I love reading about the different perspectives and pedagogical approaches to young children’s play, learning and development. It is fascinating to me that different people can view the same scene of children playing, but be able to analyse this in many, many different ways.
The more you reflect on different types of pedagogy, the greater your understanding of how children learn, play, grow and develop. It is vital that practitioners don’t fall into the (very easy) trap of ‘We’ve always done it like this’ and forget to reflect on their own practice.
There are some great opportunities for self-reflection and professional development, such as attending conferences, having professional discussions with others in networks or sharing on social media sites. But for quiet, personal reflection there is nothing to beat a great book, especially if it challenges some of your existing thinking.
So, when I received my copy of ‘An Anthology of Educational Thinkers’ written by Sally Featherstone, I was a little nervous that this would just reinforce all my current thinking, giving few opportunities for reflection.
How wrong can you be!
True, all the favourites are included – Fröebel, Montessori, Vygotsky, Rousseau and Piaget.
But there are some refreshing inclusions that did make me think, for example (and this is not an exhaustive list!):
- Benjamin Samuel Bloom, of ‘Bloom’s taxonomy’ who helped to develop the classification of the elements of learning, starting from knowing facts to ultimately, self-actualization.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who writes about the ‘internal state’. The theory of Flow describes those times when you are so absorbed in your activity that time just disappears and the only important thing in the world is what you are doing right here, right now. I read about this years ago, and although the research was with adults, it could just as easily be describing those children you see totally absorbed with their play. It was super to be reminded of this and revisit some of the theory
- Alfred Binet, of the IQ test, especially relevant at the current time with discussions about the value and use of standardised testing.
There are also some brand new names for me, amongst others:
- Jane Addams who investigated immigrant children in Chicago and their subsequent ‘Americanisation’.
- Hermann Ebbinghaus who researched memory and the learning curve. He also invented the ‘cloze’ methods (where there is a blank in the sentence for a child to fill in).
- Simon Baron-Cohen who specialises in autism and in particular gender aspects
Which is all great for personal interest and development, but how can these impact on my daily practice?
Luckily there is a section for each person on their legacy and impact, especially if the theory has underpinned a government policy or programme (eg Bronfennbrenner’s theory underpinning Head Start in the USA).
In addition, there is an excellent, and probably unique, section for every Educational Thinker on how they have influenced early years practice in each curriculum of the UK. So links between Gesell’s work and Development Matters are made; Comenius and the use of picture books; Pestalozzi and his child-centred learning, using ‘head, heart and hands’.
In my opinion, having this section for each Educational Thinker makes the book essential for every practitioner doing any sort of Childhood Studies course, because it is not enough to know the theory, this must be applied in practice and understood in the modern context.
I also think it makes the book is essential for reflective practitioners. When we debate the pros and cons of testing, assessment, child-centred learning etc. it is vital that we understand the background, the theory and context that this was developed in and how this has now been adapted for modern life.
An Anthology of Educational Thinkers is a fantastic combination of theory, practice and reflection – perfect for a present, whether you are an experienced practitioner or a brand new student.