Knowledge Construction and its Implications in Education

There are many theories about child development and how children learn, but the most popularly accepted theories (Piaget, Vygotsky, Erikson) follow a basic pattern. Children go through different stages of development and as they age and progress, they are able to learn more and gain deeper understandings of what they are learning. Each child is different, so the stages usually show a range of the ages that children are when they are in that stage. This is very important to remember; if a child is in a certain stage’s age range, it does not necessarily mean that they are in that stage, so it is important to take a look at each individual child to gauge where they are in their development.

Knowing about the different stages is very important for a teacher. According to Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, it is important to be teaching within the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. The ZPD is the area between what a child can do WITHOUT help or guidance, and what a child can do WITH help/guidance. This zone changes as students develop. Basically, it is important to make age/stage appropriate lessons and provide students with the tools and guidance that they need to achieve mastery. If the curriculum is too easy, the child will not learn anything new. If it is too hard/out of their range it is setting them up to fail, which not only wastes time, but it may negatively affect their attitude towards school and learning.

It is important to personalize learning for your students. There are many resources to figure out what level a student is at. There is a detailed way to find a student’s reading level on the website “Reading A-Z” so that appropriate books can be selected for elementary/middle school aged children. https://www.readinga-z.com/learninga-z-levels/assessing-a-students-level/ . There are other ways to test prior knowledge and level. Administering a test at the beginning of a year/unit is a good way to do this so that plans can be modified to suit students. When I become a teacher, I will use pretests and other gauging tools to modify teaching, I recognize that it will be important to stress the reason for pretesting and make sure that students know that they are not expected to know anything on the test, I would probably not even give them a score. I would not want students to become stressed out or anxious about. This website offers more ways to gauge prior knowledge (https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/priorknowledge/).

I realized the importance of knowing age-appropriate techniques during my internship at the zoo. In training we learned about the different abilities of children at different ages (noting that a child’s age does not necessarily mean they will be in that stage). Policies, procedures and techniques were different in a 4-5 year old class than in a 6-7 year old class, for example.  One day we had children from a community center come, the centers do not always provide the background information that the parents who sign their children up for zoo classes the usual way. There was a child in aged 6-7 year old class who got a “third strike” (this means that they continued to have trouble following the rules after two warnings and could no longer be in zoo class). This was a very rare occurrence, and the only one from that summer. After the day ended, an employee in the community center brought the child to apologize for his behavior. While he was doing this, the employee mentioned to the instructor that the child functioned at a 4 year old level. Had we known this, we would have approached the behavior management techniques much differently. In our 4-5 year old classes, we do not even introduce (or use) the “Three Strike Policy”, the reason for this being that children this age may think it is too scary, or they will not be able to grasp the consequences for their behavior. Instead, we address each behavior issue that comes up by talking it out with the child. Threats of removal from the class can be distracting, too upsetting and ineffectual.

Age is not the only thing that affects a student’s ability to learn. Other factors include, but are not limited to, the role of parents, family life, poverty, the role of peers and the role of the media. The factor that most interests me is the role of the parents. Parental involvement can make or break a student in terms of preparedness for school and background knowledge. According to a study called “Parent Involvement, Academic Achievement and the Role
of Student Attitudes and Behaviors as Mediators” by Ralph B. McNeal Jr. (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1053945.pdf) , a student whose parents were very involved in their education/learning experiences will be at a huge advantage, meaning a student whose parents are not involved is at a huge disadvantage. The study found that:

  • “Parent-child involvement consistently has a greater effect on student attitudes, behaviors, and achievement than does parent-school involvement. “
  • “ Without exception, parent-child discussion consistently has the strongest effect on student attitudes, behaviors, and achievement.”
  • “Indirect effects of parent-child and parent-school involvement consistently are greater than their corresponding direct effects.” (McNeal, 2014)

I think that low parental involvement is one factor that creates an achievement gap in students. As a teacher, it is important to look at the parental involvement. If you know that a child’s parents are not involved, they may need more support at school. It may also be a good idea to provide parents resources/ideas about how to be more involved in their children’s education. PBS has a website that gives parents ways to have be more involved to promote an environment where their child can succeed. http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/supporting-your-learner/role-of-parents/  

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