Meece & Daniels, Chapter Overviews


Chapter overviews taken from

Chapter 1 Overview:  Studying Child and Adolescent Development

What teachers believe about child development varies considerably and influences their teaching practices in the classroom. Children represent a large proportion of the poor population in the United States, and more and more of our schoolchildren are from African American, Latino, and other minority backgrounds. These changing demographics have significant implications for our schools.

Child development experts use various theories to explain the changes that occur over time in children. These theories differ in both the approaches they adopt and the conclusions they draw about key issues in child development. There are biological, psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive, contextual, social-cultural, and ecological theories about children’s development. It is important for teachers to have knowledge of all the various theories because children’s behavior is better explained by a combination of theories than by any one theory alone.

It is also important that teachers be skilled at judging the quality of research studies in the area of child development so they can be critical consumers of the research they encounter at conferences and in articles. Child development has been studied using various research designs and methods of data collection. Each has advantages and disadvantages and should be chosen based on the questions the study seeks to answer. Research studies involving children and adults must follow a set of ethical guidelines, and it is important for potential teachers and parents to be aware of these.

Chapter 2 Overview:  Physical Development

Chapter 2 addresses the physical development that occurs from the prenatal period through adolescence. Development during this period is largely guided by genetics but is also influenced by interactions with the environment. During the prenatal period, genetic and chromosomal abnormalities can lead to genetic diseases and disorders. Environmental conditions such as maternal nutrition, alcohol consumption, or smoking can interfere with normal fetal development, putting the developing fetus at risk for various physical and cognitive disabilities.

The human brain continues to develop through early adulthood. The area of the brain that controls motor movement develops first; the largest part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, which controls thought processes, is the last to develop.

Students with specific learning disabilities or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) present special challenges to educators. It is important that teachers not treat students with learning disabilities as if they were lazy, irresponsible, or unintelligent. The causes of learning disabilities are difficult to determine, but research indicates that they are influenced by heredity, problems during pregnancy, and incidents after birth.

Height, weight, and muscle mass are about the same for boys and girls until the onset of puberty. Puberty, the time when a young person becomes capable of sexual reproduction, brings about physical changes and often has a psychological impact on adolescents as well. Adults and children alike may evaluate children based on cultural stereotypes of physical attractiveness, affecting children’s social relationships and school achievement. Early or late physical maturation can be particularly stressful for young people, resulting in them feeling "out of sync" with their peers.

Several health problems can be of particular concern during childhood and adolescence, including eating disorders, obesity, substance abuse, adolescent sexuality and pregnancy, and depression and suicide. Researchers believe schools must play a larger role in preventing these problems.

Chapter 3 Overview:  Cognitive Development:  Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theories

Chapter 3 covers two major theories of cognitive development: those put forth by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Many current reforms in educational research are based on a constructivist approach to learning, whereby children must construct their own understandings of the world. Many of these reforms are based on research influenced by the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky.

Prior to the introduction of Piaget’s theory, children were thought to be passive organisms shaped and molded by their environment. Piaget taught us that children act as "little scientists," trying to make sense of their world through hands-on experimentation. He believed cognitive development involved not simply quantitative changes in facts and skills but rather major transformations in the way children organize knowledge and make sense of their world. These changes occurred, according to Piaget, in four major stages of development: sensorimotor, preoperations, concrete operations, and formal operations. Piaget believed all children proceed through the four stages in the same sequence, but that there is a great deal of individual and cultural variation in the amount of time children spend in a particular stage.

Lev Vygotsky was an early critic of Piaget’s theory. He believed that knowledge is not individually constructed but co-constructed between people as they interact. Social interactions with more knowledgeable peers and adults provide the main vehicles for intellectual development. He believed that language was the most important psychological tool influencing cognitive development. One of Vygotsky’s most important contributions to education is the zone of proximal development, which represents the gap between what children can do on their own and what they can do with the assistance of others. By working in a child’s "zone," an adult or more skilled peer can stretch a child’s ability to successfully complete a task through guided participation and scaffolding.

While both Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that knowledge must be mentally constructed by the child, Vygotsky placed much more emphasis on the role of social interactions and language in the construction process. Vygotsky also believed that learning precedes development, while Piaget believed that the stage of cognitive development limits what children are capable of learning.

Chapter 4 Overview:  Cognitive Development:  Information Processing and Intelligence Theories

In the last chapter the cognitive development theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky were covered, along with the contributions of these theories to current educational reforms and practices. Chapter 4 examines two additional theories of cognitive development—information processing and intelligence theories—and the implications of these theories for teachers.

Information processing theories focus on the flow of information through the cognitive system. Developmental changes in children’s attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and knowledge base are discussed, and the various components of the information processing system are described. The role of prior knowledge in cognitive development is also explored. Information processing theories provide us with a number of implications for teaching practice that can enhance children’s attentiveness, memory, and problem-solving skills.

While looking at broad theories of cognitive development it is important to keep in mind that there are individual differences in cognitive development. Chapter 4 addresses how cognitive differences are assessed and interpreted, different conceptions of intelligence, and stability and change in intelligence. The research related to genetic and environmental influences on intelligence is reviewed, examining such factors as the home environment, parenting behavior, and the effects of early intervention and later schooling on intelligence.

Ethnic and gender-based variations in intellectual abilities and academic achievement are described. Possible explanations for these variations are presented, along with the role that schools can take in creating learning environments that provide equal resources, encouragement, and opportunities to all children regardless of race, ethnic background, or gender. The chapter ends with a look at the role of computers in children’s learning.

Chapter 5 Overview:  Language and Literacy Development

Language development begins at birth. All children (except those with exceptional learning needs) acquire language. Adults foster language development in children by talking to them from birth, by reinforcing their efforts to engage in conversations, and by modeling language use. Children all follow a similar sequence of language development as they make and test hypotheses about language on their way to constructing the rules of their language.

Language is learned at home, but literacy, the ability to read and write, is typically learned at school. And while all children acquire language, not all children will become literate. The notion of emergent literacy holds that both spoken and written language are learned from birth. To promote literacy, young children need to have a print-rich environment and many informal opportunities to interact with print prior to formal literacy instruction in school. At school, teachers need to create print-rich classroom environments, provide many authentic reading and writing activities whose purpose is communication, and explicitly teach literacy skills and strategies.

Fostering language and literacy development in linguistically diverse populations can pose significant challenges to teachers. The interactional patterns in classrooms can be significantly different from those that children from linguistically diverse populations are accustomed to in their home and community, leaving students feeling confused, frustrated, and unable to participate. English language learners need a supportive school environment, and different instructional approaches must be used and customized for the diversity of the students served.

Chapter 6 Overview:  Self-Concept, Identity, and Motivation

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development provides a framework for understanding children’s social and emotional development. As they mature, children face developmental issues that must be resolved. Parents play an important role in how their children resolve these issues. When parents are supportive and caring, children learn that the world is a place that can be trusted and that they are worthy of care and support, and they feel confident to explore their environment and initiate new activities. Inconsistent, overly strict, or overly permissive parenting is associated with negative resolution of developmental issues.

Schools play an important role in the development of children’s self-concepts and self-esteem. Current programs to promote positive self-esteem are cognitively based, focusing on the attributions students make for their successes and failures. Children with high self-esteem and positive self-concepts tend to be more highly motivated and more successful in school, while low levels of self-esteem are correlated with a range of problem behaviors, including poor school attendance and achievement, peer rejection, juvenile delinquency, loneliness, depression, and teenage pregnancy.

The developmental task to be resolved during adolescence and early adulthood is the formation of an identity. Adolescents must integrate childhood identities with personal desires and societal opportunities and expectations in order to develop a sense of who they are and who they will become. A positively valued ethnic identity is important for a strong, positive, and stable self-identity in minority youths.

Motivating students to learn is one of the most difficult problems teachers face. Achievement motivation has numerous definitions based on different motivational theories. Most contemporary theories of motivation focus on students’ beliefs, values, goals, and cognitive processes. An individual’s achievement motivation can be affected by differences in ability, early learning experiences, parenting practices, gender, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status. Students’ achievement motivation tends to decline as they progress in school.

Chapter 7 Overview:  Peer Relations and Moral Development

Children need to develop the ability to understand the perspective of others in order to form social relationships. By helping students understand the perspectives of others, teachers aid students in developing positive peer relations. Peer relations have an important influence on school success by enhancing children’s feelings of competence, efficacy, and self-worth. Poor peer relations can lead to low self-esteem, depression, poor school achievement, dropping out of school, and delinquent behavior. Children who are aggressive tend to be rejected by peers and have poor peer relations. Teachers can enhance positive peer relations in the classroom with the frequent use of cooperative learning activities, providing social skills training to neglected and rejected peers, and by modeling and reinforcing prosocial behavior in the classroom.

Teachers and schools influence children’s conceptions of moral behavior and ethical values. Kohlberg proposed a theory of moral development organized into three levels. Moral development, in Kohlberg’s view, progressed from self-centered, to rule-oriented, to principled reasoning. Carol Gilligan has challenged Kohlberg’s theory because it is based on men, and women may reason differently about moral dilemmas because of being socialized to consider the well-being of others, making judgments based on an ethic of care. Nel Noddings developed ideas about caring in schools based on the ethic of care. In her view, schools must become caring communities where children feel understood, respected, and recognized.

Character education and service learning programs are two increasingly popular ways for schools to foster the moral development of children and adolescents.

Chapter 8 Overview:  The Family:  Partners in Education

Families have the primary responsibility for socializing the child to be a productive and competent member of society. Children are increasingly being raised in single-parent families, often headed by single mothers facing economic difficulties.

There are cultural variations in family values and child-rearing practices. Generally speaking, African American families emphasize assertiveness, independence, and self-confidence. Hispanic American families value social harmony, interdependence, family obligation, conformity, and cooperation. Asian Americans also value social harmony and interdependence, as well as emphasizing academic success. Native American family values differ by tribe, but most families emphasize harmony and connectedness and respect for elders.

Family environments can be characterized by levels of warmth, responsiveness, and control. Constellations of parenting behaviors along these dimensions form parenting styles. An authoritative parenting style is associated with the most positive outcomes for children. During times of family transitions such as divorce and remarriage, schools can provide continuity and stability for children.

More mothers with children under 18 are working outside the home than ever before. Most studies show no negative effects on children’s development if the mother’s work is not associated with decreased monitoring of children’s activities, and if children receive high quality child care. After-school child care programs can lead to improved school attendance and achievement, particularly for low-income children.

Active parental involvement throughout their children’s education is important for school success. Teachers and schools should strive to involve parents at school through regular communication, recruiting classroom volunteers, encouraging parents to help children with learning at home, and including parents in school governance.

Chapter 9 Overview:  Supporting the Development of Children and Youth in School

The ecological model of human development introduced in Chapter 1 has been particularly influential in the recent school-reform model of James Comer and Edward Zigler, which have been combined into a single model referred to as CoZi. In keeping with the ecological model, emphasis is being placed on quality teacher-student relationships as integral to the school and life success of children and adolescents.

It is just as important that teachers do what they can to foster these relationships as it is for them to develop effective curriculums, instructional practices, and classroom management strategies. An understanding of child and adolescent development is essential to achieving this goal.

Classroom teachers actively participate in identifying the special learning needs of their students and figuring out how to accommodate them. These accommodations can take the form of teacher-directed, peer-assisted, or self-directed learning.

Together with families and neighborhood communities, schools play a vital role in fostering resiliency and promoting healthy development in children and adolescents. Middle schools and high schools that are successful in doing this have many factors in common, including, among other things, positive student-teacher relations, high expectations for all students, active partnerships with families and communities, and policies that promote the overall health and wellness, as well as the academic progress, of their students.

There are a number of active national and local organizations that can help teachers become more effective advocates for children and youth.

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