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    In the fieldwork course that I am teaching this semester, students spend one morning a week in a center with infants, toddlers, or two year olds.  I’ve asked them to write about their experiences and link them to the readings we’ve done this semester.  Some of the readings are about observing and recording young children’s behavior.  Others are about child development.  My hope is that students will see child development theory validated or invalidated as it comes alive in real children and that they will hone their observation skills to continue learning from children.

    For example, one student wrote,

    • According to the reading in chapter 6, I could say Jayquan’s gross motor skills developed well. He could ride a scooter as well as a tricycle. He could paddle forward and backward. He was laughing when I made the sounds like “beep beep beep” when he backed up. Jayquan has very sensitive fine motor skill also. He can use a spoon pretty well and can eat by himself at lunchtime. After he finished his food, he tried to scrape the leftovers into the trash can using the spoon. I wonder who taught him to do that.

    A core concept that causes some difficulty is that developmental domains, or areas of development, work together.  In the example above, for instance, the student is describing Jayquan’s physical development, but her description includes how he is thinking and what he knows.  Students truly grasp this concept of “the whole child” through their direct work with children.  Yet, the professional literature isolates these developmental domains to examine each more closely and to zero in on a child’s development in precise ways.  I (and most early childhood educators) ask students to discuss a child in terms of each domain.  Taken for granted, here, I think, is that students can hold and work simultaneously with two opposing ideas: that it is impossible to isolate domains in real life and that it is a useful heuristic to think about a real child’s ways of being in separate domains.

    Students object to separating the domains and ask questions on their drafts about how they can possibly address different domains using a single event or story without being repetitious.  I think these objections and questions indicate that they are grappling with the opposing ideas.

    I think this might be an example of how social learning — their real work with children — has pushed students to confront a complexity.  Because the children are real, the work is authentic and they care about it.  Even the students who are struggling to engage with the children at their fieldsites are involved in the process of becoming engaged and are explaining to me what they are doing (in most cases, to overcome their shyness and) to become more involved.  They are dealing weekly with the interface between their current selves and the professional selves they strive for — and this is also true for the students who are not having trouble getting involved with the children.

    A fieldwork class is a prime example of the affective connecting with the cognitive to generate a sense of purpose. The affective is ever present as students feel judged by teachers, children, parents, me, classmates, and themselves. They want to do well and be liked, and they want to figure out problems that arise (why is the two-year-old I’m observing throwing herself on the floor and screaming when it’s time to stop doing one thing and start another?). The challenge is to link the affective, which is closely related to their practice, to the discipline’s definition of the cognitive, that is, to the theory on which the class is based. I speculate that on the one hand, that is made easier, because the fieldwork is so important to the students.  On the other hand, it is harder, because the fieldwork seems more important than the class itself.

    A second challenge, which is easier to confront in some cases than in others, is to build an intellectual community among the students, so they address whatever arises at each other’s fieldsites together.  I don’t think that I’ve been as successful with this group as I wish I were and as I’ve been with other groups.  Student reticence and lack of time have contributed, but I also don’t think that I’ve pushed enough.  I could ask student to make their journals (in which they discuss their fieldwork, their observations of a child, and their readings) public to the class and could devote more time in class to students’ discussions of their sites.  I’ve asked each student to choose a week to discuss that week’s topic in light of her or his fieldwork, but not all students have done it and not all students have spoken to the class in a way in which their classmates understood or could follow.  Clearly, other methods would have worked better for this particular group.

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