Category Archives: brain development

Jerome Bruner and Early Education

 

Jerome Bruner

Photo credit Poughkeepsie Day School

This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.

  1.  Scaffolding   

Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.

The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old.  The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and  try things for themselves.

2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.

“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”

This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.

 

3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed  heavily to the development of Head Start.

4.  Spiral curriculum

This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.

Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.

With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface.  I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.

 

 

 

 

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Review of ‘Your Baby Can Read’

Some time ago I was asked to review ‘Your Baby Can Read’, a system for teaching babies from 3 months old to read. The system aims to introduce the written word at the same time as a baby is developing a verbal vocabulary. As today is International Literacy Day I felt I should bite the bullet and go for it.

So why the procrastination?  My initial thoughts were that such a system goes against my beliefs.  I have seen many parents who focus far too early on reading and writing and become both stressed and competitive about it. A baby has so much to learn in the first years is it really necessary that we add reading to the list?  I also feel that a lot of the time a focus on learning to read and write means that many of the underpinning skills necessary to achieve this are overlooked.  However, I felt that it was important that such products are reviewed by someone with an early education background.  I was interested in seeing the products to help make an informed view.

The materials in the programme include 5 DVD’s, 5 lift the flap books, 5 sets of sliding word cards, music cd, 82 double-sided word cards, a sliding windows board book, word game cards, a parent’s guide and early learning workshop DVD.

To be honest, I liked the materials more than I thought I would.  My biggest reservation about the whole programme is that reading is taught through DVD’s.  There is a firm emphasis on how interactive the DVD’s are but there is no requirement to sit with your baby as you watch them.  I watched the DVD’s with my 10 month old and 2 year old, the 2 year old was mildly interested and the 10 month old paid no attention at all.  Personally I don’t see that there is anything that the children can learn from the DVD’s that they couldn’t learn from sharing the books with an adult. I may be wrong, but I feel that this is an easy way for parents to avoid feeling guilty for not  spending time with their children. The DVD’s themselves are watchable and encourage the children to interact.  It is unfortunate in my opinion that they are American, I think some of the pronunciation of words may be difficult for  young British children when listening to American accents and some words like colour use the American spelling.  I feel to transfer the programme to a UK market it would be beneficial if the DVD’s were remade with British accents and spelling.

I really like the lift the flap books.  These have the word printed on the flap and when the flap is  lifted  there is a photograph to illustrate it and a number of interactive questions and instructions eg. How many dogs are there? Point to your elbow and What is your favourite thing to eat?  My 2 year old particularly liked these and enjoyed focusing on the words, pointing to them and ‘reading’ them with me.  I can imagine that with her interest in books and the written word, having read them a number of times she will begin to read the words in the books.  The same words are used in the sliding word and picture cards and word cards (flashcards).  The word game cards have 2 of each word so that you can play matching pairs games with the words. I can imagine my 2 year old enjoying this, although I haven’t tried it yet.

The programme suggests that you begin by reading the parents’ guide and watching the early learning workshop DVD. The parents’ guide explains how to use the books with your child and gives practical ideas for sharing other literacy related activities   with your child. I thought the DVD was excellent, with a lot of sound advice about early language acquisition and literacy.  My worry is that it is very long and I wonder how many parents would actually sit through it before embarking on the programme.

Dr Robert Titzer the creator of the programme begins by explaining how the programme originated.  He explains that he created the DVD’s to occupy his baby daughter in those times when she was ‘doing nothing’ while he was making dinner or reading the paper.  I found this a strange choice of phrase – I  don’t think I have ever seen a baby ‘doing nothing’.  He also talks about early brain development and the rapidity of brain development in the first few years of life.  This is a perfect reason for interacting with babies, but I’m not sure it is a justification for the need to read at this age.

Having said that there are a number of very positive points about babies and learning that Dr Titzer makes.

  • Parents should be active as the child’s first educator
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your baby
  • Children have receptive language (the ability to understand the meaning of words) before they can speak.
  • Talk to your baby, talking about what they are interested in.
  • Babies learn through movement
  • Play games with babies in the mirror and follow their lead building on the things they instinctively do.
  • Don’t let  children watch too much television, it is far better to read with them.
  • The concept of number needs to be taught in practical situations
  • Children are ready to write when they can master the physical skills – there is no particular age at which this will happen and it should not be introduced too soon.

The children in the case studies shown on the DVD have clearly learned to read both individual words and whole books.  They enjoy reading, are happy and engaged.  I have no doubt that the programme works but I question the appropriateness of teaching young babies to read.

The main argument for teaching babies to read is that the earlier a child learns to read, the more educational advantages they will have later. There is  a wealth of research that shows that the size of a child’s vocabulary at the age of 3 is the biggest predictor of how easily they will learn to read . The programme encourages the development of vocabulary through the introduction of 164 key words. It gives opportunities to introduce other words related to the children’s interests, by providing blank cards and a wipe clean marker pen.   However, surely it would be as beneficial to focus on spoken language and oral/aural skills (such as rhyme, identifying sounds, alliteration) in the first 3 years, accompanied with fostering a love of books, story, song and rhyme?

Dr Titzer explains that the earlier a child learns to read then the more likely they are to love it.  From personal experience with my own children I disagree with this.  My 2 year old has been obsessed with books since she was around 6 months old but cannot read yet.  At almost 3 she is beginning to show an interest in words and is keen to read some for herself.   My 7 year old went to school without being able to read but with a huge vocabulary, an interest in books, the  ability to recognise rhyme and alliteration, a love of singing and poetry, the ability to keep a steady beat and some knowledge of the alphabet.  Within weeks of being in school she learned to read, she is now a well above average reader, an avid bookworm and reads aloud with more expression than most adults (including myself). Based on my 2 year old’s extensive vocabulary, love of books and ability to recognise rhyme I expect her to go the same way. From this experience I question the necessity of programmes such as ‘Your Baby Can Read’.

I think if you have a pre-school child who has built a good vocabulary, oral and aural skills, loves books and is showing an interest in the written word then this could be a useful tool in the journey to learning to read. Personally I don’t like the idea of teaching reading using DVD’s because reading is as much about sharing a special time and ideas with your child as it is about the act of decoding words. I will use the rest of the materials with my 2 year old daughter if she shows an interest but I wouldn’t choose to use them with my baby. For those who would like their baby to read I have no doubt that the system works and that if the system is followed according to the comprehensive guidance the babies and toddlers will get great pleasure from it.  From the perspective of an early educator, I would let babies be babies and use it when the children are a little older.

 

Brain Food – Junk Food may lower IQ.

As parents we are keen to get our children the latest educational toy, send them to the best nurseries and pre-schools and give them the best preparation for school that they can.    A research study conducted by the University of Bristol released today suggests that diet at the age of 3 may have an effect on how intelligent our children are at the age of 8.

The study bases its findings on participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) which tracks 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.  It suggests that a diet of predominantly processed,  high fat and sugary foods up to the age of 3 may lower IQ at the age of 8.5. In contrast A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite.  Parents were asked to complete diaries outlining the food and drinks their children consumed at age 3, 4, 7 and 8.5.  IQ was measured at the age of 8.5.  After taking other influential factors into account it was found that children with a predominantly processed diet at the age of 3 were associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether their diet had improved by that age. Similarly children with a healthy diet at age 3 were associated with higher IQ’s at the age of 8.5.  Diet at the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.  Though the findings are modest, the results are in line with previous research which shows that quality of  diet at the age of 3 is related to school performance and behaviour. A possible explanation is that the brain grows at its fastest in the first 3 years of life, therefore good nutrition may lead to optimal brain growth.

toddler-apple-snack-420x-420x0

So much marketing is aimed at parents and children, making parents feel guilty that they are not buying the child the latest ‘educational’ toy or taking them to classes to improve their language and social skills.  So why not use this as an opportunity to market nutritious food for the youngest children as brain food. Three years isn’t that long a time to limit processed foods and it sets children up with good habits for life.  So maybe next time my 2 year old is nagging for a biscuit or sweet I’ll suggest a healthy alternative –  ‘ Have some special magic food , it will make you clever’.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac