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The context for my observation about student’s learning and perceptions of what learning is, was a kindergarten student at an Elementary School in Greensboro. To prepare for my observation, I examined a series of developmental stages identified by Piaget, Vygotsky and Erikson to be aware of and attempt to observe and created a few questions to later assist me in familiarizing the student with the idea of learning. There are a total 25 students in the class, with a capacity of 24, with mixed abilities, including physical and learning difficulties. The classroom also has a teaching assistant to help the teacher, Mrs. F, with students who need one on one support. One of these students, Mrs. F wanted me to observe was JJ, because of his behavioral issues. My time with JJ, through observing, interviewing, and reflecting, allowed me to better understand how learning takes place and what learning is from a child’s perspective.
In my observation, I noticed several concepts and theories of early childhood development. I first took note of JJ’s physical development. His actions indicated that the cerebral cortex of his brain was potentially not fully developed. I observed the possible delay in his brain’s frontal lobe, when he did not follow Mrs. F directions. The classroom was directed to complete an activity, while some of the other students finished their breakfast. The project was to color an apple, cut it out, glue the cutout on a piece of construction paper, and write “Apple”. I saw JJ walk to the trashcan to throw away his untouched breakfast and as he walked back to his seat he started talking to one of his classmates and started laughing. Mrs. F noticed the laughter and asked him to sit down and complete his work, or he would lose his recess privilege. JJ sat down and again started to speak to another classmate. His decision making and risk-taking behavior can be explained by his frontal lobe potentially developing slower in comparison to his peers.
Next, I was able to identify several of Piaget’s theories of development in JJ attempts to complete his activity. The tasks were to color, cut and paste an apple and write the word on the image. JJ started to cut his apple out first, which a lot of children have problems in following sequences. Mrs. F had to remind him that he needed to color before cutting. JJ looked at his classmates work and then proceeded to finish coloring his apple. After one cut, JJ told Mrs. F. that “He couldn’t do it” as tears ran down his face. With encouragement and step by step guidance from Mrs. F., JJ was able to complete his work. Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development explains JJ’s behavior. His equilibrium was disrupted when he was unable to cut out the apple shape. He became frustrated from the desire to move from disequilibrium to equilibrium. Mrs. F. motivated JJ in reestablishing his equilibrium. JJ created a scheme to allow him to make sense of his experience by organizing and understanding cutting, and forming a cutting shapes scheme. This was the first time JJ had used scissors to cut out shape from a piece of paper. He adapted by adjusting his scheme of ripping pieces paper. He assimilated the use of scissors to cut and accommodated his existing scheme of ripping to using scissors to cut out shapes. Hands on activities provide experiences that Piaget believed were necessary for development. The differences in experience and maturation in children, causes them to pass through stages at different rates.
This activity also showed JJ’s zone of proximal development. Vygotsky, believed a child’s ability to complete a task with assistance from a more competent individual determines the level of potential development. This level was observed in JJ’s ability to finish his morning activity because of Mrs. F’s help. Mrs. F did not do JJ’s works for him. She instead gave him instructions and encouragement that would allow JJ to develop new skills to practice independently, illustrating the use of scaffolding effectively.
I then observed where JJ was in Piaget’s stages of development after the students moved on to the next activity. The students were divided into four different learning stations: Reading, Writing, Art, and Alphabet Games. JJ’s first learning station was the Alphabet games section, which required working together with another student to find matching pairs of letters. Mrs. F sat down on the rug with JJ, and helped guide him towards the answers. Mrs. F explained that some letters were uppercase letters and others were lowercase letters. When Mrs. F attempted to put match letters that didn’t fit, she pointed out the differences in the letters, which then prompted him to pay closer attention to letters before matching them. Mrs. F never matched the pairs for JJ but praised him every time he successfully matched a pair. JJ’s behavior and age fall in to Piaget’s Preoperational stage. In this stage, perception dominates a child thinking. Classifying letters by upper and lower case was challenge for JJ.
During the last moments of my observation with JJ, the class sat on the big rug for circle time. While Mrs. F read the students a story, I noticed JJ’s energetic and outgoing skills. When the teacher asked the students questions about story, he would respond particularly loudly. While the story was read, he had trouble sitting still and had to be reminded several times to sit on his bottom, not knees, to raise his hand quietly and to use his inside voice. JJ said something under his breath and pulled on the shirt of a student in of front of him to grab his attention. The student fell back and JJ gasped automatically and flung his hand away from the shirt. In these actions, JJ demonstrated cognitive, emotional and social challenges that are commonly seen in children in developmental stage. JJ’s was unable to stop himself from impulsively moving and speaking during circle time. His ability in trying to constrain himself, indicates a new-found growth in his memory and spatial understanding created by a rapid development in his hippocampus.
JJ speaking under his breath was a way of coaching himself to follow the rules. This behavior is identified in Vygotsky’s Egocentric speech stage of his language development theory. In this stage, children will often talk aloud to themselves as they perform tasks or solve problems, demonstrating their thoughts. JJ is making sense of the world through his “inner speech”.
JJ’s actions of pulling on his classmate shirt provides insight into his aggressive and moral development. JJ’s lack of malicious intentions and intended act to fulfill his need for attention from his peers, characterizes his aggression as proactive. When JJ gasped and moved his hand away he showed signs of remorse and self-conscious emotion in his actions, after seeing that he had hurt a classmate. JJ developed a moral concept of what is right and wrong through his judgement of social conventions, preventing his impulse to pull on someone’s shirt again.
After circle time, the students were able to choose what they wanted to play. I observed JJ sit away from the students, as they grouped together around a box with a variety of Lego pieces, building their own creation. I observed a student approach JJ and ask him what he was making. JJ did not respond until the student had walked away and was prompted by Mrs. F to answer. Erikson’s theory of emotional development helps put JJ growth into context. Erikson’s theory, in the essential conflict of initiative versus guilt can explains JJ’s quietness stemming from feeling of guilt. His response being influenced by the teacher, is a form of scaffolding, which is a vital aspect of Vygotsky social learning theory.
Once completing my observation, I proceeded to interview JJ by asking him a few questions about learning. I asked him what he learned today in class. He responded by saying “Nothing”. I then asked him what his favorite part of going school was and he responded saying “I like Kindergarten, centers, fun stuff, even learning, that’s why I love PE”. I asked him next what he thought learning was. He answered, “It’s about going to school, going to class, being quiet on the floor, doing my paper my myself”. He then asked me why I was in his classroom taking notes. I explained to him that I was completing an assignment for school. JJ replied, “You should be a teacher, I think you’re going to be a good one”.
In conclusion, when JJ was prompted about his learning process, the things that he said lead me to believe that his process of learning is based on autonomy. Which reflects Erikson’s theory of Initiative versus Guilt, especially when JJ mentioned that another part of learning was of him not getting in trouble. Another example of JJ’s independence is when I asked him about what he learned and he responded, “doing my paper by myself”. JJ’s answer in explaining what learning is to him, shows how important following the rules has been instilled in him after repeatedly getting caught in not doing what he was told. This thought process demonstrates the “preoperational” stage of Piaget’s cognitive development theory. The only set of rules a child in this stage is aware of, are their own. It is logical for the child to believe that they are correctly following the rules. JJ’s lack of knowledge that any sets of outside rules might apply to him, influence his behavior. His inability to assume any other perspective than his own, creates a world functioned on the way in which he chooses to represent the world. JJ expressing his feelings that I “would make a good teacher” demonstrate how his social interactions influenced his development on the concept of learning. Vygotsky believed development resulted directly from internalized social interactions. Social interactions play a fundamental role on the journey from being externally regulated to internally regulated in cognition. Through social interactions, children become more competent in their language use and begin to regulate their own thought processes. This is shown in my conversation with JJ, leading to his statement of me being a good teacher. Our dialogue driven activity of interviewing, provided a framework for ideas to be exchanged resulting in advanced development.
“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later on the individual level; first between people . . . and then inside the child . . . This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals. “- Vygotsky
Observing JJ made me reflect and discover what interests him from a child’s point of view, which allowed me to be able to assess where he was developmentally and see what strategies were possibly implemented in the classroom to help him with challenges. My observation allowed me to learn about a child’s personality traits and how it may affect their skills, requiring the need of extra practice. I also think that method used in my observation of JJ not knowing that I was observing him initially allowed me to see JJ in his true form. For example, JJ’s impulsive urges to constantly move around and his reactions when presented different activates to complete allowed me to better understand how he communicates socially, how he behaves and communicates with other children in his classroom. From the aspect of a classroom setting, I was able to see how JJ develop his thinking skills according to his social relationships. JJ was not discouraged in expressing his feelings, emotions and thoughts because of the environment created by his teacher. This experience allowed me to appreciate and recognize a child’s perception of their world how they make react within their environment. I was able to gain knowledge about child development through different stages and how they a child develops their capacities. Contextually, what an observer see can change dramatically because of the many reactions a child can display based on their environment and social interactions. It is vital for educators to develop the skills of observation to know how to help a child learn and to understand the reason why a child may react a particular way.
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