West Plains School District Early Childhood Programs
Affiliated With West Plains Public Schools
West Plains R-VII Public Schools offers a continuum of Early Childhood programs designed to serve young children between the ages of birth to 5 years. All early learning programs are housed within the West Plains R-VII School System.
What is Project Construct?
Project Construct is an approach to teaching based on what we know about learning. Project Construct is designed to be used with children birth through age seven. Project Construct incorporates curricular goals and assessment tools that are linked to standards and reflect current knowledge about how children learn and develop.
Project Construct is derived from constructivism--the theoretical view that learners construct knowledge through interactions with the physical and social environments. Constructivist theory assumes that learning is due more to the reorganization of ways of thinking, of building upon the "known," than to development alone or the accumulation of facts alone.
Project Construct classrooms incorporate many of the activities found in traditional classrooms, such as, pretend play and block building, but have a clear emphasis on cognitive objectives. A feature of a Project Construct classroom is its emphasis on needs of individual children. A Project Construct teacher takes into account and supports varying abilities of individual children, using developmentally appropriate practices and child-initiated experiences. The result is a supportive, collaborative, child-centered environment in which all children flourish.
What is The Early Childhood Framework for Curriculum and Assessment?
The Early Childhood Framework for Curriculum and Assessment reflects the constructivist theory of learning, which states that children actively construct their own knowledge and values as a result of their interactions with the physical and social worlds. This process-oriented framework not only supports young children’s ways of learning, but also provides teachers, families, and administrators with the information they need to make appropriate decisions regarding the education of young children.
The Early Childhood Framework for Curriculum and Assessment is intended to serve as a curriculum and assessment resource offering guidelines and suggestions. The framework enables teachers to function as professional decision makers by providing them with theoretical and practical information that they can use to plan and develop an early childhood curriculum based on their individual goals, needs, and circumstances. It also provides ways in which teachers can share information with families and increase family involvement. The framework can inform administrators about ways in which they can support teachers who are implementing constructivist principles and practices.
Overview of the Curriculum Framework
Because young children do not categorize learning according to various disciplines as adults do, this framework is not organized according to traditional subject areas. Instead, it draws from the constructivist theory of learning and is organized according to four domains or spheres of development: Sociomoral, Cognitive, Representational, and Physical. Although separated in this document for the purpose of organization, these domains are interrelated, and children’s development in any one domain influences and is influenced by their development in the others.
Sociomoral development, the focus of the first Project Construct domain, refers to children’s growing capacity to relate emotionally, ethically, and intellectually to the external world. This capacity is critical to development in all other domains because, according to constructivist theory, all aspects of development occur within a sociomoral environment. When children construct—through interactions with others—an understanding of self and others, of social roles, and of the values held by their society, and develop inquisitive, inventive, reflective, and confident dispositions, they establish the foundation for lifelong learning and autonomy.
The second developmental domain in this framework is the Cognitive domain. Project Construct is based on the belief that children’s cognitive development always occurs within a social and physical context. When children interact with people and objects in the environment, they form certain expectations and theories about the way things are. As they attempt to make sense of their experiences, children construct a framework of relationships (schema) by which they organize information and make judgments. A key to cognitive development is the ability to reconcile new knowledge with what the learner already knows. When expectations are not met or when new information is inconsistent with previous knowledge, children cannot simply add the new information to previous ways of thinking; instead, they must construct new, often more elaborate understandings. Cognitive development refers to the increasing ability of children to coordinate thinking processes and theoretical frameworks with the demands of their environment.
Constructivist theory includes conventional knowledge as an area of cognitive development. Recent research by cognitive scientists has affirmed the important role of conventional knowledge; after all, knowledge is the “raw material” used in cognition. In this framework, however, developmental benchmarks related to conventional knowledge are not identified as a distinct category within the Cognitive domain. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of conventional knowledge itself.
Conventional knowledge consists of a number of facts, rules, symbols, or customs agreed upon by society. Gained through interaction with external sources, such as books, television programs, and other people, conventional knowledge encompasses children’s development in all four domains. For example, a child may learn about herself and her own family at first. Later, she may discover that other individuals and families do things differently. This information—or conventional knowledge—provides the child with a way to think about and communicate with other individuals about things that are important to her and others. As she builds on her knowledge, the child expands her ability to put things into relationships as well as to consider the perspective of others. In this way, conventional knowledge supports her development in all domains.
The third domain in this framework is the Representational domain. Representational development refers to children’s growing capacity to form and communicate images or ideas of something seen, known, or imagined. As they develop, children become increasingly able to think about things that are not immediately present. These images or ideas are known as internal representations. When children attempt to convey these ideas to others or record them for their own use or pleasure, they employ some system of external representation. By one year of age, most babies understand several words, gesture to communicate, and try to say a few words. By age two, most toddlers can say about 50 words and can combine some. By three or four, most children can express themselves quite well in their native language. They can also represent their ideas and feelings through painting, drawing, and block building as well as through music, movement, and pretend play. By means of these various systems of representation (literacy and the expressive arts), children organize their experiences and expand their understanding of the world, as well as their enjoyment.
The ability to represent ideas and feelings, whether through language or some other form of shared representation, provides children with the tools for creating and communicating with others. It also enables children to reflect on imaginary and real-life situations and, as a result, to develop critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Physical Development, the last domain in this framework, refers to children’s abilities to use their bodies with increasing purpose, skill, and control. During the years from birth through seven, children develop the basic motor skills that enable them to respond to their social and physical environments as well as acquire healthy living practices. These skills represent aspects of a child’s motor development and are also closely related with the child’s construction of other kinds of knowledge.
Four principles that are integral to Project Construct guide the Early Childhood Framework for Curriculum and Assessment. Following is a description of those principles, along with a list of some teaching practices that support them:
Principle 1. Children have an intrinsic desire to make sense of their world.
They will learn what they genuinely need and want to know. When children have opportunities to plan and select their own activities, they not only acquire knowledge and skills in the process, but also the inclination to use them. Along with individual interests and needs, children also have personal styles of learning. Like adults, they learn in different ways and at different rates. By being flexible in expectations about when and how children will develop and by encouraging children to identify and solve problems that interest them, adults can give young children a good start on a course of lifelong learning.
Principle 2. Children actively construct knowledge and values by interacting with the physical and social worlds.
Because their thoughts are still closely tied to action, young children require a learning environment within which they can interact physically, intellectually, and socially. They need to act on objects and observe reactions, to make predictions, and to attempt to produce desired effects through their own actions. They also need to interact with their peers and exchange and compare ideas.
Principle 3. In their universal effort to understand the world, children’s thinking will contain predictable errors.
These errors are necessary to the learning process. Children who ask questions and who risk making incorrect predictions are engaged in active thinking. Often, the errors also reflect advances in reasoning. When adults correct or dismiss these errors, they not only discourage children from thinking for themselves, they also neglect signs of advanced reasoning. Given sufficient time and appropriate guidance to recognize and correct their own errors, children both construct new knowledge and gain confidence in their own ability to figure things out. Teachers who are knowledgeable about child development use children’s errors in thinking as useful guideposts for planning future instruction.
Principle 4. Children’s development is an interactive and interrelated process and spans the Sociomoral,Cognitive, Representational, and Physical Development domains.
As children explore and expand on their interests and construct understanding in a particular domain, that understanding influences their development in other domains as well. While all developmental domains thus influence each other, it is within the Sociomoral domain (the area of children’s personal and social development) that children best further their cognition and language.
The Project Construct assessment system is based on the belief that progress can be measured more accurately by developmentally appropriate, performance-based assessment methods that are aligned with current views of curriculum and take into account the ways in which young children learn, rather than with standardized paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice achievement and readiness tests. The assessments are consistent with the guidelines for developmentally appropriate assessment of young children (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009; Katz, 1997; National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, 2003; Shepard, Kagan, & Wurtz, 1998) and with the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999).
Based on the overarching principle that assessment should be an integral part of instruction, the Formative Assessment Program reflects three main beliefs: (1) assessment activities should mirror good instructional strategies, (2) assessment criteria should be aligned with learning objective, and (3) assessment results should be used to shape instruction. The system allows teachers to weave a seamless fabric of standards, instruction, and assessment.
Of course, in today’s world of high-stakes, high-pressure assessment, many teachers are required to go beyond the rich formative assessment practices described here and administer one or more large-scale, standardized summative assessments, whether they agree with the validity and usefulness of such assessments or not. However, for those seeking an extra layer of assessment feedback but who are not required to administer a summative assessment, there are other, more developmentally-appropriate options.
The Project Construct assessment approach “is based on the belief that progress can be measured more accurately by developmentally appropriate, performance-based assessment methods that are aligned with current views of curriculum and take into account the ways in which young children learn, rather than with standardized paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice achievement and readiness tests.”
The goal of any good assessment system should be to provide on-going, flexible, robust feedback to teachers, administrators, and families of children in the educational program—feedback that can then be used to quickly adjust instructional goals and practices in order to help children be successful learners across all domains. Large-scale summative evaluation tools simply cannot achieve this goal.
Nevertheless, in the current educational climate where high-stakes testing and “accountability” are the common buzz-words, it is understood that program administrators and teachers might feel the need to add other layers of assessment on top of the formative assessment system proposed in this framework. While Project Construct does not recommend any large-scale summative assessment tool for use in Project Construct classrooms, there are some good, criterion-referenced observational assessment tools available that might exist comfortably in the classroom alongside the Project Construct framework for curriculum, instruction, and assessment and provide an extra measure of feedback to stakeholders who wish it
Parents As Teachers
This program is designed to provide support to families throughout pregnancy until their child enters Kindergarten. PAT is FREE to all families in the West Plains School District. Services can begin during pregnancy and continue until the child enter kindergarten. Children learn more during the first five years than at any other time in life and this program helps parents understand how their child grows and learns. For more information, contact Dr. Amy Ross at 417-255-8676 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Becky Richardson, PAT Facilitator, at email@example.com.
Personal Visits – educators trained in child development offer suggestions for learning activities. The number of visits varies from family to family.
Developmental Screenings – this is a summary of your child’s development, focusing on language, cognitive, motor and social skills. Health, hearing, and vision are also screened. Screenings are offered for 3 months through Kindergarten entry.
Referrals – connections with other community agencies are offered.