Developmental Interaction: Educating Early Childhood Teachers Everywhere

January 31, 2010 at 4:14 pm Leave a comment

posted by Rachel Theilheimer ’74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY

Virginia Casper (Bank Street Graduate School faculty member) and I recently wrote and edited Early Childhood Education: Learning Together, an introductory textbook for early childhood students. We had support from Bank Street’s Publications and Media division and lots of input from early childhood colleagues. McGraw-Hill published it in November 2009.

About four years ago, McGraw-Hill approached Bank Street for an introductory ECE book. Virginia and I took that as a challenge to translate the Developmental Interaction Approach into action. Of course, we defined DIA in several places. Here’s a discussion of DIA from chapter 7 of the book:

Developmental interaction as it was formulated at Bank Street reflects the beliefs that as children grow and develop, their thoughts and emotions work together and that children learn from engaging with the world. The approach informs teachers about children through a theoretical framework, rather than prescribing a particular way to teach. Democratic ideas influence the teacher’s decisions about content, practices, and the social and physical environment. Developmental interaction regards the young child as a maker of meaning who is actively engaged in making sense of the world. Teachers help children expand their understanding of themselves and their surroundings through extensive curriculum that builds on the children’s questions and concerns while teachers thoughtfully add their own questions to enrich and deepen the children’s inquiry.

Based on principles of development and interaction, school is a place to promote competence in all areas of children’s lives and help them both take charge of their learning and work with others. It is an active community connected to the social world, not an isolated place for learning lessons. This means that the school shares responsibility and power with children’s families and neighborhood institutions.

Defining DIA was tricky, because in some ways it is easier to say what it is not (prescriptive, one-size fits all, authoritarian, isolated from real life) than what it is, although it very definitely represents certain values.

The real issue for us, though, was to write a text that was not prescriptive, while holding on to values of democracy, social justice, and deep respect for children – their feelings as well as their intellects. We tried to do that by providing discussions and examples of how teachers introduce issues of social justice in their classes. We introduced discussions and examples of family partnerships and the ways in which teachers can learn about children and their cultures through relationships with families. Whenever possible, we used stories and questions that turn the reader to herself to reflect and apply the topic at hand to her own experiences and points of view.

To what degree did we succeed? What should we be thinking about as we anticipate the possibility of a second edition? We turn to the extended Bank Street community for feedback. See the book in McGraw Hill’s catalog. See an interview with Virginia and me about the book at http://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/news/news.jsp?id=2104.

Rachel graduated from Bank Street in 1974 and is currently the Chair of Teacher Education at Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY, where she teaches early childhood courses.  As you now know, she is co-author, with Virginia Casper, of Early Childhood Education: Learning Together.

Entry filed under: dialogue, early childhood, professional development, teacher education.

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