and use inflected endings to represent verb tense e.
By second and third grade, children's use of morphemes predicts their reading comprehension Nagy et al. Development of Literacy Skills Literacy skills follow a developmental trajectory such that early skills and stages lead into more complex and integrated skills and stages Adams, For example, phonemic awareness is necessary for decoding printed words Ball and Blachman, ; Bradley and Bryant, ; O'Connor et al.
Thus, instruction that combines skill development for 4- to 6-year-old children in phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, and conceptual understanding and use of these skills is more effective than teaching the skills in isolation Byrne and Fielding-Barnsley, ; O'Connor and Jenkins, Seminal theories and studies of reading describe an inextricable link between language development and reading achievement e.
Early oral language competencies predict later literacy Pearson and Hiebert, Not only do young children with stronger oral language competencies acquire new language skills faster than students with poorly developed oral language competencies Dickinson and Porche, , but they also learn key literacy skills faster, such as phonemic awareness and understanding of the alphabetic principle Cooper et al.
Both of these literacy skills in turn facilitate learning to read in kindergarten and first grade. Vocabulary development a complex and integrative feature of language that grows continuously and reading words a skill that most children master by third or fourth grade Ehri, are reciprocally related, and both reading words accurately and understanding what words mean contribute to reading comprehension Gough et al.
Because comprehending and learning from text depend largely upon a deep understanding of the language used to communicate the ideas and concepts expressed, oral language skills i. For example, children with larger speaking vocabularies in preschool may have an easier time with phoneme awareness and the alphabetic principle because they can draw on more words to explore the similarities among the sounds they hear in spoken words and the letters that form the words Metsala and Walley, Each word a child knows can influence how well she or he understands a sentence that uses that word, which in turn can influence the acquisition of knowledge and the ability to learn new words.
A stronger speaking and listening vocabulary provides a deeper and wider field of words students can attempt to match to printed words. Being bogged down by figuring out what a given word means slows the rate of information processing and limits what is learned from a sentence. Thus, differences in early vocabulary can have cascading, cumulative effects Fernald et al. The transition from speaking and listening to reading and writing is not a smooth one for many children.
Although a well-developed vocabulary can make that transition easier, many children also have difficulty learning the production and meanings of words. Longitudinal studies of reading disability have found that 70 percent of poor readers had a history of language difficulties Catts et al. Conclusion About the Development of Language and Literacy Skills The oral language and vocabulary children learn through interactions with parents, siblings, and caregivers and through high-quality interactions with educators provide the foundation for later literacy and for learning across all subject areas, as well as for their socioemotional well-being.
The language interactions children experience at home and in school influence their developing minds and their understanding of concepts and ideas. Role of the Language-Learning Environment Today's science of reading development focuses more broadly than on teaching children to read the actual words on a page.
As stressed throughout this report, young children's development entails a back-and-forth process of social interactions with knowledgeable others in their environment Bruner, ; NRC and IOM, ; Vygotsky, , , and research has focused on the language of these interactions, examining how children's linguistic experiences influence aspects of their development over time, including their literacy development.
The daily talk to which children are exposed and in which they participate is essential for developing their minds—a key ingredient for building their knowledge of the world and their understanding of concepts and ideas. In turn, this conceptual knowledge is a cornerstone of reading success. The bulk of the research on early linguistic experiences has investigated language input in the home environment, demonstrating the features of caregivers' usually the mother's speech that promote language development among young children.
The evidence accumulated emphasizes the importance of the quantity of communicative input i. Because children's language development is sensitive to these inputs, variability in children's language-based interactions in the home environment explains some of the variance in their language development.
A smaller but growing and compelling research base is focused on how children's literacy skills are influenced by language use in early care and education settings and schools—for example, linguistic features of these settings or elementary school teachers' speech and its relationship to children's reading outcomes Greenwood et al.
This research has particularly relevant implications for educational practices discussed further in Chapter 6. The language environment of the classroom can function as a support for developing the kind of language that is characteristic of the school curriculum—for example, giving children opportunities to develop the sophisticated vocabulary and complex syntax found in texts, beginning at a very early age Schleppegrell, ; Snow and Uccelli, Moreover, advances in cognitive science suggest that it is not enough to be immersed in environments that offer multiple opportunities for exposure to varied and rich language experiences.
Rather, the process also needs to be socially mediated through more knowledgeable persons who can impart their knowledge to the learner; again, social interaction is a critical component of cognitive development and learning.
Early childhood settings and elementary classrooms thus not only present opportunities for exposure to varied language- and literacy-rich activities whether written or spoken , but also provide a person who is expert in mediating the learning process—the educator.
Research demonstrates that teachers' use of high-quality language is linked to individual differences in language and literacy skills; this work likewise shows the substantial variation in the quality of teacher talk in early childhood classrooms e.