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Responding to new research on development

Another article caught my attention recently, and is related to a previous post of mine about developmental stages. This time it was in the Harvard Education Letter, about recent research done by the Gesell Institute for Human Development about child development. The research shows that, despite a common perception that children are developing faster these days, they are actually still hitting developmental milestones at the same time that they always have for as long as they have been measured. Thus, children really should, for example, be learning to read around age 6, and not younger unless they come to it on their own.

As I have mentioned previously, there is a range of development, but in the middle of that range, the developmental milestones fit the majority of students. Pushing students to reach these milestones before they are ready is neither healthy nor productive. Experts in the article call for more exploratory learning, time for children to investigate and make information their own, and play. All of these activities help develop the important critical thinking skills so that when children are ready to read and count and write, they can do it with meaning. An excellent example from the article is that before about 6 years of age, a child might be able to memorize that 2+3=5, but has no concept that 3+2=5. They are not truly learning, in the fullest sense of the word.

In my visits to classes in the past couple of weeks, I have been impressed and reassured by so many of the wonderful projects and activities our teachers do with our students. As a bilingual immersion school, we have to have a greater focus on language, yet we can still provide rich opportunities for our students to be critical and analytical thinkers and to engage them in a myriad of ways. From “Design Your Own Homework” in many English classes to the beautiful illustrations and collages in Charles’s class to the recent research projects in the computer lab in Chinese 4th grade, our students are learning the importance of engaging in the process of learning and thus making the most of where they are along the developmental continuum.

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