June 24: Child and Adolescent Development

Most of what I know about child development comes from self-study, observations and previous professional development classes I have taken. As for self-study, I have read about Piaget’s cognitive developmental stages, Erikson’s developmental stages, as well as Kohlberg’s moral developmental stages. With my background in religious studies, specifically Christian studies, and teaching religion in a catholic high school I have made great use of the stages of moral development (Kohlberg) as well as psychosocial development (Erikson). One of my favorite elements of psychosocial development is the acquisition of virtues once a person has successfully completed each stage (McLeod, 2008). Most of my research was done as part of the community service course I teach, which provides 12th grade students the opportunity to volunteer in the community during the school day. I have them explore the stages of development to gain a greater sense of and appreciate for the people they are working with in the community. I have experienced some incredible “aha” moments when students come back from their volunteer placement and exclaim that they finally realized why “Billy” acts the way he does because he is currently in a specific age of development.

Over the last 5 ½ years working with high school students and realigning curriculum as prescribed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops I have come to notice things about where students are developmentally when it comes to the content being taught. Previously the sophomore curriculum was been scripture, but has shifted to focus on the Catholic Church. At first I didn’t think this would be an issue, but I have come to notice that sophomores are at a point in their lives where they are pushing back and redefining themselves and consequently the focus on Church is something they don’t care about, want to argue over, and are completely uninterested in. This could definitely be due to secularization, but I also think it comes down to their focus on themselves rather than the world around them. According to Erikson, students at this age are seeking personal identity and sense of self (McLeod, 2008). Of course there are some students who are interested in the subject, but the vast majority pushes back. I wonder if there is anything else at work with the push back I am experiencing because there definitely was much more engagement the first 4 years I taught the course.

Last summer I had the opportunity to take a class for professional development through SPU’s center for professional education which focused on brain development and the implications of that development in the classroom. It was incredibly interesting to look at how much of an impact the various experiences (positive and negative) a child has on their brain development and what that in turn does to their performance in school.  Just knowing how the brain works as it grows and develops is extremely helpful in a classroom setting especially knowing things like being sure to make a connection between prior knowledge and new knowledge to ensure that the brain doesn’t “prune” that knowledge at night or not or a nice dose of natural dopamine in the form of a song can help students retain what they are learning better.

My understanding of development informs the way that I teach. I know that I am not an expert and that there is so much more for me to learn, but what I have taken away from the class about the brain, my interactions with my students, and mainly my knowledge of moral and psychosocial development I have adjusted my teaching according the needs of my students. Knowing what I know about their pursuit of personal identity, I try to assign projects and journal reflections that are focused on who they are and how they view things. For example I have them write their own personal creed and compile what I call a “person book” which is a compellation of the various topics discussed in class over the course of the semester gathered together from their interest, essentially those things they like best. I try to provide every opportunity to express themselves. Additionally I try my best to make connections to prior knowledge and what they are learning in their other classes for the sake of retention and making what they are learning in my class more meaningful across disciplines. There still is much I need to learn and look forward to reshaping my philosophy to help support them as they learn and help them achieve the goals set in my classroom.

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Erik Erikson | Psychosocial Stages – Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html

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