Journal of Research in Childhood Education Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1995

A review: Journal of Research in Childhood Education Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1995

Bergen, Doris

A learning climate is affected by many factors, including teachers’ beliefs about children and parents, family cultural beliefs and practices, and types of social interactions that occur within the educational environment. The Spring/Summer 1995 issue of the Journal of Research in Childhood Education addresses some of these factors. For example, the subtle ways that beliefs, past experiences and cultural competence may influence adults’ ability to work collaboratively and to support the collaborative work of children are investigated. Also, the effects of various adult interaction styles and classroom social structures on developmentally appropriate child interactive learning are explored.

* Teachers’ Perspectives on their Work with Families in a Bilingual Community — Allexsaht-Snider

The influence of teachers’ beliefs on their practice with children in the classroom has long been a subject of research interest. In recent years, however, the influence of teachers’ beliefs on their interactions with families from varied cultural backgrounds has received increased attention. This study extends the relatively small body of research in this area by focusing on the perspectives of three teachers who work in one bilingual community.

Earlier findings suggest that teacher views of their own efficacy may be one important factor affecting teacher-parent interaction. Both the amount of experience teachers have had working with families and their perception of their role in relation to that of parents have been found to be influential in determining levels of such involvement. The researchers observed and interviewed three 4th- to 6th-grade teachers, two from bilingual classrooms and one from a transition class, over the course of a year and developed descriptive comparisons of the three teachers. In general, the results from these descriptions are congruent with the earlier findings about teacher perceptions of families. For these three teachers, their prior experience working with parents and the sources of parent knowledge that they knew how to access influenced their level of parent interaction. Their belief systems were also involved, however, because the teachers indicated that the nature and quality of these earlier interactions affected how confident they felt about their present interaction strategies. None of these teachers had experienced any formal education that prepared them to work with families of any type.

* Bilingual Children’s Writing: Evidence of Active Learning in Social Context — Quintero & Huerta-Macias

Another approach to working with families is described in this study of the relationship between children’s literacy development and the sociocultural aspects of their lives. Using a framework that combined critical theory, Piagetian and Vygotskian constructivism and symbolic interactionism perspectives, the researchers created 20 case studies of children ages 4-7 as they participated in a literacy project that included their parents as active participants. Project goals included both literacy development and empowerment. Researchers used a five-step model of literacy development that required the family “teams” to work together on the activities under the teachers’ directions.

The case studies focused on the development of the children’s writing, cognitive, critical and socio-emotional abilities. The children’s writing samples were categorized on Piagetian-based dimensions of active learning. They were also analyzed using the other three theoretical frames, drawing upon teacher journals, parent interviews and observational field notes as data. The authors discuss the results from the critical theory perspective, which promotes learning within the cultural context, and describe the sense of empowerment that was promoted with this approach. Also discussed is the staff’s concern of how this perspective might conflict with the more traditional approaches to literacy learning that the children encountered during most of the school day. The researchers suggest that the child “voices” released through this approach and the strong connections made with family members provided a positive context for children’s literacy learning.

* Prosocial Behaviors of Five-Year-Old Children in Sixteen Learning/Activity Centers — Babcock, Hartle & Lamme

Young children’s prosocial behavior is related to later social, friendship and self-concept development. This study specifically focused on how the classroom activity climate influences the exhibition of such prosocial behaviors as proximity seeking, helping and sharing. Researchers describe the prosocial behaviors observed in 16 different learning/activity centers, identifying which centers were most likely to encourage prosocial behavior. Nine children from the 29-child class of 3- to 5-year-olds at a college-based preschool were observed for 45 hours during a three-month period. During “center time,” the children chose which of the 16 centers they would visit; each center was limited to a certain number of participants. Staff validated the researcher’s observations of prosocial behaviors.

Four data sources were used for the triangulation analysis: observer field notes, staff notes, conversations with parent and child preschool records. The categories of prosocial behavior that emerged in the analysis were proximity seeking, helping others, sharing, leadership, communication, empathy and other. Centers included those for construction (blocks, table toys), pretend play (housekeeping, grocery, puppets), individual activity (listen computer), process activity (music, reading), creating (writing, art, woodworking), manipulative (puzzles, discovery, water) and small group.

Results indicated that the most prosocial behavior occurred in the creating centers. The types of it prosocial behavior most often observed were sharing, helping and proximity seeking. The facilitating behavior of the adult staff is discussed, as well as the possible effect on prosocial behavior of the relatively abundant choices of materials and activities available for children in this particular setting. Of special interest for practice is the implication that teachers affect opportunities for prosocial behavior when they make decisions about the types of learning/activity centers they provide for children.

* The Struggle for Developmentally Appropriate Literacy Instruction — McIntyre

This study examines teacher decision-making by exploring the beliefs and practices of a team of three teachers in a multiage, non-graded primary classroom. A pilot classroom of children ages 5-8 provided non-competitive, individually paced and developmentally appropriate instruction. The three teachers who agreed to work together in this classroom were joined by a researcher who observed the day-to-day educational environment, particularly focusing on literacy instruction. The researcher also collected information about the teachers’ beliefs through interviews, surveys and in-depth group planning and reflection sessions.

As these teachers moved from a traditional approach to the new one, the researcher charted their increasing understanding of developmentally appropriate practice and described the decisions that resulted from their attempts to put their understandings into literacy instruction practice. The researcher studied how these decisions were influenced by teacher observation of and discussions about the children and their learning progress, by the teachers’ increasing understanding of developmentally appropriate practice and by the differing beliefs, strengths, roles and personalities of the team members. The teachers brought varied viewpoints about how much structure and direct instruction should be used in literacy instruction. They started the year by putting into practice the strategies that arose from their initial understanding of developmentally appropriate racy instruction and from their disparate viewpoints about structure. As the year progressed, their observations and reflections enabled them to make decisions incorporating a wider range of strategies in response to children’s needs. By the end of the year, as the teachers had the opportunity to reflect about developmentally appropriate practice for individual children, they came to be more similar in both practice and beliefs. The study points out the importance of having time both for teacher learning and for reflection on this learning.

* Climates in Swedish Day Care Centers: A Methodological Study — Ekholm, Hedin & Andersson

This study directly investigated the behavior and the attitudes of adults at 12 child care centers, focusing on the relationship of center climate to the way children were developing and the way adults were interacting. The authors describe structural factors such as attitudes toward child rearing, state-regulated goals and teacher educational level; organizational factors such as group size and staff density; and demographic conditions such as socioeconomic level. The interactional factors related to adult behaviors and attitudes, however, were of primary interest because of their effect on the center climates.

After observing each center for 10 days and interviewing staff, the researcher categorized the child rearing climate of the centers as future-focused, present-focused or combined, with three to five centers in each group. Adults at the future-focused centers seemed most concerned about providing a range of active opportunities for children that would prepare them for the future, while those at present-focused centers saw their role as trying to make everything move smoothly and routinely on a day-to-day basis. The researchers also identified working climates for adults as strained, relaxed or mixed. A relaxed working environment did not always translate into a future-focused center for children, and adult perception of the working climate varied even when observational data did not provide supporting evidence for their perception. The management and the size of the center also affected the climate. The study provides some categories of interaction that teachers could use to assess their own classroom climate and raises some interesting questions about factors that influence center climates.

* Young Children’s Representation of Replay: Developmental Stages and Effects of Mediated Computer Environments — Park & Clements

This study provides another type of information to aid teacher decision-making about best instructional practice. It explores the effects of a teacher-mediated child-computer interactive approach on representational competence. Using both a Vygotskian constructivist and a distancing theoretical base, this experimental study explored the development of one aspect of representational competence — child remembrance of replay to construct action sequence schema. In order to test whether the presence of a teacher mediating strategy would establish what Vygotsky calls “the zone of proximal development (ZPG)” so that replay could be accessed by the child, the researchers used Sigel’s distancing hypothesis. Teachers mediated during child-computer interaction with three types of software designed to encourage the use of replay.

For the study, 34 children ranging in age from 2 to 5 were randomly assigned to the experimental or control group. Teacher strategies used were telling and asking, 4 levels of distancing: no prompts, information/description, relating/analyzing and causal inference. The software included one specially created, one adapted from Logo and Lego-Logo. Children were videotaped and also interviewed to determine their levels of replay understanding, which were categorized as: no recognition of replay, recognition of replay, anticipation of action sequences and recognition with planning evaluation, transformation or generalization. Transfer of learning was also assessed. Results indicated that there was gradual and incremental developmental progress toward higher stages with some inconsistencies; children did not always demonstrate their highest stage of performance. Thus, a qualitative stage hypothesis was not supported. Because there was developmental progress over the treatment sessions, the researchers conclude that teacher mediation was a helpful strategy when using a child-computer interactive environment.

Copyright Association for Childhood Education Fall 1995

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