Here are two sound, commendable books which contribute to the debate about effective practice in early childhood education. They are reference books which cover all aspects, and will prove very useful to student teachers and practising teachers on in-service courses; each of the books is based upon contemporary thinking and substantial experience in teacher education.
Teaching and Learning in the Early Years shows how Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner have influenced classroom practice, and then considers the practical application in the classroom of principles which can be drawn from their work .
Education in Early Childhood offers a more broadly based approach to teaching in the early years.
According to the editors, you cannot consider the learning needs of young children until you have considered their whole social context, accepted that the acquisition of understanding and the absorption of facts are different, and that the child makes sense of the world through through talking to adults. This places a serious responsibility on educators: how we teach in the early years influences later learning.
Teachers of young children need to recognise the contributions of parents and other adults, since it is virtually impossible to separate teaching and caring. The book examines how the teacher may live up to the ideals of child-centred learning and of practice founded on a sound theoretical base. Being an early years teacher requires a strong set of personal values, and a personal commitment to the task; this will take the form of continuous self-development. The teacher and the child develop a shared understanding of the child's world and of how this interacts with the learning process. However, this relationship cannot be separated from the wider context of the school, the teaching profession and parents.
The authors explore guiding principles for practice. One is that effective education is based upon observing the child in order to learn about learning, engaging with the child, considering differences, of gender, class and race, to ensure that phenomena are seen from the child's point of view. Equal opportunities is not an optional extra if the individuality of the child matters. There is a practical and clear introduction to special needs education, examining the child's right to the curriculum. Finally, it is stressed that the physical state of the school matters; it needs to reflect learning needs, the values which we wish to impart, and must be an aid to learning.
Meanwhile, Teaching and Learning in the Early Years offers a practical framework for classroom activities, based on clear theory. It provides support for things such as: how to organise the classroom; applying the whole curriculum; assessing the learning needs of individuals. The dual function of assessment (to record achievement and to inform further work) is explored; the message that assessment should support learning, not drive it, is expressed clearly.
The chapters on language are a delight: they are a rare combination, informing at a profound level while being a good read. The key roles of creative play and story-telling are examined. The teaching of reading and writing are dealt with in depth, but never in a ponderous way.
All the curriculum areas are dealt with in a similarly sympathetic and rigorous manner, and it is clear that the contributors are drawing both on their own experience and on much reflection, observation, insight and theory.
How else do you successfully present mathematics both as a challenge and a pleasure to the young learner, or design and technology so that children will always be eager for further scientific enquiry?
Each book is a good example of academic collaboration - each one is a unity, not a collection, and the contributors are very much in contact with contemporary practice.
Maureen Hughes is literacy consultant, Newcastle LEA