Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing nature vs. nurture, the basics of biological development and a few different perspectives on cognitive development. There are a number of big ideas that I have learned and I am excited to implement them into classroom practice.
There are multiple factors that come into play when discussing human development and in turn these can affect a student’s ability to learn. Nature, which can be described as a biological influence and nurture, which is the environmental influence are the common grounds for determining what factors have influenced human development.
Pressley and McCormick (2007) state that, “Humans do not inherit genes that result in specific level of intelligence. Rather, they inherit the potential for a range of possibilities” (p. 4). The environment plays a crucial role in human development and learning potential because we inherit a “range of possibilities” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 4). If the intelligence genes are tended to, challenged, and encouraged, they are much more likely to be exposed. One environment that has the potential to exposes the intelligent genes in children is a classroom. If a classroom inspires learning and exploration, the child is more likely to expose their intelligent genes and make them visible. If this environment is not provided, the intelligence genes may not be exposed and this will greatly impact a child’s learning potential.
Nature consists of the genetic material received from parents. Periodically DNA codes may develop errors, which lead to cognitive development issues. This can naturally provide learning difficulties for a child. However, environment can have an influence on nature. Environmental influences such as neurological injury, exposure to chemicals, teratogens, and malnutrition are all factors that can negatively impact the mental competency of developing children in short or long-term ways (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 48-49). Pressley and McCormick (2007) explain that when infants or young developing kids are exposed to these factors, it impacts them more than an adult because their brains and bones are not fully developed until later years. With that, researchers offer developmental hope for these kids. They explain that that if the affected child is provided with early treatment in an environment that provides consistent, professional attention, the child will have the potential to catch up with their natural developmental stage.
Pressley and McCormick (2007) also discuss how historical era, culture, family, extrafamilial relationships, and institutions are environmental influences that play a huge role in child development (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, pg. 14).
Piaget strongly believes that in order for children to reach their potential they have to be active participants in their learning. Active learning is also teaching students how to think about the things they are doing. It is steering away from the immobility of a classroom lecture and providing learning activities and experiences for the students to learn. Piaget calls this theory constructivism. Piaget encourages educators to provide a constructivist classroom which includes countless activities to challenge students and inspire their learning. Ultimately, the constructivist classroom seeks to support a student’s individual construction their knowledge in a way that is meaningful for them. This is the most ideal learning environment and one that promotes student potential (Pressley & McCormick, 2007). Pressley and McCormick (2007) explain that a constructivist classroom seeks to, “Reduce adult power as much as possible, encourage the exchange of point of view between teachers and students and between students and students (p.68). Group work with peers who have mutual interest will foster collaboration and encourage deeper and useable understandings (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 68). Ultimately, it is important for teachers to be flexible and tending to the needs of their specific classroom realizing when their students are striving the most. Learning opportunities and knowledge construction can still be “stimulated from verbal explanations and observational learning opportunities” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 84). It is of equal importance to provide the students with what they are ready for depending on the stage of development that they are in.
Teachers must know about child development so that developmentally appropriate lesson plans, assignments, and instruction can be given. For example, students in the formal operation stage (12 years-adult) can learn abstract scientific principles through a lecture. Students in the concrete operational stage (7-12 years), on the other hand, would have to see concrete applications of the scientific principles” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 68). The different stages have different learning capabilities. Piaget emphasizes that “Instruction should be matched to the child’s level of functioning” (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 87). If this matching does not occur, learning will not take place. The cognitive development has to be known. This also emphasizes the importance of a teacher knowing his or her students. Pressley and McCormick suggest that teachers should, “continually diagnose the level of functioning of the child and provide instruction just beyond the current levels of their students” (p. 87). For the greatest learning potential to take place, a child’s developmental stage has to be known and also challenged.
Pressley, M. and C.B. McCormick. Child and Adolescent Development for Educators. New York: Guilford, 2007.