Are you considering becoming an early childhood educator? Already taking ECE courses? This is truly an exciting time to enter the teaching profession.
The field of education has evolved in so many inspiring ways over the last 50 years or so. New theories, teaching techniques, and understandings of how children actually learn have really rocked the world of traditional teaching.
Read on to explore three of the biggest names in educational theory. These are the ideas that have shaped many of the techniques and principles you'll learn about in ECE training—and try out in your first pre-school classrooms.
1. Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Have you noticed that, over the last several years, there has been a growing emphasis on accommodating kids with "different learning styles" in our schools?
You may have heard about teachers including more physical activities inside (and outside of) their classrooms—opportunities for students to move around, build things, and carry out activities while learning new concepts.
Or, perhaps you've seen teachers use music and art to help children experience and comprehend new ideas.
These are both examples of Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Howard Gardner is a Professor of Education at Harvard University, and an expert in psychology and human cognition.
His Multiple Intelligences theory proposes that humans learn in a variety of different ways, which he has sorted into 7 distinct "intelligences".
Back in 1983, Gardner published these 7 ways of learning, understanding, remembering, and performing—which teachers now use to guide lesson planning:
1. Visual-spatial — thinking in terms of physical space; responding well to jigsaw puzzles, maps, graphics, charts, video, 3D models, and drawing
2. Bodily-kinesthetic— learning through making, building, touching, and doing; responding well to play-acting, hands-on activities, and role-playing
3. Musical— sensitive to sound; studying with music in the background, and learning through song, rhyme, and rhythm
4. Interpersonal — interacting with others; learning through group projects, working in partners, being social
5. Intrapersonal — preferring to learn independently; working alone, tuning into an inner world, reflecting, using journals, reading books, and enjoying quiet time to think and reflect
6. Linguistic— using words to make sense of new ideas; learning through reading, discussion, stories, word play, multimedia, and computers
7. Logical -Mathematical — using reasoning and calculation; good at spotting patterns, solving mysteries, conducting experiments, and doing logic games
Many students learn best through tactile experience; by working with their hands and building things
Consider how you learn best. Chances are you lean toward a few of Gardner's intelligences, such as Linguistic, combined with Interpersonal, with perhaps a little Musical.
Over the years, other theorists and educators have built on Gardner's theory, identifying new learning styles—and new ways to incorporate them into the classroom.
We now know that teachers should use a combination of techniques to address all of the different intelligences, and make sure every child has opportunities to participate, learn, and grow.
The variety of teaching techniques and activities you learn in early childhood education training are based on these ideas.
They represent a big move away from the dull, memorization-based, one-size-fits-all teaching styles of the past.
2. Jean Piaget's Theory of Constructivism
Have you heard of the expression, "the only way to really learn something is to do it?"
Imagine trying to learn how to drive a car by simply listening to someone explain the mechanics and rules of the road.
Could you master algebra without actually working through a single problem—just reading through the theory?
In order to truly learn, understand, and remember something new, we need to experience it for ourselves. We need to test out ideas, make mistakes, have conversations, and share knowledge.
We learn by building on what we already know, adding new skills and new understanding over time, and by interacting with teachers and fellow students.
We do not learn passively—by just sitting there and "receiving" knowledge from an expert (like the old-fashioned, lecture-based teaching model).
Outdoor play, exploration, and collaboration are important parts of today's pre-school programs
Sound familiar? These are some of the important ideas introduced by Jean Piaget, (1896-1980) an expert in development psychology.
Piaget's Theory of Constructivism proposes that each child actually "constructs" new knowledge through collaboration, a variety of learning activities, and opportunities to see, touch, try out, and experience new things.
Each child progresses at their own pace, however, and builds new skills in different ways. This is why we're seeing such a big push toward personalized, or "individualized" teaching strategies.
ECE training teaches students how to design engaging learning activities that will allow children to build knowledge in a variety of ways, according to their individual stage of development. It's a real challenge, but worth striving for!
3. B.F. Skinner & Positive Reinforcement
Chances are, you've already heard of the theory of "positive reinforcement", and know a bit about how it's used to help steer children away from negative behaviors.
But do you know who first came up with the idea?
Positive reinforcement was introduced by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), who, among many other things, studied how behavior is influenced by various responses: positive, negative, and punishment.
In traditional classrooms, punishment was often used as a primary tool for "correcting" bad behavior or rule-breaking. Students were caned, spanked, verbally humiliated, expelled.
Today's educators draw on a wider, more diverse selection of tools to manage classroom behavior—and positive reinforcement is one of them.
Skinner discovered that punishment alone was not enough to stop rule-breaking. It increases aggression, creates fear, and doesn't help teach new and better behaviors.
On the other hand, positive reinforcement, such as praising and rewarding good behavior, strengthened the "good" behaviors, while making negative actions less attractive.
Behaviors like sharing and patience are often taught using positive reinforcement, versus punishment
For many parents and teachers, this idea is simply good common sense! But it's application in today's classrooms, particularly early childhood classrooms, marks a huge shift from how we used to discipline students and maintain order.
Punishment is the "quick fix" and is focussed on the teacher controlling the student through threats and force. Positive reinforcement is focussed on student development—encouraging children to discover and "construct" a deeper understanding of respect, friendship, and cooperation.
And there you have it! A brief tour of three famous theorists who have dramatically shaped the field of education, and changed the way we approach teaching and learning today.
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