Child Development Theories
By J. Aldridge|R. Goldman — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 30, 2014
Theories of development are much more specific than paradigms or worldviews (Miller, 1993). A theory of development deals with change over time and is usually concerned with three things. First, it should describe changes over time within an area or several areas of development. Second, it should describe changes among areas of development. Third, it should explain these changes.
No one theory has proved adequate to describe and explain learning or development. Numerous theories of development have influenced educational practices during the 20th ...view middle of the document...
Maturational theory strongly influenced the teaching of reading in the mid 1900s (Morphett & Washburne, 1931). Children were not thought to be ripe for reading until they had a mental age of six and a half years. Consequently, readiness activities were developed for children who were not yet ready to read. Some of this nonsense still occurs in preschool, kindergarten, and even primary-level classrooms. Today, maturational theory is partially responsible for the existence of prekindergartens and pre first grades aimed at children who supposedly need the" gift of time," because of immaturity or a late birthday. These classrooms tend to have a ratio of boys to girls of anywhere from 7:1 to 10:1 (Aldridge, Eddowes, & Kuby, 1998).
Practitioners subscribing to maturational theory consider any difficulties a child experiences as being found within the child. This oversimplistic explanation for anything from reading problems to Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD[H]D) is extremely limiting to children and to those who work with them. If a problem lies within a child, then what value does a supportive (or, for that matter, a nonsupportive) environment have?
Another, perhaps unintentional consequence of maturational theory is the recently popular "late birthday" phenomenon. Children in classrooms who are the youngest and have a "late birthday" are often branded by the teacher as slower and less ready for instruction. Many teachers report other instructors as saying, "I knew the child would have problems. He has a late birthday."
The behavioral theories of Skinner (1974) and Bijou (1989) also continue to influence what goes on in schools, especially for some special education programs. The mechanistic theory of behaviorism emphasizes the role of the environment on an individual's development. Preparing the environment for appropriate reinforcement is a major goal.
Two examples of Skinner's (1974) contribution to education include behavior modification and programmed learning. Both of these rely heavily on immediate reinforcement, in which a child has to exhibit the "right" behavior or produce the "correct" answer in order to be positively reinforced.
Teachers using behavioral theory will consider any difficulties a child has as being found within the environment. As with Gesell's (1925) overemphasis on nature, Skinner's (1974) overemphasis on nurture limits our understanding of children and their differences. Applications of this theory have resulted in an overemphasis on isolated skills and drill, as well as a heavy reliance on teacher-directed and teacher-reinforced activities. Consequently, teachers often ignore children's curiosity and prior knowledge.
Many educators believe the theory behind No Child Left Behind is behaviorism. The methods reported to be scientifically based are rooted in the behaviorist tradition, and so the methodology recommended under No Child Left Behind is behavioral in nature.