EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM

EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM 8
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Early Years Research: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Adult Roles, Training and Professionalism by Members of the British Educational Research Association Early Years Special Interest Group EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM Members of the British Educational Research Association Early Years Special Interest Group who contributed to the review:- Lesley Abbott Angela Anning, Carol Aubrey Patricia Broadhead Pamela Calde, Mary Chambers Tina Cook Jenny Cumming Tricia David Anne Edwards Bridget Egan Peter Elfer Linda Miller Janet Moyles Penny Munn Linda Pound Jeni Riley Kathy Sylva Peter Tymms David Whitebread Liz Wood The SIG Members would also like to acknowledge the contribution to the review process made by Ann Lewis (as an invited speaker), together with Trisha Maynard and Cathy Nutbrown and their colleagues (for reading and commenting on the draft). The review was edited by Carol Aubrey (Section II), Angela Anning (Section III), Pam Calder (Section IV), and Tricia David (overall). - 2 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP CONTENTS I. THE REVIEW PROCESS 4 II. PEDAGOGY 7 III. CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT 21 IV. ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM 35 V. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH 42 REFERENCES 44 END NOTES 60 - 3 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM I. THE REVIEW PROCESS INTRODUCTION The foci of the research review In this document members of the British Educational Research Association’s Early Years Special Interest Group (BERA SIG) present a literature review of some of the research relevant to their specialist area. The ‘Early Years’ of childhood are internationally recognised as being from birth to eight, and although some of the work presented here is concerned with children within those full age ranges, the majority of the report focuses on research about provision for children aged between three and six years. This focus was hotly debated when the SIG members came together for the first time to work on the task of the review, since it was felt that to leave out any age group within the definition of ‘early childhood’ might be interpreted as regarding those children (usually under threes) as less important educationally. On the contrary, the group members welcome the new Government interest in under threes and the 2001-2002 project, led on their behalf by Professor Lesley Abbott, exploring ways of developing effective practice with this age group. However, the extensive nature of research evidence about under threes – termed ‘infants’ by psychologists – from developmental and cognitive psychology and other relevant disciplines would have made the work far too broad for this first Early Years SIG review. Like the House of Commons Select Committee (1988-89) and the OECD (2001), we see settings attended by young children as providing both care and education, because for this age group the two processes are inseparable. The majority of the research reported upon here concerns group settings outside the children’s homes, because by and large these are the sites where studies of published research were conducted. The few recent studies of children learning in their own homes tend to be case studies of the acquisition of language and literacy skills, for example, but very few have been sited in childminders’ homes. Additionally, the group recognised that not only did the age range to be covered present challenges, the amount of research available demanded a narrowing of focus in order for the review process to be manageable. Thus the group decided to focus on three main areas:- • pedagogy • curriculum and • adult roles, professional development, training and the workforce. Further, this review focuses on practice rather than policy research. As a result, the group has identified not only notable research omissions in the areas reviewed, it also highlights the need for more early years policy research, particularly at a time when there are so many different initiatives and developments. Many of these are currently being evaluated in terms of ‘effectiveness’ measures but there are few examples of research analysing policy (however, see for example, Lubeck and Jessup 2001; OECD 2001; Valiente 2001). The research questions identified Several seminars hosted at SIG members’ institutions and at BERA AGM conferences were used to discuss and plan the content of the acreview and to agree a process. At the first event the group identified the following questions:- • What do we know about how young children engage with curricula in educational settings? • What do we know about how adults promote young children’s learning in educational settings? The review process Three working groups were formed to contribute to the main sections of the text and one editor took responsibility for each of those sections. This meant it was imperative the members of all three groups agreed the criteria against which to assess research reported in the public domain which would contribute to the academic review.. To this end, articles about assessing research and conducting literature reviews were read and discussed (for example: Bassey 2000; Davies, 2000; Eisner 1998; Harlen 1997 and 2000; Meade 2000; Slavin 1986; Sylva 1999). Following support and guidance at one Early Years SIG event by Professor Ann Lewis, co-author with Professor Brahm Norwich (2000) of the BERA review ‘Mapping a pedagogy for special educational needs’, it was agreed that each subgroup follow a process of charting identified sources against the criteria derived from Slavin (1986) and Eisner’s suggestions as outlined by Meade (2000), using the grid in Figure 1. - 4 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP Figure 1: The grid Field/ Domain being reviewed:- …………………….. No. Full reference – Quantitative Qualitative Mixed (state Slavin’s Eisner’s criteria title, etc paradigms) criteria 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 Slavin’s (1986) criteria were:- • the research is germane to the issue being reviewed • it is based on a research design which minimises bias • the research has external validity. Eisner / Meade (2000) criteria were:- 1. the philosophic position of the researcher is clear 2. theoretical constructs and units of analysis are identified 3. the nature and extent of the sample is described and justified 4. the arguments are based on data and are logical 5. there is sufficient evidence (eg. from triangulation where the sample is small) 6. standards of judgement have been rigorously assessed by others 7. generalisations have not been attempted where inappropriate 8. the work has been published and subjected to public scrutiny as a result. These criteria were to be used to ensure the inclusion of only the most ‘robust’ research. However, they instigated paradigmatic debates among the group, adding to the usefulness of the process in terms of group development and a deepening of understanding of many of the difficulties we face when seeking to share research with each other and the wider world. Each subgroup compiled a set of key terms which were to be used for their data base searches. They also identified key journals which would be likely to contain relevant articles. For example, data bases used included :- the BEI (British Education Index); OVID; ASSIA.; examples of key journals targeted are :- the British Educational Research Journal, Childhood Education, Early Child Development and Care, Early Education and Development, Educational Researcher, Early Years Educational Research Journal, Education 3-13, European Early Childhood Educational Research Journal, International Journal of Early Childhood, International Journal of Early Years Education, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Oxford Review of Education. Additional advice was sought from academics outside the group who were known for their work in specialised research areas. The next phase of the process involved the data base searches. Members of the group brought to bear their years of experience in the field in meticulously reading through the abstracts of all potential research articles and reports. Their experience of research and scholarship was also brought into play, as well as the agreed criteria, when subsequently reading the articles selected for inclusion. At this point it was important for the subgroups to maintain their foci. The huge amount of potential material in the field of early childhood education research meant that some areas could not be covered, despite their importance. Further it was agreed that the review would have to be limited, focusing mainly upon British research conducted during the previous decade. The reviewers did not set out to cover topics such as the role and involvement of parents; policy research; cross cultural studies, except where they have been pivotal in informing the British scene; nor does the review give a full account of pedagogy and curriculum relating to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in the years from birth to three, although some of the recent research regarding this age group is considered in the section on adult roles, and the curriculum section was annotated by a specialist in the care and education of children under three. A review of the literature about children from birth to three, instigated by the DfES project Birth to Three Matters led by Professor Lesley Abbott at Manchester Metropolitan University, is currently in press ( David et al in press). Having explored and assessed the abstracts and titles of material which fulfilled the criteria of relevance and were concerned with recent British research, these were printed off and the full articles located and read by members of the group. Unless there was a serious doubt that the work did not come close to fulfilling the rigorous research criteria, those publications which provided the ‘best evidence’ were included in the review. Thus the scope of the review was refined at successive stages. Each working group drew up recommendations based on members’ analysis of the research reviewed and in turn these are synthesised in the conclusions in Section V. We do not claim that the review is comprehensive, particularly as it does not include unpublished reports, articles from professional journals where the underlying research process is implicit, or other documents to which the group did not have access, as we reviewed only material which would be in the public domain and thus accessible to readers who might use our review to trace references. Circulating the review to SIG members and two reviewers - 5 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM In the final stages, the text was circulated among SIG members, for corrections, omissions and comment. One SIG member provided very helpful, critical comment from members of the voluntary body (the PLA – Preschool Learning Alliance) for which she works as a researcher. Two colleagues who had not taken part in the process were then asked to act as referees and to provide feedback. This collaborative process throughout was intended to lead to a final text which not only served the purposes of BERA but which would stimulate further thinking and research in the field of ECEC. The text will also form the basis of a shorter, user review to be written by Tricia David for practitioners and policy makers. The three sections which follow present ‘best evidence’ about pedagogy; curriculum and assessment; and adult roles, training and professionalism. The fifth and final section of the review is a brief statement of the conclusions and recommendations which we can draw on the basis of the work reviewed here, together with any emerging issues and ideas for future research. RESEARCHING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE During the last twenty years the number of those in the field of ECEC involved in research in this country and throughout the world has grown as rapidly as the field itself. Before 1980 most research into ECEC was conducted by developmental psychologists rather than by educationalists. Further, the field continues to be highly multi-professional and multi- disciplinary. ECEC researchers have a responsibility to address a wide community, often including parents. Early years researchers also recognise that owing to the vulnerability and issues of power relating to babies and very young children, they must be rigorous about not only ethical aspects of their work but also the appropriateness of the whole process. Thus there is an increase in debate about research methodology and its development for this field (see for example: Aubrey et al 2000; Aubrey 2001; MacNaughton et al 2001; Penn 2001). Internationally, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), a ‘club’ whose members tend to be the richer nations of the world, suddenly became interested in early childhood and its importance in relation to the development of lifelong learning. The resulting survey (OECD 2001) of provision for young children in 12 countries includes comment upon the contribution of research to policy and practice in each of those states. The OECD concludes that at present insufficient is spent on research in every one of the twelve countries and that at present it is dominated by work which espouses one particular research paradigm. Educational Research in general has been criticised during the last five years (see for example Hillage et al 1998; Tooley and Darby 1998) on a number of counts, but in particular for its failure to impact on the field, so influencing practitioners and policy makers. Initiatives such as the BERA academic and user reviews are intended to contribute to the different ways in which researchers share their experience and expertise, as well as promoting dialogue among these groups. - 6 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP II. PEDAGOGY INTRODUCTION As the term ‘pedagogy is by no means universally used by early years researchers or, indeed, even defined in the same way, this creates some difficulties for carrying out a systematic review of the chosen topic field. With respect to primary-aged children, David McNamara (1994: 6) has suggested that the notion of pedagogy has a ‘hostile tone with implications for pedantry, dogmatism or severity’ and noted that it is worrying that the word, traditionally employed to signify the art and science of teaching, should carry negative associations. Mortimore (1999) has described pedagogy as a ‘contested’ term with ‘changing connotations and pressures’, more common in other European countries, in particular, in French, Germany and Russian-speaking academic communities. He has taken the view that it is helpful to define the term in a way that takes the learner into account, otherwise it would be better described under the more limited term of ‘didactics’. His preferred definition is ‘any conscious action by one person designed to enhance learning in another (Mortimore 1999: 3). Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva (2002) in their recent DfES-sponsored study of effective pedagogy in the early years, have taken a similar view, suggesting that effective pedagogy is both ‘teaching’ and the provision of instructive learning environments and routines. This definition, thus, provided both a suitable starting focus and a reminder that keyword searches would need to include ‘teaching’, ‘instruction’ and ‘learning environments’, as well as ‘pedagogy’. ISSUES OF THEORETICAL CONCEPTUALISATION Singer (1993) has noted, however, that ‘pedagogies of childhood’ are not reducible to scientific enquiry alone, since they are framed within cultural values that can best be addressed when the researcher’s own position is made explicit. As she pointed out, child development theories are presented as objective and universal and ‘very often we are unaware of just how deeply our theories, concepts and research questions are anchored in moral and social-political choices and problems’ (Singer, 1993:130). Researchers from the US, for instance, have been concerned with fundamental issues to do with the nature of learning, schooling and knowledge, and the relationship between theoretical understanding and educational practice (Alexander 2000). Greeno et al (1996) have argued that there are distinct traditions in educational theories and practices that derive from differing perspectives on the phenomena of the domain. The perspectives correspond to three general views of knowing and learning in European and North American thought derived from Case (1991; 1992) and Packer (1985), referred to as empiricist, rationalist and pragmatist-sociohistoric. The empiricist perspective, exemplified by Locke and Thorndike, emphasises the consistency of knowledge with experience. The rationalist perspective, typified by Descartes and Piaget, emphasises conceptual coherence and formal criteria of truth. Pragmatism, typified by Dewey and Mead, and sociohistoricism, typified by Vygotsky, emphasises that knowledge is constructed in practical activities of groups of people as they interact with each other and their material environments. These three perspectives correspond with current behaviourist, cognitive and situative views and may, according to Bereiter and Scardamalia (1996), carry basic conceptions of what good teaching should be. Whilst certain interpersonal, managerial and performative aspects may be common to different instructional approaches, personal thinking and beliefs concerning the way learning is fostered and views concerning teaching will be different. It is generally accepted today that children’s learning is active, self-regulating, constructive in problem situations and, is related to existing knowledge as they act upon their environment. In contrast to this view, Bereiter and Scardamalia have suggested, there is a folk psychology in which each individual has a ‘mind-as-container’, which contains ‘things’ such as beliefs, intentions and motivations which determine behaviour. This carries with it the assumption of the child as an empty vessel and a very simple receptive, accrual view of knowledge. To elaborate, in the behaviourist/empiricist view, learning is the process in which associations and skills are acquired and transfer occurs to the extent that behaviours learned in one situation are utilized in another. Motivation is seen as a state in the learner that favours formation of new associations and skills, primarily involving incentives for attending to relevant aspects of the situation and for responding appropriately. Behaviourism has been characterised in terms of observable connections between stimuli and responses and learning in terms of forming and strengthening or weakening and extinguishing these connections through reinforcement. More recently, connectionism is treating knowledge as the pattern of connections between neuron-like elements and learning as the strengthening or weakening of those connections. In fact, according to Bereiter and Scardamalia (1996) the notion that knowledge is in the connections constitutes a new metaphor of mind as pattern recognizer. The connectionist mind can, thus, be knowledgeable without containing knowledge (Bereiter 1991). The cognitive/rationalist view emphasizes understanding of concepts and theories in different subject matter domains and general cognitive abilities, such as problem solving, and comprehending language. It is located by Greeno et al within the constructivist category because of its emphasis on organisation of information in cognitive structures and procedures, in other words, information-processing traditions. Learning is understood as a constructive process of conceptual growth, often involving the reorganization of concepts and growth of general cognitive abilities, such as problem solving and metacognitive processes. Ideas of motivation focus on ways of fostering the intrinsic interest of learners. The situative/pragmatist-sociohistoric view sees knowledge as distributed among people and their environment, including objects, artefacts, tools, books and the communities of which they are a part. Analyses of activity are located within the context - 7 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM of cultural practices and patterns of social interactions, as well as discourse and conversation analysis. Knowing is, thus, an attribute both of groups who carry out co-operative activities and individuals who participate in the communities of which they are members. In the view of the writers, there has been a continuity in the development of research in these three traditions over the twentieth century and each has been valuable in distinctive and complementary ways, providing resources for deployment in designing learning environments, analyses and formulation of curricula and assessment. Greeno et al (1996) conclude, moreover, that questions about theory are not limited to whether it is coherent and yields accurate predictions, but also whether it works, that is, whether the concepts and principles of the theory inform practice in productive ways. Meanwhile, Prout and James (1990) and James et al (1998) have demonstrated that early childhood itself is a social and cultural construction. Cultures not only vary but change over time, thus, notions of childhood change correspondingly. These constructions are constituted through discourse and are highly productive of pedagogical theory and practice. Aubrey (2002), for instance, suggested that early childhood education (for three- to five-year-olds) in England, particularly in inner city contexts challenged to meet national targets for educational achievement, is the site for two competing discourses and ideologies. Early childhood is firmly on the agenda of improving educational standards in school through didactic means yet, at the same time, policy-makers and practitioners still adhere to the notion of a distinct pedagogy, practices and ways of understanding early childhood, as well as a distinct set of purposes for early childhood institutions. Moreover, Moss (1999) has concluded that different constructions of the child, early childhood institutions, learning and pedagogy, produce different constructions of the early childhood worker, such as, pedagogue, teacher, educator, nursery nurse or childcare assistant as well as what that work entails. Dahlberg et al (1999) contrasted the idea of early childhood workers as technicians, cultural transmitters and facilitators in age-appropriate activities with the notion of pedagogues and children as citizens and co- constructors of knowledge, identities and values, in a pedagogy informed by, but not determined by scientific knowledge and technical processes. In short, social constructivist perspectives assume that there are no immutable understandings of childhood, purposes for early childhood services, theories, policies or pedagogical practices. The very embeddedness of early childhood education within particular social contexts renders the critical examination of dominant assumptions, discourse practices and cultural activities the more difficult for those sharing the same cultural ‘lens’. Different practices, discourses and meanings, moreover, demand correspondingly different approaches to research. Moss (2000: 6) argued that research in the field of early childhood educational services has been dominated too long by positivist research approaches, psychological and child development theory. Singer (1993), for example, described an ‘attachment pedagogy’ which attempts to model the dyadic mother-child relationship and is reflected in individualistic approaches to working with children, staffing structures and ratios, which undervalue the group of children, the ‘pedagogy of relationships’ and ‘children as pedagogues’ This preliminary discussion is sufficient to indicate that even terms such as ‘pedagogy’ may, as Mortimore (1999) suggested, have changing connotations, which both open new possibilities and, at the same time, may be limited by the unexamined assumptions upon which they are based. Suffice it to say at this point that the educational practices to be examined in this section of the review have been located within the context of broader theoretical trends by the individual writers. These theoretical perspectives, we suggest, have contributed and continue to contribute important insights to our understanding of pedagogy. RESEARCH QUESTION ON PEDAGOGY Consideration of key definitions, key words and key theoretical perspectives led to the generation of broad research questions:  how do children engage in learning experiences in preschool and early years settings and how can their learning be enhanced?  what theoretical models (current/past) from research into cognitive and developmental psychology have the potential to inform early years pedagogy?  how do adults support children’s access to different forms of knowledge in different kinds of learning environments?  what are the key features of appropriate learning environments for young children from birth compulsory school age and for pupils six- to eight-years-of-age in the first stage of formal schooling? The review will start by examining the policy to practice context, in order to relate pedagogical events to the society in which they are located. Next, it will consider pedagogical processes in more detail by turning to the child’s social context, developing a sense of self and becoming sociable. From here, it will turn to play in early years pedagogy and, finally, discuss relationships of learning and experience to cognitive neuroscience. - 8 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP POLICY AND PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE From birth to compulsory school age Early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of children’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and of their well-being. A significantly high proportion of learning takes place from birth to age six. It is a time when children particularly need high quality care and learning experiences (QCA/DfEE 1999:4). Since 1997, the government has increased investment in families and young children and attempted to create a wide-ranging programme to expand and reform early childhood education and care. It is beyond the scope of this review to do more than outline initiatives which relate to education policy. In May, 1998, a National Childcare Strategy was announced, to be implemented through locally-based Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships working in conjunction with the local education and social services authorities. Separate funding for disadvantaged areas has been allocated through the Sure Start initiative. A pilot Early Excellence Centre programme was established in 1997 to test integrated approaches to care and education. In the year of 2000, Curriculum Guidelines for the Foundation Stage (for three to five years) were published by QCA/DFEE, to help practitioners to plan how their work contributes to the new early learning goals. All settings and schools receiving grant-funding for the education of these children are required to plan activities which help children progress by promoting personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; mathematical development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical and creative development. The period from three years to the end of reception (at five to six years) is described as the foundation curriculum and the early learning goals set out what is expected for most children by the end of the foundation stage (QCA/DfEE 1999). Well-planned play, indoor and outdoors, is regarded as a key way in which young children with diverse needs, learn with enjoyment and challenge, including those children who need additional support or who have particular needs or disabilities. Such provision is monitored rigorously by the new Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) team for early years settings. OFSTED has formulated national standards to ensure that all children receive good quality educational experiences and that providers are clear about the standards they must meet. Such initiatives are dramatically changing early years provision as well as the training needs of early childhood education and care workers. Local authorities are now required to provide an early education place (of two-and-a-half hours daily) for all four- year-olds and for all three- to four-year-olds by 2004, many of these new places are likely to be provided by playgroups, voluntary and private providers. Over a similar period of time, since the DfEE-commissioned Hillage Report (Hillage et al 1998) Excellence in Research in Schools was published, the need for the actions and decisions of policymakers and practitioners to be informed by research has been widely recognised and supported by the Action Plan (DfEE, 1998). The First Report of the House of Commons Education and Employment Committee Committee Early Years was published in December, 2000. This report set out the evidence of an inquiry into early years education which examined:  the appropriate content of early years education;  the way in which it should be taught;  the kind of staff that are needed to teach it and the qualifications they should have;  the way quality of teaching learning in the early years is assessed; and  the age formal schooling should start. The broad age range with which the inquiry was concerned was three to six years, though account of the potential impact of the Government’s Sure Start programme on early learning from birth to under four years, was also taken. This report recommended that the years between birth and five plus should be viewed as the first phase of education, in which the involvement of families and parents will be crucial and that ‘education and care are inseparable’ (DfEE 2000: p. xii, paragraph 33). It was also recommended that children below compulsory school age should be taught informally in ways that are appropriate to their developmental stage and their interests. The DfEE document also stressed that more structured learning should be introduced very gradually so that by the end of the reception year children are learning through more formal, whole-class activities for a small proportion of the day. The high level of commitment to evidence-based policy developments in the field of early childhood education and care has also been demonstrated in The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project (1997-2003) sponsored by the DfES. This is a longitudinal study, which is investigating the attainment and development of 3,000 children between the ages of three to seven years, from 141 preschool centres, involving six English local authorities and including six main types of provision. Both qualitative and quantitative methods (including multilevel modelling) have been used to explore the effects of individual preschool centres on children’s attainment and social/behavioural development at entry to school and at the end of Key Stage 1. Characteristics of more effective preschool settings, including interaction styles and pedagogy are particularly relevant to this section of the review. By the Summer, 2001 quality of provision for early childhood education and care in the 25 reception classes in the regions, using two environmental rating scales, could be compared with previously-established scores for the main types of preschool provision (Sylva et al 2001). On a more global assessment of quality that included care components as well as activity ones, the nursery schools, classes and centres combining care and education showed evidence of higher quality than reception classes. Playgroups and private day nurseries lagged significantly behind local authority day nurseries. A more detailed - 9 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM breakdown of factors showed reception classes were rated poorer than other local authority preschool settings for ‘activities’ as well as ‘facilities’ though for ‘interaction’ and ‘supervision’ they were similar to nursery schools, classes and combined centres. On a scale which provided a more detailed picture of curricular strengths, in literacy, reception classes were significantly better than day nurseries, private day nurseries and playgroups, and on a par with nursery schools, classes and combined centres. In mathematics, reception classes were stronger than all other sectors except combined centres. Science showed a different picture, with both nursery classes and schools excelling over reception classes. From this, it has been concluded that combined centres, nursery schools and classes seem to offer better education and care to young children than do reception classes. In order to consider effective pedagogy in the early years in more detail, the DfES commissioned two further studies: one based on intensive case studies of identified effective practice from the EPPE project (Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva 2002) and one based on a study of identified effective practitioners (Moyles et al 2002). Results from the Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva (2002) study showed that the most effective settings provided both teacher-initiated group work and freely chosen yet potentially instructive play activities. Excellent settings tended to achieve an equal balance between adult-led and child- initiated interactions and activities. Cognitive outcomes related to teacher/adult planned and initiated, focused group work and the amount of shared thinking between adults and children with the curriculum approach supporting the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage and differentiated by age. Effective practitioners were seen to assess children’s performance to ensure the provision of challenging, yet achievable experiences to model appropriate language, values and practices, as well as encourage socio-dramatic play, praise, encourage, ask questions and verbally interact with children. Findings from the Moyles et al (2002) study indicated that effective pedagogy was more than the application of knowledge and skills and a number of issues was raised. The most effective practitioners helped children to develop strategies for the identification and resolution of conflict. Play, however, was a high priority in thinking but not in practice. Formative diagnostic assessment was regarded as vital but rarely occurred. The value of the outdoor teaching and learning context was questioned. ICT provision varied considerably. Common to both effective pedagogy studies was the nesting of effective practice within a pedagogical framework, which included planning, resourcing and assessment, as well as professional management, development and self- evaluation, parental engagement, liaison with other professionals and community relations. In contrast to these two process-oriented studies, the DfES also commission Taylor Nelson Sofres with Aubrey (2002) to investigate a number of challenges identified in implementing the Foundation Stage in reception classes with a telephone survey. A total of 1551 telephone interviews was conducted in October, 2001, among a representative sample of primary schools in England, 799 with head teachers and 752 with reception class teachers. Questions covered a number of areas: their general experience of and views about the Foundation Stage; implementation of the Foundation Stage; flexible implementation of the Literacy Hour and daily mathematics lesson; transition to Key Stage 1, mixed-age classes, parental involvement and relationships with their local EYDCP. Of relevance to this section of the review, were findings related to implementation and general experience of the Foundation Stage. Curriculum organisation tended to shift from a pattern of integrating the six areas of learning, at the beginning of the year, towards a greater differentiation by the end. This was accompanied by a similar shift towards the greater use of whole-class teaching and grouping of children by ability over the year, as recommended by the House of Commons Education and Employment Committee Report Early Years (2001). This was also consistent with the finding that the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies were initially delivered flexibly across the day but, by the end of the year, the Literacy Hour and the daily maths lesson were in place. Class teachers felt able to provide opportunities for children to engage in activities they had planned and initiated themselves though, at the same time, they reported creative and physical development to be slightly, though significantly less important than literacy and numeracy. Moreover, whilst reception teachers felt the Foundation Stage had ‘got it right’ in terms of emphasis, 25 per cent thought that the Foundation Stage did not sufficiently address formal aspects of learning. This suggested that some teachers were still uncertain about the broader pedagogical approach being advocated, with play as a key way of learning. Meanwhile, through initiatives such as Sure Start and Early Excellence Centres (EECs), new ways of supporting families and children before and from birth have been pioneered, particularly those who are disadvantaged. The pilot EEC programme has been subject to rigorous national evaluation, and already local evaluation is providing early evidence of the impact and cost- effectiveness of the programmes (Pascal et al 1999; Bertram and Pascal, 2000). This is an indication that a new range of research activities, used in appraising the design, implementation, and utility of social policy programmes in the early years, are also being used both at a national level by policy makers as well as by local evaluators. Historically, English early years professionals (for birth to five-year-olds) tend to have diverse backgrounds, training and experiences and work in a variety of settings. Anning and Edwards (1999) examined how enquiring practitioners could develop preschool, cross-sector and cross-authority, learning networks through an ‘educare’ research partnership between local authorities, practitioners and university-based early years specialists. These networks not only sustained innovation during the project but led to the creation of several other sub-groups which formed and reformed within the authorities concerned. The action research model adopted, provided a focus for dialogues on analysis of observations, fieldnotes, photographs, video recordings, children’s models and drawings and the conversations of parents and staff. As this moved forward a discourse was developed which bridged gaps between the lived experiences and working realities of individual professionals’ lives as differing views of children and their needs provided a creative starting point and catalyst for meaningful exchange of ideas. - 10 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP Engelstrom (1993: 67), writing within a sociocultural framework has described this sustained interaction across boundaries which seemed to result in learning as a problem space’ ‘at which an activity is directed’. Joint action around common interests, to which different perspectives and strengths were brought to bear, were central to this project. Early childhood pedagogy research as described here varies from major, longitudinal effectiveness studies using multilevel modelling, through surveys that seek to investigate sources of facts, actions, views and perspectives of informants themselves, to evaluations and qualitative case studies of social phenomena in their natural settings as well as action research, which seek to solve professional problems in context. Policy to pedagogical practice in the first stage of compulsory schooling Policy to practice issues for children in formal schooling are inevitably different. According to Ball (1999) the acquisition of skills and dispositions in current policy terms is stripped of social and psychological meaning. The pressures for performance, he argued, act back on pedagogy and the curriculum, both narrowing the classroom experience and encouraging teachers to attend to those students likely to ‘make a difference’ to the aggregate performance figures of the class and the school. Pedagogy and curriculum are shaped specifically to maximise test scores. This is in stark contrast to recent learning theory (of, for instance, Lave 1988 and Rogoff 1990) or, for that matter, the subject pedagogies of the original National Curriculum groups who, for instance in mathematics and science, emphasised investigations, open-ended problem-solving and real-world applications. Most recent major primary educational research has not focused exclusively on Key Stage 1 (for five- to seven-year-olds). In fact, some primary researchers have not included this age range in their sample (for example, Galton et al, 1999). A common aim has been the documentation of changes to pedagogical practices which attended the introduction of a National Curriculum. Alexander et al (1995) in the follow-up to an earlier study, considered the impact of the National Curriculum on professional educational practice in twenty-five schools and thirty teachers. Whilst larger-scale survey data confirmed considerable change in curriculum planning, management, assessment and record-keeping, analysis of discourse showed this taking place against a background of relative continuity at the deeper level of pedagogy. Teachers’ pre-occupation with curriculum content and assessment seemed to have pushed pedagogy further into the background of their professional concerns than before 1988. ‘Though the core dilemmas of primary teaching seem to be changing, primary pedagogy may not change substantially until it recovers its central position within teachers’ dilemma consciousness’ (1995: 117). Alexander et al concluded that recent pedagogic research tended not to follow through its analysis of pupil outcomes, and drew attention to the fact that we needed to know more about the relationship between subject structures, teachers’ conceptual grasp of subject matter, and the character and content of teacher-pupil interactions. Evidence of powerful continuities in teacher-pupil discourse supported the view that the National Curriculum has been a weaker influence than factors specific to the teacher, the classroom and the professional culture. Alexander (1999) also reported on a primary education project in five cultures which aimed to build on his previous classroom enquiry methods, lines of pedagogic analysis and experience of interpreting pedagogy in the comparative dimension. Data were gathered at two levels: at school level, observation, document analysis and journals, involving pupils at the mid-point of our Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2; at local and national level, involving interviews with policy-makers and officials. Comparative research provided the opportunity to interrogate a number of assumptions upon which the current drive for standards is based. Suffice it to say that none of these assumptions were supported by the analysis. The writer noted that, by 1998, direct intervention in pedagogy with minute-by-minute prescriptions of the literacy and numeracy hours had imposed a ‘single pedagogical formula’ on ‘every primary school, classroom, teacher and child in England’ (Alexander et al 1999: 176) and that ‘international research has now been enlisted by policy-makers and their advisers to support rather than challenge’ … ‘a nineteenth-century, proto-industrial primary curriculum’ (ibid 1999: 172) ‘long since identified as having survived as a result of the complexity of the contemporary web of policy and culture within which classrooms are embedded’ (ibid 1999: 150). Brown et al (2000: 457) examined the policy process between 1997 and 1999 in relation to the production and implementation of the National Numeracy Strategy. They also described a tension between ideologies of traditionalism and apparent modernisation, represented among those responsible for the education policies and reflected in the Numeracy Strategy text production. Furthermore, in the context of practice, despite the high levels of top-down prescription, uniformity of training and control, ‘cyclical recontextualisations and multiple interpretations’ existed, some of which arising from inconsistencies and ambiguities in the policy texts themselves. Whilst broadly welcoming improvements in areas such as mental calculation they suggested that, in the long term, the curriculum shift may be shown to have gone too far, and necessitate a counter-movement towards the synthesis and meaning needed for creative application, problem-solving and investigation. Pollard et al (1994) also investigated the impact of the English National Curriculum in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. They, too, came to see the changing focus of education policy as a reflection of the tensions between modern and post-modern society, with new priorities and new forms of contestation, regulation and discourse emerging. Their early data suggested that classroom life reflected a more classified, subject-based curriculum, increasingly controlled and framed forms of pedagogy, and more explicit forms of assessment. It was argued subsequently, in Croll (1996: 156), that schools, teachers - 11 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM and pupils were ‘embedded in a dynamic network of personal identity, values and understandings developed in the light of internal and external interaction, pressure and constraint’. Policy directives were translated into classroom practice through a series of ‘mediations’, or creative reinterpretations by the actors involved at each successive stage of the process of delivering education. Bernstein’s (1996) theoretical model of curriculum classification and pedagogical framing provided a powerful tool with which to examine the documented changes in the PACE data (Pollard et al 2000). According to Ball (1999), both the present and previous governments have emphasised education’s role in contributing to economic competitiveness whilst, at the same time, generating a system based on decontextualised, ‘basic skills’ learning in which a didactic pedagogy and a prescribed curriculum are shaped to maximise test scores. He has described the orientation of policy analysis as ‘critical and deconstructive’. The task of policy analysis is, thus, post-structural analysis of discourse and texts to ‘interrupt the taken-for-granted’ and isolate ‘contingent power relations which make it possible for particular assertions to operate as absolute truths’ and ‘critical ethnography’ in which process and case analyses generate critical perspectives on the impact of policy in local settings. Other educational researchers reporting on policy to practice matters in the formal school years in this review, however, have used a conventional range of quantitative methods, for example, structured interviews, systematic classroom observation and attainment testing; and qualitative case studies using observation, interviews, questionnaires, journals and document analysis. Although, in respect of school-age children, Alexander et al (1995:17) considered that ‘for the foreseeable future the policy- practice interface in education will remain problematic and elusive … and policy-led change … off-set, balanced or indeed subverted by apparently fundamental continuities’, early years researchers have been attempting to improve this situation (see for example Dahlberg et al 1999; Moss 2001; Lubeck and Jessup 2001). DEVELOPING A SENSE OF SELF AND BECOMING SOCIABLE Consideration of the child as a citizen and co-constructor of knowledge with other children and adults demands more specific attention to young children in a social context. This part of the review examines studies that share insights on the young child’s developing capacity as a social being. As Schaffer (1999) pointed out, whilst the development of the young child’s ability to understand and so relate to others shows parallels with self-development and self-awareness, the links between these parallel developments remain uncertain. We know that young children are forming social concepts during these early years of development, about themselves and about the people with whom they interact. They are striving to make sense of their experiences in interpersonal situations but the processes involved in making sense and the contexts most conducive to making sense are relatively un-researched. Familiarity with contexts and similarly engaged players seems to play some part as repetition and rehearsal enable the conceptual frameworks to become assimilated. As infancy recedes, young children are striving for self-control and wider control of an increasingly familiar environment that they must share with others. This first part of the review on developing a sense of self and becoming sociable offers a backdrop for a subsequent review of some British-based studies of the last ten years or so. The review focuses mainly on the two to eight age range, going briefly, slightly beyond and into the primary sector for further illumination. Vygotskyan and Piagetian legacies remain influential in a developing understanding of the growth of sociability. Vygotsky (1978; 1988) emphasised the social orientation of cognitive development, collaboration becoming a route to assimilation and independent action by re-structuring and re-patterning internal cognition. He drew attention to inherent links between emerging sociability and intellectual growth through the medium of language. Building on his work, other writers have emphasised the need to better understand how socio-cultural contexts shape behaviour and development (Hennessy, 1993; Suchman 1987; Mercer 1992; Rogoff 1990; 1994). Piaget’s work on schematic building has been a focus for Athey (1990) and Nutbrown (1999) each of whom illustrate the emergence and consolidation of schematic understandings in young children, often in the company of similarly engaged peers. These learning communities can be vigorous, innovative and dynamic but what do we really know of them? Broadhead (1997; 2001) in observational studies of three- to five-year-olds in nursery and reception class settings has begun to chart the progression from associative to cooperative play through four levels of development. This chart (or continuum) describes the characteristics of interactive play as language and action. It demonstrates increasing reciprocity and complexity in both as children progress to cooperative play. It illustrates high levels of intellectual demand and creativity as children sustain cooperative endeavour, a key feature of which is joint problem-solving in a variety of guises. Its use with practitioners is illustrating some potential for enhancing their professional understanding of the links between children’s social and cooperative play and intellectual challenge and problem-solving. Ogden (2000) drew on theory of mind perspectives in her study of peer reciprocity in reception, year 1 and year 2 classrooms. This research revealed how, as children become older, levels of mutual understanding are enhanced. Children begin to perceive peers as intentional agents and recognise and anticipate intentional action. They learn to plan as they play and in so doing, to accommodate the needs and intentions of others in order to ensure the play is sustained. Munn and Schaffer (1993) identified a growing appreciation of how the development of literacy and numeracy are related to social settings and these form the contexts for children’s early cognitive achievements. They observed two- and three-year- olds in day nursery settings and interviewed staff. Literacy events were greater in number than numeracy events. Whilst these - 12 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP environments were full of opportunities for literacy and numeracy events, one key issue is how effectively adults can communicate their potential to the children in naturalistic ways that correspond with children’s immediate and spontaneously articulated interests. The adult is a key figure in supporting young children’s emerging sociable and cooperative potential and in linking that potential with cognitive growth through the provision of an appropriate learning environment and through their own interventions with interacting peers. Mercer (1996) has identified communicative and intellectual dimensions relating to the organisation of collaborative activities for five- to twelve-year-olds. Talk is illustrated as a social mode of thinking and not just a means of communication, further evidence that cooperation is linked with intellectual stimulation and development. The study encouraged a reconsideration of the status of peer talk in educational settings and also highlights the need for a rationale of procedures and principles for related activities – a rationale explicit to learners as well as teachers. Yet again, we note that it is the degree of adult understanding about interactive learning opportunities that is a key feature here. The EPPE project provides additional insights. This, as noted earlier, is a large-scale, longitudinal study of factors affecting the effectiveness of a range of types of preschool provision. Social/behavioural development was measured using the Adaptive Social Behaviour Inventory (Hogan et al\ 1992). One finding (Melhuish et al 2001) showed that where English was a second language, this was associated with lower cooperation/conformity ratings and lower cognitive development scores. Ratings were provided by educators in the provision. Children of professional parents were rated more highly on social/behavioural variables. Girls showed more cooperation/conformity, peer sociability and confidence and also had higher cognitive development scores. Hurd (1990) drew on Edwards and Mercer (1988) to distinguish ritualistic knowledge from principled knowledge – the latter being grounded in deep conceptual understanding and the former on an absorption of common usage rather than full understanding. Hurd’s work gives insights into the adult’s role (scaffolding), as does Mercer’s (1996), and Edwards and Mercer (1988) in assisting the child in developing principled understanding. She further shows how some children’s relative lack of principled understanding might be masked by seemingly advanced or age-appropriate social skills. There is clearly a role for the adult. Some studies (Bennett and Dunne 1992; Galton and Williamson 1992) have revealed that collaboration is often not sustained in primary classrooms. Others have revealed that the potential is there if the environment is conducive and if educators are familiar with the purposes and benefits and see the associated activity as high status. In understanding the growth of sociability and the development of cooperation, we need now to draw closer parallels between psychologically-informed approaches linked to child development and opportunities available in early education settings. This would suggest a need for observation-based studies in settings along with informed insights pertaining to a range of types of interventions or ‘scaffolding’ in enabling children to initiate and sustain sociable and cooperative encounters and to develop related knowledge and understanding in literacy, numeracy and other areas of learning. These types of interventions might be direct, such as adults playing and working alongside children, adults structuring play to achieve particular goals and adult design of tasks. They might be indirect such as allowing sufficient time for play themes to develop and providing open-ended resources that stimulate innovative responses from young learners much as the Reggio Emilio approach in Italy aims to do. (For information on the Reggio Emilia approach, see Abbott and Nutbrown 2001; Edwards et al 1998). New studies of sociability, such as those suggested above, might benefit from a focus on creativity and how it is understood, described and valued in settings for young children. We know little about this dimension yet it seems integral when considering how the intellectual demands of cooperative endeavour are shaped and sustained and links too with schematic development. Some progress has been made in understanding how children begin to perceive the necessary detail to build effective schemas whilst initiating and sustaining sociable and cooperative encounters. We need further understanding of these complex processes. RESEARCH ON PLAY Among the fundamental continuities in early years pedagogy has been well planned play, indoors and outdoor, ‘as a key way in which young children learn’ (QCA 1999:10). Play is an almost hallowed concept for teachers of young children. It is richly cloaked in ideology which emphasizes its fundamental role in early learning and development (King, 1978). Among the tenets of this ideology is the idea that children need to play, and in doing so, reveal their ongoing needs which, ideally, should inform the curriculum offered. Various forms of play have been elevated to the dominant and most natural ways in which children learn. A direct relationship between playing and learning is assumed, such that learning occurs spontaneously without the necessity for adult presence (Bruce 1987; Anning 1997; Bennett et al 1997). In spite of these endorsements, a consistent picture that emerges from research is that play in practice is problematic. In 1977, Manning and Sharp reported on a project, carried out under the auspices of the Schools Council, entitled Structuring Play in the Infant School. The introduction to their study set an agenda which remains relevant some 25 years later: - 13 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM The idea of the project first arose because of the difficulties which many teachers were experiencing in using play in the classroom. Although accepting that children learn and develop through play and that play is a motivating force for children’s learning, many teachers are pressurized by the very full first school curriculum and large classes to neglect play as a means of teaching. They leave children to play on their own. In addition, any parents’ expectations are that children will ‘work’ when they come to school, not ‘play’. (Manning and Sharp 1977: 7) What progress has been made in terms of theory, research and pedagogy in validating play as a medium for learning and teaching? Theoretically, there are substantial claims for the value and significance of play in language and literacy learning; emotional development; social competence and peer group affiliation; spatial and mathematical learning; and the development of positive learning dispositions and orientations. Much of this research has emanated from the disciplines of biology, psychology and anthropology. In the last 30 years, there has been a significant change from generating broad understanding about the role of play in early development, to more specific understanding of its relationship to learning, particularly in educational settings (Pellegrini and Boyd 1993). In terms of exploring the pedagogy of play, Guha (1988) made a useful distinction between play as such, and play in school, and argued that play in school is likely to be qualitatively different. The emphasis in research has changed from ‘What is play, and why does play occur?’ to ‘What does play do for the child?’ and, ‘How can good quality play contribute to children’s educational progress and achievement?’ Pedagogically, claims about the efficacy of play have been linked to the progressive, ‘child-centred’ approach that was based on the work of Dewey and others, and gained currency during the latter half of the twentieth century. The ideals of progressivism were consistent with the ‘play ethos’ (Smith, 1988), and included a joint emphasis on exploration, discovery, hands-on experience, child-initiated activity, and the importance of choice, independence, and control. Whilst play forms the bedrock of early learning, an agreed pedagogy of play is less well articulated, and play in practice is deeply problematic. The dominant ideology is not underpinned by systematic empirical research, and key studies both in preschool and statutory school settings have identified significant gaps between the rhetoric and the reality of practice. With the ascendancy of the New Right in the educational arena, the ideologies that validated progressivism and play were devalued (Anning and Edwards 1999). The educational agendas of successive Conservative governments from 1979 onwards prioritised increasing control of what should be taught in schools, and how that teaching should be carried out. Thus the role and value of play were not just questioned, but on the basis of research evidence from the 1980s onwards, were questionable. Several key studies have provided an evidence base on the quality of play, its educational benefits, and the pedagogy of play, in the contexts of preschool and school settings (Tizard et al 1975; Sylva et al 1980; Wood et al 1980; Meadows and Cashdan 1988; Hutt et al 1989; Bennett and Kell 1989; Cleave and Brown 1991; Bennett et al 1997). Most of these studies did not focus specifically on play, but on broader curriculum and pedagogical processes, of which play was an integral part. Their findings were critical of the quality of play; the dislocation between the rhetoric and reality of play; the extent to which play and learning were linked; the role of adults in children’s play, and how play was utilised towards educational outcomes. The consistent picture to emerge from these studies is that play in practice has been limited in frequency, duration and quality, with teachers and other adults too often adopting a reactive, 'watching and waiting' approach. The following sections provide a brief review of the key studies and their findings, focusing firstly on play in preschool settings, and secondly, on play in Reception classes. Play in preschool settings The Oxford Preschool Research Project focused on adult-child talk and interactions, and detailed observations based on the ‘target child’ method. Sylva et al (1980) aimed to assess the extent to which different learning contexts in preschool settings stimulated complex activity, concentration, and interactions between children, and between children and staff. Certain contexts elicited more complex play, longer periods of concentration, and more extended dialogue. Play activities that were classified as ‘higher level’ in terms of task demand included more structured activities such as art, and large and small-scale construction, paired play, and play with adults, particularly for older children. In a related study, Wood et al (1980) were also critical of the role of adults in children’s play. They concluded that adult involvement in play was rare, and that adults either did not regard playing as part of their job, or as only a small part of their job. A consensus in both studies was that the adults had a commitment to allowing free play because children were better able to select the direction of play for themselves. Adult intervention was considered to be potentially damaging to the spontaneity and imagination of children. A further consensus was the powerful influence of the social context in relation to social participation in play, and the level of cognitive challenge. Both studies detail the methodological challenges of studying children in naturalistic settings that are complex and dynamic. They also highlight the issue of the researchers’ ability to interpret the meanings and actions of adults and children. The theme of adult interaction in children’s play was reiterated in subsequent studies. Meadows and Cashdan (1988) reported a study that aimed to characterise the range and variation of teaching styles in a sample of typical mainstream nursery schools over a period of four school terms. They used similar observation and interview methods to the Oxford preschool project and looked at children in different contexts during the sessions. Analyses of the quality of 2809 bouts of play resulted in some critical findings. There were differences in the duration and quality of play according to the age and maturity of the children. Levels of involvement and participation were higher for older children; the duration of play bouts was longer, and sequences of play were more complex. There was also considerable variation between children in their free play behaviour and in the cognitive content of their play. The study noted a lack of intellectual challenge, and provided evidence of repetitive activity that indicated boredom, or disengagement. The authors concluded that there was only weak evidence that the traditional free - 14 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP play curriculum contributed to the development of children’s thinking or to their later educational achievement, though it contributed more clearly to the development of their social skills. They also commented that the missing ingredient in free play was ‘responsive, scaffolding participation’, which constituted a further challenge to the efficacy of play as a child-centred, child-led activity. Further critical evidence regarding adult interaction and the quality of play in preschool settings was provided by Hutt et al (1989) Their study noted that children engaged in stereotypical, repetitive behaviours, particularly in sand and water play, and there was little evidence of cognitive challenge. Adult interventions were predominantly monitorial and did not involve sustained conversations. The activities where an adult was present (commonly collage and junk modelling) produced more sustained engagement and lively discussions. Fantasy play was quite rare, and occurred primarily among children in positive affective states. In common with the study by Sylva et al (1980), quite a high proportion of children’s time was spent in ‘transit activities’ such as on-looking and walking around. A consistent theme running through these studies was that educators need to create the conditions for learning through play. This theme was reiterated in the study carried out by the Froebel Block Play Research Group (Gura, 1992) This study focused on detailed observations of children’s play with blocks over a three-year period, and provided a more detailed specification of teaching and learning through play, and of the importance of adult interaction. Much of the children’s learning was distinctly scientific, technological and mathematical. They also needed to acquire ‘play knowledge’ about the blocks in order to develop mastery and use them for a variety of functions. With experience, the children used the blocks in increasingly complex ways, showing progression in their knowledge and skills. The study concluded that a number of learning-relevant conditions were necessary to support high quality play, including: • adult involvement • allowing children to share the initiative about what is to be learnt • enabling children to take risks, be creative and playful in their ideas • organising the physical setting to maximise learning opportunities • developing effective systems for observation and record keeping, and using these to inform curriculum planning. The study provided further validation of a proactive and interactive role for practitioners, which was more in tune with the socio-cultural theories of Vygotsky than with the traditional laissez-faire ideologies of play. Findings from these studies indicate some problematic issues surrounding play in preschool settings. First, there is little understanding of how play progresses in early childhood, and how progression can be supported. Second, practitioners tend to espouse an ideological adherence to the efficacy of free play, even though there is little empirical evidence to support this. Third, practitioners make assumptions about the competence and ability of young learners to benefit from a predominantly laissez-faire environment, in which they are expected to choose from a wide range of activities and experiences. Fourth, not all young children know how to play, and the role of educators is critical in supporting their abilities to benefit from play. The evidence for social and cognitive gains, and for educational effectiveness of ‘the play way’ is, therefore, limited. With the expansion of preschool provision from the mid-1980s onwards, the focus of research shifted from preschool settings to reception classes in primary schools. In terms of progression, research evidence from the U.S.A. indicates that children’s play skills and preferences are correlated with developmental progressions in social, cognitive and psycho-motor competence (Kelly-Byrne 1989; Hughes 1991; Sutton-Smith 1997). Hughes (1991) argued that children’s play development moves along paths of increasing complexity, and their thinking becomes more orderly, structured and logical. Sutton-Smith (1997) takes a similar standpoint and states that although play is seldom the only determinant of any of the important forms of learning that occur in children, play in childhood is nevertheless progressive, and may facilitate transfer of knowledge and skills between different contexts. In contrast, empirical evidence indicates variable quality in play provision for four and five year old children in school settings, and a lack of progression in their play skills (Bennett et al 1997; Wood and Bennett, 2000). Play in Reception Classes A number of research studies have raised concerns about the quality of educational experiences offered to four- to five-year- old children in reception classes. The age at which children enter reception has fallen gradually from ‘rising five’ to ‘just four’, and although a play-based, nursery style curriculum has always been advocated for this age group, there is limited evidence of this in practice. Sestini’s study (1987) showed that although play activities were provided, teacher attention was focused predominantly on more formal tasks, particularly literacy and numeracy. Play served a mainly social function, and there was little evidence of cognitive challenge. Similar conclusions were reached by Stevenson (1987), Bennett and Kell (1989) and Cleave and Brown (1991). Again, the teachers in these studies espoused a commitment to the value of play and expressed clear views about its potential purposes and benefits in relation to children’s learning. However, Bennett and Kell’s study found play to be ‘very limited and very limiting’. Play was mainly used as a time filler; teachers generally had low expectations of it; there was no clear purpose or challenge; pupil involvement was lacking, and there was little monitoring by teachers, or attempts at extension and challenge. - 15 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM Bennett et al (1997) provided more detailed insights into why learning through play is problematic, and why there is a gap between rhetoric and reality. They carried out a study of nine reception class teachers’ theories of play and their relationship to classroom practice. The study demonstrated that although the teachers were all committed to integrating play into the curriculum, the intended learning outcomes were not always achieved. A number of constraints were identified that intervened between teachers’ theories and practice, including the legislated curriculum framework; parents’ expectations; the school timetable; space and resources; adult:child ratios, and the children’s abilities to profit consistently from play-based activities. Progression in learning through play was difficult to sustain because precise learning outcomes could not always be achieved or measured. The teachers found it difficult to interact with children in order to support learning, and increase their own knowledge of the value of play/learning contexts. This study has added substantially to understanding the pedagogy of play, and the practical constraints faced by reception teachers in achieving continuity with the preschool curriculum. In common with the studies of preschool settings, one of the key findings of this study was that teachers need to take a more proactive and interactive role in supporting children’s learning through play. In addition to these ‘broad-brush’ studies, more detailed studies have been carried out which illuminated specific aspects of learning and development. Hall and Robinson (1995) reported a curriculum project that explored the relationship between children’s socio-dramatic play and the development of writing. They concluded that there were a number of conditions for learning literacy, including the provision of authentic activities and stimulating contexts, maintaining links between oracy, reading and writing, structuring the learning environment to provide appropriate resources, materials and literacy ‘events’, and educative, responsive interactions between teachers and children. They warned against the danger of narrowing teaching to focus mainly on literacy skills and instructional strategies, and the possibility of losing sight of the complexity of events for which these skills are required. This warning seems particularly apt in view of the subsequent introduction of the prescriptive National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies which are having a marked influence on pedagogy in the early years (Wood and Bennett 2000). In summary, research evidence for the efficacy of play is mixed and, in some areas, problematic. This view has also been reinforced by evidence from OFSTED inspection reports (OFSTED 1993). Whilst play-based learning appears to hold much promise, implementing a play-based pedagogy continues to present numerous challenges to practitioners. The original impetus for Manning and Sharp’s study still has currency over a quarter of a century later. However, the recent Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (QCA/DfEE 2000) builds substantially on previous government reports (DES 1989; DES 1991) and provides a strong validation for play and talk in the curriculum. So what characterises this new pedagogy of play? The primary emphasis is that play should be planned and purposeful, and should provide children with challenging and worthwhile activities. In addition to creating the appropriate conditions for learning, practitioners are encouraged to interact with children and provide a richly resourced learning environment. Children should be enabled to plan and develop their own activities, and have sustained periods of time to work in depth. This dual approach (teacher-directed and child-initiated play) potentially holds considerable promise for practitioners to develop a greater degree of synchronicity between playing, learning and teaching, as recommended by Bennett et al (1997). At the same time, this duality raises the questions of whose purposes are being served – those of the curriculum, or those of the children; and to what extent are those purposes competing or complementary? The primary assumption is that teachers take the lead in determining what constitutes planned and purposeful play. However, evidence from preschool programmes in other countries (Siraj-Blatchford 1999) indicates that children are equally capable of developing planned and purposeful play. The work of Athey (1990) and Nutbrown (1999) has also shown how educators can base curriculum planning on children’s own learning agendas. Their work was based theoretically on Piaget’s ideas about young children’s schemas (patterns of learning and thinking), and has shown the importance of representation, symbolisation and playfulness in the development of literacy, mathematics, science and technology. There are already emerging concerns about competing policy directives, and the influence of the more prescriptive National Literacy and Numeracy strategies on provision for children under five. Anning and Edwards (1999) raised concerns about early childhood pedagogy becoming content driven and focused on instructional strategies. Such directives would militate against the constructive use of play, and could well sustain a more formal pedagogy. Wood and Bennett’s recent study of progression and continuity in Nursery, Reception and Year 1 classes provided evidence of a transition from predominantly learner-centred approaches in nursery, towards curriculum-centred approaches in Reception and Year 1. Their study noted regression in play and little continuity, because of the increased pacing and sequencing of curriculum content, and the pressures from the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies (Wood and Bennett 2000). In relation to the current discourse of standards, effectiveness, intended learning outcomes, and performativity, learning through play remains vulnerable because it is not always predictable, and is likely to lead children and practitioners in unplanned directions. Clearly there is a need for further research into play and its relationship to learning in order to underpin a more secure pedagogy of play. In conclusion, there is much valuable research on play emanating from the U.S.A. and Pacific Rim countries. Some of the studies are small-scale, and many focus on children with special educational needs. However, there is a substantial body of international evidence that supports the role and value of many different types of play to children’s all- round learning and development (Sutton-Smith 1997; Roskos and Christie 2000). There has been notable progress in understanding children’s early literacy and numeracy development, in examining the effects of socio-dramatic play on children’s social and cognitive competence, and on establishing relationships between children’s play styles and learning - 16 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP styles. Theoretically, there is less adherence to a Piagetian model of ‘ages and stages’, with a gradual shift towards locating research in socio-cultural frameworks. Socio-cultural theory may provide a means for understanding the nature of progressive learning through play in different settings, and the relationships between learning in play-based and formal learning contexts. Such contextually situated accounts would also contribute to greater synergy and joined-up thinking between psychologcially- based studies of play, ideological claims for its efficacy and play in educational practice. Emerging evidence on the neuro-physiological development of the brain also indicates the potential importance of children making connections between areas of learning and experience through exploration and experimentation, as well as through collaborative and reciprocal relationships (Greenfield 2000; Gopnik et al 1999). A challenge for the early childhood research community is to develop further research on play which is theoretically and methodologically rigorous, provides sound guidance for practitioners and policy makers and contributes towards a new pedagogy of play. - 17 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM BRAIN DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH The significance of research on brain development for early years education The last decade has seen a huge explosion of research on the brain and there has been much debate recently as to whether neuroscience can usefully inform educational psychology and understandings about pedagogy in the early years. It seems self-evident that, as the brain is the main centre of learning, understanding about its functioning must necessarily inform pedagogy. Some commentators have suggested, however, that to endeavour to make links between cognitive neuroscience and education is a ‘bridge too far’ (Bruer 1997). There is certainly an array of deductive pitfalls which need to be avoided in interpreting neurophysiological research, including various kinds of reductionism, over-interpretation and over- simplification. Notwithstanding the complexities of the relationships between brain physiology, cognition and learning, several commentators have already begun to make claims about implications for early years education (see, for example, Brierley 1994; Shaw and Hawes 1998; Sylwester 1995). While some of this work may easily be dismissed as over-simplification, there is a growing body of research evidence which does lend support to some general conclusions. There are also increasing indications of the ways in which further research may be capable of throwing light on significant questions in early education – for example, those related to issues concerned with young children’s relationships and the significance of the emotions during early learning and brain growth. The question arises as to whether neuroscience usefully informs educational psychology and understandings about pedagogy in the early years. Next, it is necessary to consider whether there are specific issues in early years education which, might be informed by research in cognitive neuroscience. In a special edition of Educational Psychologist (1992) devoted to the brain and education, research papers by a range of well-respected cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists reviewed neurophysiological research relevant to issues such as reading and writing acquisition, metacontrol, explicit memory and generative learning processes. Bransford et al (2000) have more recently edited a review put together by the prestigious Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, which comprised sixteen leading researchers in cognitive science across the United States. They concluded that there was an exciting convergence of evidence about human learning from a number of scientific fields, including developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Key conclusions from this evidence included: • learning changes the physical structure of the brain; • structural changes alter the functional organisation of the brain, in other words, learning organises and re-organises the brain; and • different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times. They reviewed evidence about a wide range of aspects of learning to which brain studies have contributed, including memory, problem-solving and reasoning, early predispositions, metacognitive processes and self-regulatory capabilities, cultural experience, expert performance, transfer of learning, learning environments and effective teaching. A key issue in relation to the teaching of young children which evidence from neuroscience has been used to address is the special significance of early learning and critical periods for learning. It has been argued that the significance of the early environment may be associated with the period of rapid synaptic proliferation, termed synaptogenesis, in the first few months of life and the subsequent period of synaptic elimination or pruning during which frequently used connections are strengthened and infrequently used connections are eliminated. Different areas of the brain go through these processes and stages at different rates. For example, synaptogenesis occurs later and the pruning process takes longer in the area of the frontal cortex responsible for planning, integrating information and decision-making than they do in the visual cortex. In a number of areas, periods of growth in synaptic connections have been shown to be associated with related cognitive gains (Byrnes and Fox 1998). As Blakemore (2000) concluded, a considerable body of neurobiological evidence supports the importance of enriched, stimulating early childhood environments. A Canadian psychologist, Diamond, has been researching in this area since the 1960's and has identified a range of features of work with young children that influence the brain's growth and development (Diamond and Hopson 1998). These included positive emotional support, stimulation of all the senses, the presentation of novel challenges, encouraging social interaction and an active style of learning. Rich experiences in particular areas of learning are also associated with growth in associated brain regions, for example, a language rich early environment has been shown to be associated with dendritic growth in the left hemisphere's language centres. On the contrary side, impoverished or stressful early environments can be damaging to brain development. Glaser (2000) provided evidence of impaired development of the hippocampus in children suffering child abuse and has argued that secure early attachments have demonstrable positive effects on brain development. A number of reviewers and commentators have pointed out, however (Bruer 1997; Blakemore and Frith 2000), that this evidence of early synaptenogenesis and differential growth between brain regions cannot be used to argue that early childhood constitutes, in some sense, a critical period for learning. Indeed, the evidence of the impressive plasticity of the adult brain (see McGuire et al 1997, for example, on London taxi drivers) and on its ability to recover from early deprivation, led Blakemore and Frith to conclude that: - 18 - BERA EARLY YEARS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP there is no biological necessity to rush and put the start of teaching earlier and earlier. Rather, late starts might be reconsidered as perfectly in time with findings from brain research. (Blakemore and Frith 2000: 2) From their impressive review of work in neuroscience relevant to educational concerns, Blakemore and Frith (2000) also highlighted evidence about the power of implicit learning. From a range of work it has been long established that a considerable proportion of learning, by children and adults, takes place without awareness (for a review, see Gardner 1996). Berns et al (1997) have successfully investigated and mapped the regions of the brain of subjects involved in responding to novelty (the ventral striatum) and contextual information (the right prefrontal cortical area) while learning complex sequences in stimuli, completely without any explicit awareness. This work raises important pedagogical questions about the efficacy and timing of explicit instruction as opposed to more experiential approaches to learning. A whole set of unexplored questions remain about the contribution which can be made to young children's learning by adult intervention and various kinds of modelling, explicit knowledge transfer and so on. Whether neuroscientific research will be able to help further with a range of unresolved but important questions in early education is still a matter of conjecture and debate. Some questions which might be amenable to this kind of work include: • can we be more specific about developmentally appropriate kinds of experiences at different stages/ages? • what is the precise nature of individual differences at birth (for example, between boys and girls), and what ‘abilities’ are most susceptible to the influence of experience and learning? • how and why do certain kinds of experience enhance learning (for example, play)? • how can the introduction of explicit declarative knowledge support implicit learning in young children? Bruer (1997) has concluded that if we are looking for a basic science to help guide educational practice and policy, cognitive psychology is a much better bet. It is also fundamental to our everyday understanding of the way neural structures support and implement cognitive functions. In the meantime, we should be sceptical about brain-based educational research policy and practice but look more carefully at what behavioural science already can tell us about teaching, learning and cognitive development. The relevance of brain research for early childhood education: conclusions The policy to practice context in relation to early years pedagogy is one which is receiving considerable, current attention. The recent Education and Employment Select Committee Report Early Years, for example, took evidence from experts and visited different nursery settings in England and abroad. Their report concluded that children should not be introduced to formal learning too early. So how do children engage in learning experiences in preschool and early years settings and how can their learning be enhanced? Evidence from brain research is consistent with psychological research and leads to certain conclusions: • experience –everything that goes on around the infant and young child – changes the brain; • everything the baby and young child sees, hears, touches and smells, influences the developing network of connections among brain cells (neurons); • other people play a critical role; • babies and young children have powerful learning capacities; • they actually participate in building their own brain; • radically deprived environments may influence development. So do theoretical models (current or past) from research into cognitive and development psychology have the potential to inform early years pedagogy? Where does the latest brain research leave twentieth century theory which educational researchers have invoked as the philosophical and conceptual base to their empirical investigations? Even though the theories of twentieth century pioneer developmental psychologists such as Piaget and Vygotsky were rooted in detailed and pain-staking observation, the last twenty to thirty years have been marked by the use of video recording and computers which have exploited what babies do even at the preverbal stage to transform our knowledge about the earliest stages of development. Right from the start, it seems, babies are thinking, observing and reasoning, building models which are then refined in the light of subsequent experience. How do adults support children’s access to different forms of knowledge in different kinds of learning environment? Post-modern critical thinking has revealed that such apparently technical terms as ‘pedagogy’ far from being universal and value-free reflect a diversity of perspectives and interpretations which must be exposed before alternative practices can be investigated. Perhaps the only question which is left is – what works? The evidence we have suggests that the most effective preschool settings plan a curriculum which is taught informally, in ways appropriate to the child’s age and interests. Parents and families are involved. A balance is struck between teacher-initiated group work and freely chosen yet potentially instructive, child-initiated play activities which can stimulate co-operation and reciprocity. Effective practitioners assess children’s performance to ensure the provision of challenge, at the same time, modelling appropriate language, values - 19 - EARLY YEARS RESEARCH: PEDAGOGY, CURRICULUM AND ADULT ROLES, TRAINING AND PROFESSIONALISM and practices, encouraging socio-dramatic play, praising, interacting and questioning. Cognitive outcomes appear to be associated with adult-planned and initiated group work and shared thinking in the context of integrated areas of learning. By the age of six years, however, it seems that a shift is made from a play pedagogy towards a greater differentiation by subject area, a greater use of whole-class teaching and the grouping of children by ability. In general, conclusions drawn from the evidence indicate that pedagogical practices in the first stage of compulsory schooling have been too driven by pressures for performance since the introduction of the National Curriculum and attendant assessment. In the context of some powerful continuities, there is a consensus that whilst broadly welcoming improvements in some areas, the curriculum shift may be shown to have gone too far in terms of the prescription of a single pedagogical formula in particular for literacy and numeracy. Importantly, there is a growing recognition of the need for researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to work together as partners to define problems and forms of enquiry which are helpful to all groups. Donovan et al (1999), in the United States, propose that research on human learning should provide a dynamic mechanism for advances in learning and teaching into continual cycles of co-ordination and improvement. We would also argue that the strong evidence from neuroscience has a welcome place in any reviews of evidence about young children’s development and learning, but its main role is that of supporting existing arguments in the field of ECEC, which have been based on research in this field. - 20 -

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