Learning curve

24th May 1996 at 01:00
TEACHING TODAY: CHILD DEVELOPMENT BBC2 Tuesdays 1.00pm Until June 11. Booklet Pounds 3.50 BBC Education 0181 746 1111

The other day I carried my young friend Dhechen, aged eight months, into the school where I am a governor. The head and I watched as she looked around, craning to see everything in this exciting new place. We commented on the way that she was so obviously soaking up impressions and mentally organising them as part of the monumental task of making sense of the world. "You ought to write something about it," said the head. To which I replied that there are plenty of people out there who know much more about it than I do.

And sure enough, here they are, on this series of Teaching Today in-service programmes. There are lots of teachers and experts, from Jerome Bruner, one of the great names in child development, to Annabelle Dixon, a primary head with a fund of classroom-based wisdom. We have had such programmes on television before, the difference is that the Teaching Today programmes bring a specialist focus on the way that children learn, and as the emphasis moves up the age range, they are increasingly set in pre-school and infant classes.

The series conveys a sense of urgency - that the first five years, during which children are programmed to learn, are crucial. Jerome Bruner calls it "an explosion of development". And all the time there is a balance to be kept between guidance and freedom P between establishing "roots" and giving "wings", a concept which Annabelle Dixon, particularly, finds helpful when it comes to wondering why something has gone wrong - "is it a mistake on the roots side or on the wings side?" The second programme, particularly, is interesting in its exploration of the relationship between language and thought. Children explain, to camera, their ideas about, for example, where the sun goes when it gets dark. But there is no doubt, we are told, that thought can come before language, and this is reinforced by a lovely shot of a very young child who wants the television turned on and not only has a good idea of what needs to be done to make it come to life, but is also capable of wordlessly appealing for assistance.

There are so many riches in these programmes P a sequence in which an adult tries for two hours to keep up with the non-stop physicality of a growing child; another where a sad little boy in nursery is won round by his teacher, who then reflects on the strategy she used. We overhear children learning together, providing the clearest possible evidence that they really do help each other along the way.

All teachers, not just those who work in early years units, can benefit from understanding the way that children develop. Neither does it do any harm for us all to be reminded of the high levels of skill and professionalism which teachers must have if they are to catch this fast moving developmental tide.

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