Citation
Four-year-old children's perceptions of their experience of psychological, social and emotional, and physical well-being in social-constructivist and direct-instruction preschools

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Title:
Four-year-old children's perceptions of their experience of psychological, social and emotional, and physical well-being in social-constructivist and direct-instruction preschools
Creator:
Selbitschka, Jennifer Sieminski
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English
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xxii, 460 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Direct instruction ( lcsh )
Education, Preschool ( lcsh )
Constructivism (Education) ( lcsh )
Social perception in children ( lcsh )
Preschool children ( lcsh )
Constructivism (Education) ( fast )
Direct instruction ( fast )
Education, Preschool ( fast )
Preschool children ( fast )
Social perception in children ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 442-460).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jennifer Sieminski Selbitschka.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
443109701 ( OCLC )
ocn443109701
Classification:
LD1193.E3 2009d L44 ( lcc )

Full Text
f 1
FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILDRENS PERCEPTIONS OF THEIR EXPERIENCE
OF PSYCHOLOGICAL, SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL, AND PHYSICAL
WELL-BEING IN SOCIAL-CONSTRUCTIVIST AND
DIRECT-INSTRUCTION PRESCHOOLS
by
Jennifer Sieminski Selbitschka
B.A., University of San Diego, La Jolla, California, 1999
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver Health and Science Center, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education and Human Development
2009


by Jennifer Sieminski Selbitschka
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Jennifer Sieminski Selbilschka
has been approved
William Goouwin
Nancy L. Leech
Donna Wittmer

Date


Selbitschka, Jennifer Sieminski (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Four-Year-Old Childrens Perceptions of Their Experience of Psychological, Social
and Emotional, and Physical Well-Being in Social-Constructivist and Direct-
Instruction Preschools
Thesis directed by Professor William Goodwin
ABSTRACT
This study looked at how 4-year-old children perceive their experience of
psychological, social and emotional, and physical well-being in social-constructivist
and direct-instruction preschools. The underlying focus was to compare childrens
perspectives of their days between the preschools. Four primary questions guided
this study. A central feature of this study was getting directly at childrens
perspectives rather than relying solely on the perspective of adults.
Two schools participated in the study. The Early Childhood Classroom
Observation Measure was used to determine the difference between the two schools
and the degree to which they represented direct-instruction or social-constructivist
practice. Twelve children, 6 from each school (3 boys and 3 girls), participated in the
study.
The design for the study was a sequential exploratory mixed methods design.
Data were collected through observations, interviews with children, and artifacts.
The qualitative framework for the study was a multiple case study. The primary
source of qualitative data came from transcripts of interviews with the children.
Domain, taxonomic, and constant comparative analyses were used to analyze the


transcripts. Quantitative data were collected in the form of descriptive statistics by
tracking how long children spent in activities, how often they participated in
activities, and how they scored activities based on how the activity influenced their
sense of well-being. These data were also used together to conduct a time
measurement that determined how much time children spent in activities that either
positively or negatively influenced their sense of well-being. Additional quantitative
data included frequency counts of particular themes that emerged from the qualitative
data.
Results indicated that children from both schools shared similar and different
experiences of well-being. Although a positive sense of well-being was expressed by
children from both schools, children from the direct-instruction school indicated
experiencing a negative sense of well-being more often than children from the social-
constructivist school. These negative experiences were most commonly associated
with teacher-directed activities, which were more prevalent at the direct-instruction
school. Children from the social-constructivist school indicated experiencing
particularly high levels of psychological well-being.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
it for publication.
Signed
William Goodwin


DEDICATION
I want to dedicate this to all the children I have been so honored to encounter
in my lifetime who have taught me so much about myself and about life; may we
always strive to become better listeners of children.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
It only seems appropriate to thank first and foremost the 12 children who gave
up many hours of play and being with their friends to meet with me and share their
invaluable insights about their day at school. I also must extend my gratitude to the
directors and teachers at the two participating schools in the study who were so warm
and generous in welcoming me into their lives each day I was in the field.
My husband Brian deserves a medal for the endless support, understanding,
encouragement, and patience that he provided through this long, five-year journey.
My family, friends, and Boulder Journey School colleagues have been my biggest
cheerleaders and supporters and gave me the enthusiasm and motivation to keep
moving forward. My colleagues at Boulder Journey School deserve a special thank
you for their patience and understanding during this hectic time and their acceptance
of what I was able to contribute to the school while I tackled this monster.
I am truly grateful to have had the most amazing dissertation committee and
end up with a dissertation that reflects these amazing minds. Donna Wittmers
knowledge about children and passion for creating quality early childhood
experiences for children provided endless inspiration to my work, and her humor
always kept my spirits up. Nancy Leechs expertise in research methods and writing
about research became a priceless sea of knowledge, and I would not have been able


to progress in the research process without the many telephone calls and emails for
which she so generously made time. Mark Clarkes gift for brain agitation and
disequilibrium, as well as the unique perspective he brings to any discussion, pushed
and challenged my thinking in ways that I never thought possible and provided
incredible insight to the dissertation. Susan Lyons model for leadership and
dedication to advocating for quality education, especially in the area of professional
development for teachers, was a powerful source of motivation surrounding the
importance of this work. Finally, I am ever so grateful to my chair, Bill Goodwin. I
feel so lucky to have had such a wise, guiding light mentor me through this journey.
Bills wisdom, sense of humor, and belief in me to accomplish this intense goal kept
me pushing forward and, more importantly, helped me believe in myself.
Finally, I want to thank the educators in Reggio Emilia whose work
continuously inspires and pushes me to never be satisfied with answers and to always
seek more questions in order to become a better teacher.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tables..................................................................xxi
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION...........................................................1
Problem Statement...................................................1
School Readiness................................................2
Impact of Experience in Early Childhood Programs on School
Readiness....................................................7
Quality Early Childhood Programs...............................11
Conceptual Framework...............................................15
Perceptions of Whether or Not Basic Psychological Needs Are
Met and Level of Engagement.................................15
Liking School and Achievement in School........................16
Self-Concept in Relation to School and Achievement in School..16
Well-Being.....................................................17
Psychological Well-Being....................................19
Social and Emotional Well-Being.............................19
Physical Well-Being.........................................19
Theoretical Foundations of Direct Instruction and Social-Constructivist
Instruction....................................................20
Direct Instruction.............................................21
Behavior Psychology.........................................21
Behavior Theories of Learning...............................22
The Direct-Instruction Model................................24
Direct-Instruction Model Today..............................25
Social-Constructivist Instruction..............................28
Cognitive Psychology........................................28
Cognitive Theories of Learning..............................29
Constructivism..............................................30
Piaget and constructivism...............................31
Vygotsky and the social component to constructivism.....33
Dewey and experience....................................34
Social-Constructivist Model Today...........................35
Purpose of the Study...............................................38
Research Questions.............................................39
IX


Methodology........................................................41
Potential Contributions of the Study...............................43
Introduction to the Chapters.......................................44
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..............................................45
Constructions of Children and Childhood............................47
The Roots of Childhood.........................................47
A History of Thinking About Children and Childhood.............49
Contemporary Constructions of Children and Childhood...........50
Influence of Traditional and Contemporary Constructions of
Childhood on Conducting Research With Children.................52
An Unbalanced Literature Base..................................52
Children as Unreliable, Untrustworthy, and Incompetent......57
Children as Objects of Research.............................59
Concluding Thoughts............................................60
A Call For The Childrens Voice....................................61
The Need for Childrens Perspectives...........................62
Children as Rights Holders..................................62
Children as Persons.........................................64
Children as Competent.......................................65
The New Sociology of Childhood.................................66
Childhood as Socially Constructed...........................67
Understanding Children Not in Relation to Adults............69
Children as Beings Rather than Becomings....................70
Children as Social Actors...................................71
Children as Active Meaning-Makers...........................71
Benefits of Including Childrens Voices in Educational Settings.72
Concluding Thoughts............................................74
Studies of Childrens Perspectives.................................74
Differences Between Adult and Childrens Perspectives..........75
Studies of Childrens Perspectives in Early Childhood Settings..81
Play........................................................81
Friends.....................................................83
Dislikes....................................................83
Optimism and Resiliency.................................... 84
Preferred Classroom Practices...............................85
Adult as the Authority......................................86
Choice and Opportunity to Follow Individual Preferences.....87
Rules.......................................................87
Concluding Thoughts............................................88
Social-Constructivist Instruction and Direct Instruction...........89
x


Social-Constructivist Instruction or Direct Instruction...........90
Why Direct Instruction........................................90
Why Not Direct Instruction....................................91
Why Social-Constructivist Instruction.........................93
Why Not Social-Constructivist Instruction.....................93
Which Model Is Best...........................................95
Comparing the Effects and Outcomes of Social-Constructivist
and Direct-Instruction Models.................................96
Academic and Affective Child Outcomes.........................97
Cognition.................................................98
Motivation and perceived competence.......................99
Enjoyment of school.......................................100
Dependency................................................101
Basic math and reading skills.............................101
Long-Term Versus Short-Term Effects of Programs...............102
Direct instruction........................................102
Social-constructivist instruction.........................104
Evidence of Stress............................................104
Direct instruction and levels of stress...................104
Social-constructivist instruction and levels of stress..105
Benefits for At-Risk Children.................................106
Benefits of direct instruction............................106
Benefits of social-constructivist instruction.............107
Influence of Program on Childrens Beliefs About Learning
and School................................................108
Concluding Thoughts Considering the Childs Well-Being and
Perspective...................................................108
Influence of Psychological, Social and Emotional, and Physical
Well-Being on School Readiness and Success in School............111
Psychological Well-Being..........................................112
Self-Concept..................................................112
Self-Esteem.................................................112
Self-Efficacy.................................................113
Sense of Belonging............................................113
Social and Emotional Well-Being.................................114.
Self-Regulation...............................................115
Engagement in Relationships...................................115
Ability to Read and Understand Emotions.......................116
Physical Well-Being...............................................118
Physical Health...............................................118
Physical Exercise.............................................119
xi


Physical Safety............................................120
Issues and Ethics in Research With Children........................122
Issues in Research With Children..............................122
Children as Meaning-Makers.................................122
Developmental Differences..................................123
Social Desirability........................................124
Suggestibility.............................................124
Ability to Recall Experiences..............................125
Ethics in Research With Children..............................125
Knowledge About Childrens Abilities.......................126
Power Dynamics in the Adult-Child Relationship.............127
Childrens Consent.........................................128
Chapter Summary....................................................129
3. METHODOLOGY..........................................................133
Introduction to the Methodology....................................133
Sequential Exploratory Research Design.............................134
Qualitative Data..............................................134
Quantitative Data.............................................136
Site Selection and Sampling Procedures.............................138
Site Selection Process........................................138
Obtaining Consent From the Schools and Families............141
Evaluating Type of Instruction: Early Childhood Classroom
Observation Measure....................................142
Establishing validity..................................143
Establishing reliability...............................146
Comparing against other measures.......................147
Using the ECCOM........................................148
Results from the ECCOM.................................149
Sampling Procedures...........................................153
Sample Characteristics.....................................154
Selection Procedure........................................155
Qualitative Data Collection Procedures.............................155
Observations..................................................156
Building Rapport With Children................................159
Obtaining Childrens Consent................................. 161
Choosing an Interview Context.................................163
Plan for Meetings With Children...............................164
Modified Plan for Data Collection.............................164
Meetings......................................................165
Round 1....................................................168
xii


Preparation...........................................168
Meeting dynamics......................................169
Meeting events........................................170
Round 2..................................................170
Preparation...........................................171
Meeting dynamics......................................171
Meeting events........................................171
Round 3..................................................173
Preparation...........................................173
Meeting dynamics......................................173
Meeting events........................................174
Round 4..................................................175
Preparation...........................................175
Meeting dynamics......................................176
Meeting events........................................176
Round 5..................................................177
Preparation...........................................177
Meeting dynamics......................................177
Meeting events........................................178
Round 6..................................................179
Preparation...........................................180
Meeting dynamics......................................180
Meeting events........................................181
Round 7..................................................182
Preparation...........................................182
Meeting dynamics......................................183
Meeting events........................................183
Round 8..................................................184
Preparation...........................................185
Meeting dynamics......................................185
Meeting events........................................186
Round 9..................................................186
Preparation...........................................187
Meeting dynamics......................................187
Meeting events........................................188
Triangulation Meeting....................................189
Preparation...........................................189
Meeting dynamics......................................190
Meeting events........................................190
Quantitative Data Collection Procedure..........................191
Qualitative Data Analysis.......................................194
xiii


Quantitative Data Analysis...........................................198
Reliability..........................................................199
Interrater Reliability...........................................200
Triangulation of Data............................................200
Reliability of Research Design...................................201
Validity.............................................................203
Design Quality...................................................204
Design Suitability...........................................204
Design Fidelity..............................................206
Within-Design Consistency....................................209
Analytic Adequacy............................................209
Interpretive Rigor...............................................210
Inferential Consistency......................................210
Interpretive Agreement.......................................211
Interpretive Distinctiveness.................................212
Interpretive Consistency.....................................212
Theoretical Consistency......................................213
Integrative Efficacy.........................................214
Chapter Summary......................................................214
4. RESULTS.................................................................221
Introduction to the Flow of the Day at Sunshine......................221
Engagement in Activities.........................................222
Project Group Time...............................................224
Quiet Time.......................................................226
Swimming.........................................................226
Gym..............................................................227
Introduction to the Flow of the Day at Jasmine.......................227
Circle Time......................................................228
Centers, Math, and Art...........................................229
Storytelling.....................................................229
OG...............................................................230
Snack............................................................230
Recess...........................................................231
Literacy.........................................................231
Comparison of the Flow of Main Events Between Sunshine and
Jasmine..........................................................232
Results from the Analyses as They Relate to the Four Research
Questions........................................................232
xiv


Question 1: What Are Childrens Perceptions of the Activities in
Which They Participate in Regard to Their Sense of
Well-Being?..................................................233
Letting Children Do What They Want...........................234
In Regard to Well-Being...................................236
Doing What They Do Not Want to Do...................236
In Regard to Well-Being...................................239
Playing Outside and Getting Exercise.........................239
In Regard to Well-Being...................................241
Feeling Physical Safety......................................241
In Regard to Well-Being...................................242
Identifying Selves...........................................243
In Regard to Well-Being...................................244
Focusing on the Positive.....................................244
In Regard to Well-Being...................................249
Soothing Selves..............................................250
In Regard to Well-Being...................................251
Taking Too Long..............................................251
In Regard to Well-Being...................................253
Learning and Accomplishment..................................253
In Regard to Well-Being...................................257
Connecting to Interests and Real-Life Relevance..............257
In Regard to Well-Being...................................258
Expressing More than One Feeling About an Activity...........259
In Regard to Well-Being...................................262
Question 2: What Activities Have the Most Influence on the
Childrens Sense of Well-Being?..............................262
Most Influential Activities at Sunshine......................263
Dress-up and Pretend Play.................................263
In regard to well-being................................267
Swimming..................................................268
In regard to well-being................................269
Drawing...................................................269
In regard to well-being................................273
Quiet Time, Rest Time, and Nap............................274
In regard to well-being................................275
Most Influential Activities at Jasmine.......................276
Math......................................................276
In regard to well-being................................280
Art.......................................................281
In regard to well-being................................282
xv


Play and Centers...........................................283
In regard to well-being.................................285
Worksheets.................................................285
In regard to well-being.................................288
Influential Interactions with Other Children at Both Schools..288
Favorable Interactions.....................................289
Unfavorable Interactions...................................290
Shared Experiences.........................................292
Friendships................................................293
In Regard to Well-Being....................................295
Question 3: Are There Differences in the Way That Children
Experience Their Sense of Well-Being Depending on
Model of Instruction?..........................................295
Perceptions of Self-Efficacy, Self-Concept, and Self-Esteem...296
Self-Efficacy, Self-Concept, and Self-Esteem at Sunshine..296
Self-Efficacy, Self-Concept, and Self-Esteem at Jasmine...297
Perceptions of Hard Activities at Sunshine.................299
Perceptions of Hard Activities at Jasmine..................299
In Regard to Well-Being....................................301
Perceptions of Getting It Right and Doing a Good Job......302
Getting It Right and Doing a Good Job at Sunshine..........302
Who Decides What Is Right and Good at Sunshine.............303
Getting It Right and Doing a Good Job at Jasmine...........304
Who Decides What Is Right and Good at Jasmine..............306
In Regard to Well-Being....................................307
Perceptions of Control in the Classroom Environment............308
Rules and Instructions.....................................309
Doing What the Teacher Says................................311
Getting in Trouble.........................................313
Teacher-Rewarded Activities................................315
In Regard to Well-Being....................................317
Results From Quantitative Data: Time-Measurement...............317
Question 4: Are There Differences in the Way That Children
Experience Their Sense of Well-Being Depending
on Gender?................................................... 322
Differences Between Boys and Girls at Jasmine..................323
Differences Between Boys and Girls at Sunshine.................325
Chapter Summary....................................................327
5. DISCUSSION............................................................329
Interpretations....................................................329
xvi


Question 1: What Are Childrens Perceptions of the Activities
in Which They Participate in Regard to Their Sense of
Well-Being?.................................................330
Types of Activities Children Preferred......................330
Types of Activities Children Did Not Prefer.................331
Activities Have Multiple Meanings...........................331
You and I...............................................332
Question 2: What Activities Have the Most Influence on the
Childrens Sense of Well-Being?.............................335
Teacher-Directed Activities.................................335
Child-Directed Activities...................................336
Question 3: Are There Differences in the Way That Children
Experience Their Sense of Well-Being Depending on
Model of Instruction?.......................................337
Difference in Experience of Well-Being......................338
Difference in Perceived Control of the Environment..........339
Question 4: Are There Differences in the Way That Children
Experience Their Sense of Well-Being Depending
on Gender?..................................................340
Connections.........................................................341
Children as Reliable Research Participants......................341
Studies of Childrens Perspectives..............................343
Play........................................................343
Friends.....................................................344
Dislikes....................................................344
Choice and Opportunity to Follow Individual Preferences....345
Rules.......................................................346
Preferred Classroom Practices...............................346
Optimism and Resiliency.....................................347
Adults as the Authority.....................................348
Other Interesting Findings..................................349
Differences Between Adult and Childrens Perspectives.......350
Outcomes and Effects of Social-Constructivist Instruction and
Direct Instruction..........................................351
Academic and Affective Effects and Outcomes From Both
Schools..................................................351
Evidence of Stress..........................................353
Impact of Program on Childrens Beliefs About Learning
and School...............................................353
Understanding the Process Rather Than the Product...........353
Well-Being in Relation to School Readiness......................355
xvii


Psychological Well-Being....................................355
Self-concept.............................................356
Self-esteem..............................................356
Self-efficacy............................................357
Sense of belonging.......................................357
Social and Emotional Well-Being.............................358
Self-regulation..........................................359
Engage in relationships and interactions.................360
Read and understand emotions.............................361
Physical Well-Being.........................................362
Exercise.................................................362
Physical safety..........................................363
Implications........................................................363
Assessing Comprehension and Content.............................364
Sharing a Sense of Control......................................365
Promoting Physical Well-Being...................................367
Focusing on the Specifics of an Activity........................368
Paying Attention to What Children Like..........................369
Projections.........................................................370
Color...........................................................371
Motivation......................................................372
Interest in Reading.............................................373
Learning........................................................374
Discipline......................................................374
Connections With Home and Family................................375
Reflections.........................................................377
Limitations of the Study........................................377
Limited Consent From Families...............................377
Sample Size and Characteristics.............................378
Focus on Specific Models of Instruction.....................379
Different Settings, Different Responses.....................380
What I Would Have Done Differently..............................381
Beliefs, Assumptions, Expectations, and Biases..................384
Issues in Research With Children................................385
Children as Meaning-Makers..................................386
Developmental Differences...................................386
Social Desirability.........................................387
Suggestibility..............................................388
Ability to Recall Experiences...............................389
Ethics in Research With Children................................389
Knowledge About Childrens Abilities........................389
xviii


Power Dynamics in the Adult-Child Relationship.390
Childrens Consent.............................391
Closing Thoughts.....................................392
APPENDICES
A. PARENT SURVEY FOR DISSERTATION STUDY.............393
B. DIRECTOR CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE..................395
C. TEACHER CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE......................399
D. FAMILY CONSENT FOR CHILD TO PARTICIPATE..........403
E. COMPLETE LIST OF ECCOM SUBSCALES.................407
F. ECCOM SCORES FOR ALL SUBSCALES FROM THE
RESEARCHERS......................................409
G. LAYOUTS: JASMINE AND SUNSHINE.......................412
H. INITIAL PLAN FOR DATA COLLECTION.................415
I. QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER...............................418
J. ONGOING DURING THE INTERVIEW........................420
K. ANTICIPATING CHILDRENS RESPONSES...................422
L. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE DESIGN OF QUESTIONS..........424
M. INTRODUCTION TO SUNSHINE CHILDREN...................427
N. INTRODUCTION TO JASMINE CHILDREN....................430
O. OVERALL LIST OF ACTIVITIES FOR BOTH SCHOOLS......433
P. OVERALL LIST OF FEELINGS AND INDICATORS.............435
Q. PERSONAL STORY AND BELIEFS..........................440
xix


REFERENCES
442
xx


LIST OF TABLES
Table
1. Results for Level of Parent Education and Weekly Work Hours From the
Parent Survey.........................................................140
2. Results From the Parent Survey Regarding Parents Reasons for Choosing
the School............................................................141
3. Correlations Between Teacher Experience, Self-Reported Practice, and Goals 144
4. Correlations Between Teacher Observed Practices and Teacher Ratings of
Children..............................................................145
5. Reported Scores for Reliability of the ECCOM..............................146
6. Raters Mean Scores for ECCOM Subscales...................................150
7. Flow of Main Events From the Day at Sunshine School.......................222
8. Flow of Main Events From the Day at Jasmine School........................228
9. Frequency of Scores Given by Children to Child-Directed Activities........235
10. Frequency of Scores Given By Children to Teacher-Directed Activities...238
11. Total Number of Photographs Conveying Positive Feelings to Sunshine
Children in Their Book Sections.......................................246
12. Total Number of Photographs Conveying Negative Feelings to Sunshine
Children in Their Book Sections.......................................247
13. Total Number of Photographs Conveying Positive Feelings to Jasmine
Children in Their Book Sections.......................................248
14. Total Number of Photographs Conveying Negative Feelings to Jasmine
Children in Their Book Sections.......................................249
xxi


15. Average Time Spent By Girls in Dress-up Activity and Frequency of
Participation in Dress-up Over 14 Days at Sunshine School................265
16. Average Time Spent by Boys in Pretend Play Activity and Frequency of
Participation in Pretend Play Over 14 Days at Sunshine School............267
17. Average Time Spent Drawing and Frequency of Participation in Drawing
Activities Over 14 Days at Sunshine School...............................273
18. Average Time Per Type of Activity, Frequency of Activity, Childrens
Score of the Activity, and Total Time Spent Per Day in Activity..........319
xxii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
This dissertation study sought to elicit 4-year-old childrens perceptions on
their day at school, focusing on the different activities they participated in throughout
the day and how these activities influenced the childrens sense of well-being.
Children attending a social-constructivist preschool and children attending a direct-
instruction preschool participated in the study. This chapter provides a rationale and
framework for the study through an exploration of the overarching problem in which
the topic of the study is embedded.
Problem Statement
School readiness has long been the dominating topic in conversations
regarding the education of Americas children. School readiness at kindergarten
entry has been considered the key ingredient by many for determining whether or not
a child is ready to learn and will succeed in school. Yet studies have shown that
many of Americas children do not enter formal schooling ready to learn and thus are
not ready for school. One factor that has been proven to help prepare children for
school is experience in early childhood programs.
However, not just any early childhood program is sufficient. Only programs
of high quality consistently give children the skills needed to be ready for school. Yet


issues arise in the process of defining quality since definitions of quality may differ
across programs depending upon specific program goals based on models of
instruction. Regardless of the different goals programs wish to accomplish, fostering
a healthy psychological, social and emotional, and physical sense of well-being in
children is an essential component of a quality program as it influences childrens
potential for school readiness. Thus, the question becomes: do different programs,
based on different models of instruction, that appear to be of high quality and
accomplishing the goals of the program influence childrens well-being differently?
The study examined this question from the childs perspective as the childs
perspective is needed in order to understand better how a program influences his or
her well-being. The following paragraphs elaborate upon the issues mentioned above
and provide information on the logistics of the study.
School Readiness
Americans consider the importance of education a givenboth in terms of the
development of individuals and the growth of the nation. For individuals,
education traditionally has been regarded as a door to enlarged opportunities.
For the nation, an educated workforce has come to be recognized as essential
to ensuring competitiveness in a global economy. (Redd, Brooks, &
McGarvey, 2002, p. 1)
The above excerpt identifies a typical assumption of American society that
success in school leads to success in life (Alvarado et al., 2005; Connor & Morrison,
2006). Since school for most children begins as early as kindergarten, it is no wonder
that the first of six national education goals created at the 1989 Education Summit
2


states, by the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn (Executive
Office of the President, 1990, Goal 1). Entering school ready to learn is considered to
be a critical component for school readiness and necessary for success in school.
There are very clear distinctions between what it means to be ready to learn
and school readiness. Lewit and Baker (1995) cautioned that just being ready to
learn does not mean one is ready for school: Every child, except in extreme
instances of abuse, neglect, or disability, enters school ready to learn. Merely being
ready to learn something may not, however, guarantee success in school (p. 129).
They defined readiness to learn as the level of development at which an individual
(of any age) is ready to undertake the learning of specific materials (p. 129).
Whereas, school readiness tethers the notion of readiness for learning to a standard
of physical, intellectual, and social development that enables children to fulfill school
requirements and to assimilate a school's curriculum (p. 129). Thus, being ready to
learn can only be understood in relation to what it means to be ready for school.
Traditionally, school readiness has been defined by academic-driven
definitions of readiness (Kortez, 1997; Zaslow, Calkins, & Halle, 2000). More
recently, definitions of readiness have looked beyond just letters and numbers,
focusing on the whole child, by including social and emotional skills and abilities that
children need to be good learners throughout their school careers (Kansas Action for
Children, 2006; Vandivere, Pitzer, Halle, & Hair, 2004). Academic definitions of
readiness often include mastery in literacy and numeracy. Mastery in literacy
3


includes the childs vocabulary size, complexity of spoken language, familiarity with
the alphabet and books, use of complex sentences, and metalinguistic awareness
(Connor & Morrison, 2006; Zaslow et al.). Mastery in numeracy includes the childs
ability in basic counting and classification (Zaslow et ah). Social and emotional
definitions of readiness include the childs capacity to understand their own feelings,
play cooperatively with both peers and adults, and resolve conflict successfully
(Klein, 2002).
Self-regulation, which involves the childs capacity to control ones own
behavior and impulse, is considered by many to be a key indicator in the social and
emotional domains of school readiness (Blair 2002, 2003; Connor & Morrison, 2006;
Klein, 2002; Phillips & Love, 1997; Zaslow et ah, 2000). Self-regulation enables the
child to maintain engaged focus, stay on task, follow directions, work with a group,
engage in classroom tasks, and pay attention in class (Connor & Morrison; Kansas
Action for Children, 2006; Zaslow et ah). Abilities enabled by self-regulation are
considered the main abilities that children need to be good learners throughout their
school careers (Kansas Action for Children).
Phillips and Love (1997) defined school readiness in regard to a childs
approach .to learning. They identify four components of approaches toward learning:
openness to and curiosity about new tasks and challenges; task persistence and
attentiveness; a tendency for reflection and interpretation; and imagination and
invention (p. 133). Additionally, Phillips and Love believed that motivation,
4


curiosity, creativity, independence, persistence, and interest in learning are all critical
components for school readiness. Finally, they asserted that the childs engagement
in learning and self-concept as a learner, including the ability to carry out, select, and
complete developmentally appropriate tasks, further influence a childs readiness for
school.
In 1999 the National Education Goals Panel identified the following five
components that summarize the above definitions that together contribute to a childs
readiness for school: health and physical development, emotional well-being and
social competence, approaches to learning, communicative skills, and cognition and
general knowledge (Copple, 1997). These national goals for school readiness
emphasize that preparedness for school goes beyond academics.
A poll of teachers ratings of important characteristics for school readiness
indicated the same view. The National Household Education Survey (NHES) and the
Kindergarten Teacher Survey on Student Readiness (ETSSR), both sponsored by the
National Center for Education Statistics, were used to poll parents and teachers on
rating the importance of different skills for a childs readiness for school (National
Center for Education Statistics, 1993). Results from the KTSSR revealed that
teachers believed a childs health, communication skills, enthusiasm, and ability to
take turns and share were more essential for a childs school readiness than
knowledge of letters and numbers. Interestingly the NHES poll showed that parents
5


found academic skills to be more important for school readiness than those qualities
indicated by teachers.
Still, with all the literature used to define school readiness, there remains a
lack of agreement upon the necessary and sufficient ingredients for readiness as well
as upon definitions and standards concerning the level of childrens capacities as they
enter school (Lewit & Baker, 1995). Despite lack of agreement on a unifying
definition of school readiness, current research reveals that it is becoming more
common for children to enter school without the appropriate skills that make them
ready for school and prepared to benefit from a classroom environment focused on
learning (Kansas Action for Children, 2006; Rouse, Brooks-Gunn, & McLanahan,
2005). These children are considered at high risk for early school problems, poor
performance later in their school years, and difficulties later in life, especially in the
adult workplace (Alvarado et al., 2005; Rouse et al.). Furthermore, these children
enter kindergarten without the knowledge and skills that their teachers assume they
have and these children are left behind as their early school instruction departs from
a baseline that they have never reached (Phillips & Love, 1997, p. 134).
Since so many children are entering school without the appropriate skills to
make them ready for school, it is necessary to consider carefully factors that influence
a childs readiness for school. These factors include, but are not limited to, age,
downward displacement of academic content to earlier grades, environmental stress,
parenting, and genetic endowment (Lewit & Baker, 1995; Rouse et al., 2005).
6


However, one factor that has proven to be critical in fostering school readiness is
experience in early childhood programs.
Impact of Experience in Early Childhood
Programs on School Readiness
Research has shown that early childhood programs play an important role by
fostering school readiness (Kansas Action for Children, 2006; Magnuson &
Waldfogel, 2005; National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development,
2004; Rouse et al., 2005). Early childhood care and education programs provide
significant support for children's academic success, measurable societal returns on
investment, and a clear strategy for supporting school completion (Connor &
Morrison, 2006, p. 7). Strong links have been made between learning in the early
years and later success and achievement, as early school success is considered to set
the stage and foundation for later success in school and life (Rouse et al; Vandivere et
al., 2004). The following excerpt from Phillips and Love (1997) demonstrated the
relationship between childhood programs and school readiness:
There has been growing recognition that the precursors of school success are
found in the earliest years of life and that substantial learning occurs before
children first encounter formal academic instruction. It is not surprising, then,
that child care and preschool are no longer seen simply as a place where
children play and have fun with their age-mates. Concerns about the
educational attainment of the country's children have refocused attention on
early childhood settings as places where children get ready for school, (p.
139)
In a national poll of kindergarten teachers, 66% rated children who had
attended early childhood programs as substantially better prepared to succeed in
7


school than those children who did not attend any form of early childhood program
(Kharfen & Shapiro, 2004). Furthermore, children who had attended early childhood
programs performed better at school entry than children who had not attended these
programs (Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2005; National Institute of Childhood Health and
Human Development, 2004). Attending center care at, for example, a day care
center, nursery school, or preschool, particularly at ages 3 and 4 promotes children's
academic skills and cognitive development (Magnuson & Waldfogel, p. 176). These
findings still stand even after controlling for a host of family background and other
factors that might be associated with whether or not a child attends an early childhood
program (Magnuson & Waldfogel).
Many believe that experience in early childhood programs has such an impact
on childrens readiness for school because foundations for learning are constructed in
the earliest years of life (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; UNICEF, 2007). A young
childs brain experiences extreme growth and development within the first 5 years of
life. During this time, the brain develops 90% of its capacity as children acquire the
ability to think, speak, learn, and reason (Kansas Action for Children, 2006). This
development is influenced by the stimulation and interaction that the child has with
his or her environment (Kansas Action for Children; Williams & Mitchel, 2004).
Although the brain is flexible during this time, it is still susceptible to adverse effects
(Kansas Action for Children). For this reason, if the child does not experience the
appropriate stimulation and interaction needed from the environment, then brain
8


development is hindered (Rouse et al., 2005; UNICEF, 2000; Williams & Mitchell).
Positive experience in early childhood programs can impact the childs natural brain
development and appropriate nurturing of this development can impact a childs
readiness for school.
National studies show that 60% of children, age 3- to 5-years-old, attend some
form of weekly nonparental care (National Household Education Surveys Program,
2005). Between 1991 and 2001, the percentage of children ages 3-5 who had not yet
entered kindergarten and who attended center-based early childhood care and
education programs . rose from 53 to 56 percent (National Center for Education
Statistics, 2002, p. 2). Forms of nonparental care include day-care centers, home-care
centers, preschools, child-development centers, and nursery schools (Dahlberg, Moss,
& Pence, 1999; Evans & Fuller, 1996; Lally, 2001; Maccoby & Lewis, 2003).
Children spend an average of 30 hours per week in such arrangements (National
Household Education Surveys Program; National Institute of Childhood Health and
Human Development. 2004). The National Institute of Childhood Health and Human
Development study found that older children were more likely than younger children
to spend longer hours in early care arrangements. The percent of children in some
form of child care arrangement and the number of hours in such arrangements has
grown over the past decade and continues to grow (National Household Education
Surveys Program). This marked growth is a result of the increasing participation of
9


women in the labor force and the steep rise of single-parent families (UNICEF, 2007;
Williams & Mitchell, 2004).
According to analysis of data from the 2000 Census, 58.3 percent of all
women aged 16 and older were in the labor force in 2000. Women with
children represent the fastest growing group in the U.S. labor market. As
women continue to work at higher rates, and families renegotiate work and
family terrain in search of balance, early care and education has emerged as an
important resource for families. Working parents need access to care
arrangements that provide nurturing and stimulating environments for their
children, particularly those of preschool age. (Williams & Mitchell, p. 2)
This demand for early childhood care arrangements has provoked many states to
invest in the idea of Universal Preschools. Yet many caution that Universal
Preschools are not necessarily the answer and that early care and education providers
must find a delicate balance between quantity and quality, as expanding too quickly,
without sufficient funds and standards, will dilute the potential impact on child
development (Williams, & Mitchell, p. 3). Furthermore, studies have demonstrated
that not all children experience positive outcomes from attending early child care
arrangements (Magnuson & Waldfolgel, 2005; National Institute of Childhood Health
and Human Development, 2004).
The most common finding in such studies is that children coming from early
childhood programs into kindergarten were more likely to exhibit problem social
behaviors (Loeb, Bridges, Bassok, Fuller, & Rumberger, 2005; Magnuson &
Waldfogel, 2005; National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development,
2004). Additionally, these studies found that the benefits of preschool tend to
10


decrease by the third grade and those who attended some form of early education
arrangement end up on equal footing with those who did not attend any form of early
education arrangement prior to formal schooling. These findings suggest that the
important issue is not whether children attend some form of early childhood
education arrangement. Instead, the matter of importance rests on the type and
quality of the early child care arrangement.
Quality Early Childhood Programs
Quality early childhood programs are fundamental for school readiness as
they offer very clear academic and social benefits for children (Magnuson &
Waldfogel, 2005; Williams & Mitchell, 2004). Studies mentioned earlier, revealing
negative effects of pre-kindergarten experience on school readiness, often lack
information on the quality of programs attended by children participating in the study.
Research has consistently linked quality early childhood programs with childrens
success in school (Kansas Action for Children, 2006; Magnuson & Waldfogel;
National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development, 2004; Williams &
Mitchell; Zaslow et al., 2000). Children who attended high-quality programs fared
better in school than children coming from programs of low quality, despite family
and socioeconomic background (Connor & Morrison,.2006; Kansas Action for
Children; Vandell, Henderson, & Wilson, 1988). There is no debate over the
benefits of quality preschool. Extensive research has consistently shown that quality
11


preschool programs ... improve not only readiness to learn, but also social skills that
help children for a lifetime (OConnell, 2006, B5, p. 2).
In fostering school readiness, high quality early childhood programs have
been found to create gains in cognitive test scores, better kindergarten achievement,
lower rates of grade retention and special education placement, and higher rates of
high school graduation (Redd et al., 2002; Zaslow et al., 2000). Williams and
Mitchell (2004) found that high-quality programs supplement the nurturing of
children that begins at home while helping children build the fundamental skills
needed to succeed in school.
High quality programs are defined by structural and process variables.
Structural variables are believed to set the stage for the childs day-to-day experiences
in the program and include the training, experience, and education level of staff, staff
salaries, child-staff ratios, group size, continuity of care for children, and aspects of
the programs facility (Helbum & Howes, 1996; National Institute of Childhood
Health and Human Development, 2004). In regard to structural variables, a quality
program would have teachers who hold at least a bachelors degree, have a working
knowledge of how children grow and develop, and have had specialized education
related to early childhood (Helbum & Howes). Additionally, such a program would
have small class sizes, high teacher-child ratio, and continuity between teachers and
children (Smolensky & Gootman, 2003).
12


Process variables refer to how children experience their program and include
the childs social interactions with adults and other children, as well as exposure to
other materials and activities (Helbum & Howes, 1996; National Institute of
Childhood Health and Human Development, 2004). Quality interactions are believed
to come from teachers who are responsive, stimulating, warm, sensitive, and
supportive and who have the energy and imagination to respond to young children
with varying capabilities (UNICEF, 2007). Vandivere et al. (2004) also stress the
importance of teachers who maintain high standards for children and believe in
children.
Yet identifying and defining quality early childhood programs that do such a
good job in fostering school readiness is not as easy as it sounds. The first issue in
defining quality is that it is closely tied to definitions of school success. As the goals
of early childhood programs differ, so do definitions of success. Thus, what is
considered quality based on definitions of school success in one program may be
different from what is considered quality based on definitions of school success in
another program. Thus, to design a high quality program, one needs a clear sense of
the overall goals of the program. To resolve this issue, some have used the term
effective in place of quality (Connor & Morrison, 2006). A program is
considered effective if it is meeting the established goals for success.
The second issue involves the variability of environments to which children
proceed after their early childhood experience. The goals of these environments may
13


differ from the goals of the early childhood program. Thus, a child who may be
considered ready for some schools may be considered unready for others (Lewit &
Baker, 1995). Both issues are a result of controversy over what high quality early
childhood education might be and what should be taught to very young children
(Connor & Morrison, 2006).
Although there is a lack of agreement on the exact components of school
readiness and controversy exists over what high quality early childhood education
might be and what should be taught to very young children, a childs well-being is a
common thread throughout the literature on both topics of school readiness and well-
being. All components identified by the literature can be connected in some way to
the childs well-being whether the emphasis is on the psychological, social and
emotional, or physical domain of well-being (Zaslow et al., 2000). Therefore,
regardless of different program goals and goals of settings into which the children
will go, fostering a healthy psychological, social and emotional, and physical sense of
well-being in children can be considered as an essential component of a quality
program as well as a necessity for school readiness.
Thus, the question becomes: do different programs, based on model of
instruction, that appear to be of high quality and accomplishing the goals of the
program influence childrens well-being differently? The following conceptual
framework used for the study provides evidence that demonstrates how fostering a
positive sense of well-being can contribute to school readiness and success in school.
14


Conceptual Framework
Studies have found positive correlations between perceptions of self,
perceptions of school, and achievement in school (Burton, Kijai, & Sargeant, 2005;
Daniels, Kalkman, & McCombs, 2001; Redd et al., 2002; UNICEF, 2007; Zaff,
Calkins, Bridges, & Margie, 2002). These findings suggest that relationships are
thought to exist between self-concept in relation to school and achievement in school.
The following excerpt further elaborates upon this relationship:
[Childrens] concepts of themselves and their place at school seem to
influence how well or how poorly they do in school. [Children] who have a
high academic self-concept tend to be more motivated to achieve, more
engaged in school, and more hopeful about their prospects for future
education. Similarly, [children] who feel connected to their school are more
likely to be motivated to achieve and to have higher educational expectations
and aspirations than those who lack that sense of belonging. (Redd et al., p. 2)
Findings from such studies mentioned above inspired the conceptual framework
under which this dissertation study is designed: perceptions of self in school
influence perceptions about school, which influence achievement in school. These
relationships are explored further in the following paragraphs.
Perceptions of Whether or Not Basic Psychological
Needs Are Met and Level of Engagement
Daniels et al. (2001) found that childrens level of engagement and motivation
in school was influenced by childrens perceptions of whether or not their basic
psychological needs for autonomy and competence were being met. Children who
felt that these needs were being met, in comparison with children who felt that they
15


were not, demonstrated greater motivation, more enjoyment in school, and perceived
higher competence. Additionally, these children exhibited more interest in school,
schoolwork, and learning. The researchers also found that when these needs were not
being met, children showed signs of alienation from school activities and low interest
in work and learning at school. These findings suggest that some programs are not the
right match for children in the way that the program may not be meeting the
childrens basic psychological needs.
Liking School and Achievement in School
A positive relationship has also been found between liking school and
achievement in school (UNICEF, 2007). In other words, those who like school tend
to do well in school. DeWit, McKee, Fjeld, and Karioja (2003) discovered that
students who perceived their school culture in a positive way were more likely to
feel accepted at the school, perform well academically and report fewer behavioral
and mental health problems (p. 4). Burton et al. (2005) established that achievement
in school increased when children had positive attitudes and perceptions of school.
Results from this study revealed that positive attitudes and perceptions about school
encouraged the children to become more motivated and engaged in school, which led
to an increase in school performance.
Self-Concept in Relation to School and Achievement in School
Additional findings have accumulated that point to a relationship between
self-concept in relation to school and achievement in school. Wood (2003) concluded
16


childrens behavior and attitudes toward approaches to learning influence and predict
learning outcomes that contribute to their achievement. Zaff et al. (2002) discovered
positive associations between how one feels about oneself in terms of academic
ability and overall measures of self-esteem.
Threads between the research literature presented above have provided the
basis for the conceptual framework used in the study: perceptions of self in school
influence perceptions about school, which influence achievement in school. This
conceptual framework was chosen for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of
how children feel about school and about themselves in school. These factors are
frequently overlooked or considered to be insignificant in the process of establishing
goals around achievement in school. Yet these factors that directly influence a childs
sense of well-being in school are the most critical factors to influence achievement in
school and as a result deserve serious attention.
Well-Being
As demonstrated through the discussion for the conceptual framework, a
childs sense of well-being has been determined as a necessary component for school
readiness: perceptions of self influence perceptions about school which influence
achievement in school. Traditionally well-being in children has been defined by
developmental milestones and outcomes, with an emphasis on the presence or
absence of risk factors that contribute to problem behaviors and childrens survival
(Ben-Arieh et al., 2001). The focus on the negative is thought to be a result of a lack
17


of consensus on what constitutes positive outcomes and development in children
(Moore & Halle, 2000). Childrens well-being is commonly defined and measured
under the following domains: health, economic and material resources, education,
safety, personal life skills, civic life skills and contribution, activities, emotional and
spiritual well-being, family and neighborhood characteristics, relationships, behavior,
and self-perceptions.
Recent attempts have been made to shift thinking in the way well-being is
defined, from basic survival of life to quality of life. The Child and Youth Well-
Being Index (CWI) defined well-being as the quality of life (Land, 2007). Shifting
thinking around well-being from survival of life to quality of life focuses on the
experience of children while they are still children, the quality of their everyday life,
and the way in which their childhood is experienced rather than survived (Ben-Arieh
et al., 2001). The level of happiness and satisfaction that the child feels about his or
her life is thought to determine the quality of the childs life and thus influence his or
her sense of overall well-being (Marks, Shah, & Westail, 2004). Therefore, knowing
childrens levels of happiness and satisfaction of life at school becomes important
because this information can provide insight into how children feel about school and
themselves in school, revealing the quality of their experience in school. After
reviewing the literature on well-being, I categorized the common themes under three
primary domains: psychological, social and emotional, and physical.
18


Psychological Well-Being
Psychological well-being is the well-being of the mind, and is sometimes
referred to as mental well-being. This domain of well-being has to do primarily with
how the child perceives him or herself and how this perception then influences how
he or she responds to a specific event or environment. Psychological well-being is
mainly concerned with how important one feels and how good one feels about oneself
and includes the childs self-concept, self-esteem, self- efficacy, and sense of
belonging.
Social and Emotional Well-Being
Although social and emotional well-being are components of psychological
well-being, they deserve their own section due to the amount of research that has
been done on these topics and their influence on school readiness. A childs sense of
social and emotional well-being is a result of his or her level of social and emotional
development. Thus, aspects of social and emotional well-being are influenced by the
childs ability to self-regulate, engage in relationships and interactions with others,
and the ability to read and understand others and ones own emotions.
Physical Well-Being
In contrast to psychological well-being, physical well-being involves the
physical body. Physical well-being includes the childs level of health, opportunities
for exercise, and feelings of physical safety. Although physical safety could be
19


considered as a component of psychological well-being, it is included under physical
well-being because it directly influences the state of the physical body.
At the heart of the conceptual framework lies the idea that the childs sense of
well-being in relation to school influences his or her achievement in school. Many
factors are believed to impact the childs sense of well-being in school, such as a
childs family environment, social and economic demographics, and health (Ben-
Arieh et al., 2001; Land, 2007). Yet one factor that deserves close examination in
regard to its influence on a childs sense of well-being in school is model of
instruction. The model of instruction guides the climate of the childs day at school
and each child has a direct experience with the effects of the implementation of
instruction. The following section explores the theoretical underpinnings of two
different types of instruction that are believed to influence a childs sense of well-
being in different ways.
Theoretical Foundations of Direct Instruction
and Social-Constructivist Instruction
Direct instruction and social-constructivist instruction are historically the two
most commonly debated curriculum models in the discussion about which model is
best for children and for fostering school readiness (Stipek & Byler, 2004). These
two models are based off of two different theories of psychology and foundations for
learning. The following sections provide a theoretical background for each model
and how the theory behind the model inspires the design of experiences in school.
20


Direct Instruction
The purpose of this section is to explore the underlying theories that create the
framework for a direct-instruction classroom. The section begins with an overview of
behavior psychology, the foundation for behaviorist theories of learning. This
overview is followed by a thorough review of behavior learning theory principles, the
inspiration for the direct-instruction framework. The history of the original direct-
instruction model is offered in order to provide background knowledge surrounding
the birth of the model. The section concludes with a discussion on what a classroom
that uses direct instruction today might look like.
Behavior Psychology
Behaviorism is a philosophy, a worldview, and belief system concerning the
nature and causes governing behavior and development (Neisworth & Buggey,
2005, p. 186). Behavior is believed to be lawful, meaning that cause-effect
(functional) relationships can be discovered and employed to help manage and direct
behavior that is subject to scientific analysis and can be improved through
environmental engineering (Neisworth & Buggey). Behavior psychology has two
underlying principles: (a) that behaviors are objective and observable and (b) that
behaviors are mere responses to stimuli (Huffman, Vemoy, Williams, & Vemoy,
1991). Following these principles, lies the theory that all behaviors are learned which
creates the foundation for behavior theories of learning.
21


Behavior Theories of Learning
Behaviorists define learning as a change in behavior or behavioral potential
brought about by practice or experience (Goffin & Wilson, 2001; Huffman et al.,
1991; Neisworth & Buggey, 2005). In order to identify that learning has occurred,
the change in behavior must be objectively measurable, observable, and based on
accessible variables that refer to real, not theoretical, factors (Neisworth & Buggey).
Evidence of learning in a given situation is more specifically defined through
carefully designed objectives: An objective is an intent communicated by a
statement describing a proposed change in a learner. ... It is a description of a
pattern of behavior (performance) we want the learner to be able to demonstrate
(Mager, 1962, p. 3). Therefore, the objective describes in measurable learner
behaviors, how the learner will act at the end of instruction. The most important
characteristic of a useful objective is that it identifies the kind of performance that
will be accepted as evidence that the learner has achieved the objective (Mager, p.
13). The more clear the objective, the less doubt about whether or not learning has
occurred.
Key ideas in behavior theories of learning are based on the stimulus-response-
reinforcement paradigm (Posner, 1992). This paradigm asserts that behavior is
thought to be a response or a complex set of responses to stimulus [and] behavioral
changes are determined by the consequences of a persons responses to stimuli
(Posner, p. 102). Three important experiments conducted by Pavlov, Thorndike, and
22


Skinner, who are considered the fathers of behaviorism, illustrate various aspects of
this paradigm.
Pavlov classically conditioned a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell.
Classical conditioning involves the conditioning of a response to a conditioned
stimulus that was previously a neutral stimulus prior to the conditioning process
(Huffman et al., 1991). Thorndike discovered the process of operant conditioning
when he placed a cat inside of a puzzle box and left the cat to find a way to escape on
its own. Through many trials and errors, the cat eventually discovered that pulling on
a rope caused a door to open and began to purposefully engage in this behavior with
the intent of opening the door for escape. Operant conditioning involves the
voluntary response to an environmental cue that is reinforced, whereas classical
conditioning an involuntary or reflexive response (Huffman et al.). Skinner
experimented with ideas of reinforcement by giving a rat some food every time it
pushed a lever. Reinforcement is the act of providing an external cue that encourages
a desired behavior or discourages an undesirable behavior (Posner, 1992).
The central idea in the stimulus-response-reinforcement paradigm revolves
around the idea of reinforcement, which is anything in the environment that increases
the frequency of a behavior (Posner 1992). The more immediately the reinforcement
is delivered the more effective it is on the behavior, and people learn and repeat
behaviors that are reinforced (Neisworth & Buggey, 2005; Posner).
23


As reinforcement comes from the external environment, the external
environment is considered to play a central role in learning according to behaviorist
theory. Human behavior is thought to be under control of the external environment
(Posner, 1992, p. 102). In fact, behaviorists believe that children are bom with a
tabula rosa, or blank slate, on which the environment writes (Huffman et al., 1991;
Posner). We cannot expect behavioral advancement unless the child interacts with
the environment, and the circumstances of the environment are the critical
determinants of the childs development and behavior (Neisworth & Buggey, 2005,
p. 189). According to behaviorists, the environment controls and manipulates clearly
defined variables in order to promote optimal learning and development in children.
The Direct-Instruction Model
Direct-Instruction (DI) was a model for preschool and early elementary
instruction that came about in the 1960s following the Bereiter-Engelmann (B-E)
model. The B-E model was developed after the birth of Head Start specifically for
children who were considered demographically disadvantaged. The DI model shortly
followed and was based on learning principles of behavioral psychology and an
advocate for intense and academic instruction (Goffin & Wilson, 2001). This form of
instruction was considered most appropriate for disadvantaged preschoolers who
were deprived of adequate learning experiences (Goffin & Wilson). It was believed
that the model would provide these children with a solid foundation for academics
that they needed going into elementary school in order to compete with children from
24


more advantaged situations (Goffin & Wilson). Theories driving the instruction
behind the DI model, in which the child is viewed as a recipient of rather than
participant in learning, aligned with theories about disadvantaged children as not
having language, the ability to think, and nothing to think about (Goffin & Wilson).
To a certain extent, the DI model is still used today. Some schools follow the
model exactly how it is, while others use the basic framework inspired by behavioral
principles. Today, the phrase direct instruction is not commonly used to refer to the
1960s DI model, but rather to a specific method of teaching content to children,
where the necessary information is given directly to the children. Since the classroom
observed in the study emphasized this form of instruction, their model of instruction
will be referred to as direct instruction throughout the write-up of the study.
Although the use of the method is still believed to have the most benefit for
disadvantaged children, schools that serve children from a variety of populations are
using direct instruction as their primary form of instruction for teaching content. The
following section discusses some of the common characteristics that one might
observe in a direct-instruction classroom today.
Direct-Instruction Model Today
Neisworth and Buggey (2005) presented five strategies that teachers use in a
direct-instruction classroom to promote learning: shaping, sequencing behaviors,
modeling, prompting, and behavior rehearsal. Shaping involves the reinforcement of
small approximations toward the end performance of a task. For example, one might
25


observe a teacher helping a child to write the letter A. The child might begin by
drawing a straight line up for which the teacher provides positive praise. The next
sign of reinforcement is not given to the child until he or she demonstrates a step
closer to completing the letter A than what was previously accomplished.
Sequencing, or chaining, behaviors refers to putting together of behaviors to
produce more complex acts (Neisworth & Buggey, 2005, p. 192). For example, one
might observe the teacher demonstrating to the children how to complete a math
worksheet. The teacher may use backward chaining where she goes through the
entire process of completing the tasks in a worksheet with the children and then
leaves it up to the children to perform the final task. Or she may use forward
chaining where the children complete the first task and the teacher completes the rest
of the tasks.
Modeling refers to presenting examples of behavior that are to be imitated by
providing opportunities for children to observe the desired response (Posner, 1992).
One might observe a teacher modeling a behavior that the teacher is hoping the
children will imitate, such as sounding out each letter in a word in order to read the
entire word. Sometimes teachers will use other children as models by pointing out
their behavior, hoping other children will follow. Prompting involves the use of
environmental cues that the teacher uses in order to promote certain behaviors. For
example, one might observe a teacher using a clap sequence that the children repeat
as a cue for lowering their voices. The clap is to make children aware of when their
26


voices are too loud and eventually the prompt is faded out as the children begin to
acknowledge this on their own.
Behavior rehearsal involves having children practice a new skill over and
over. Many teachers use drill exercises as a way to rehearse behaviors. For example,
one might observe a teacher hold up a plastic strawberry and say the word strawberry
in Spanish to which the children respond by saying the same word. The teacher
might repeat this procedure a few times with the children before moving to the next
piece of plastic food. Eventually the teacher will be able to hold up the plastic
strawberry and the children will respond with the word strawberry in Spanish without
the teacher saying it first.
The teacher in a direct-instruction classroom is an environmental engineer
who acts as a behavior model and orchestrates the carefully arranged learning
environment (Neisworth & Buggey, 2005).
In its most basic outline teaching requires the presentation of a stimulus; the
modeling of responses if possible; the provision of opportunities for practicing
the desired responses to the stimulusfirst guided, then unguided practice; and
the reinforcement of appropriate responses as immediately as possible. (Joyce
& Weil, 1986, p. 316)
In a direct-instruction classroom, one will observe the teacher in complete control of
the learning .environment by providing stimuli and reinforcements to the children in
order to shape behavior and demonstrate that a learning objective has been achieved.
This classroom environment is in sharp contrast to an environment that reflects
27


social-constructivist theories of learning. Theoretical foundations of social
constructivism are expanded upon in the following section.
Social-Constructivist Instruction
The purpose of this section is to explore the underlying theories that create the
framework for a social-constructivist classroom. The section begins with an
overview of cognitive psychology, the foundation for cognitive theories of learning
and more specifically, social-constructivist theories of learning. This introduction is
followed by a thorough review of key points underlying social-constructivist learning
theory, the framework for a social-constructivist classroom. The section concludes
with a discussion on what a classroom that uses social-constructivist theories of
learning might look like today.
Cognitive Psychology
In contrast to behavioral psychology that focuses on observable behaviors,
cognitive psychology focuses on thinking and reasoning processes that take place
within the individual. Cognitive psychologists study how we gather, encode, and
store information from our environment using such mental processes as perception,
memory, imagery, concept formation, problem solving, reasoning, decision-making,
and language (Huffman et ah, 1991, p. 190). Thus, cognitive psychology is
concerned with the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of knowledge (Huffman et
al.). Furthermore, perceptual processes of attention, selection, and organization are
28


examined in order to understand the human ability to form mental images, to
conceptualize, to reason, and to solve problems (Huffman et al.).
Cognitive psychologists pose that human knowledge is stored in clusters and
organized into schemata that people use both to interpret familiar situations and to
reason about new ones (Posner, 1992). This process is elaborated on in the excerpt
below:
We mentally compare what we see to things we already know and discover
how it fits into our existing cognitive structure. In this way, we form a
concept about the new thing and store it in memory according to how that
concept fits with our preexisting ones. (Huffman et al., 1991, p. 190)
In this process of interpreting and reasoning about situations, mental structures array
themselves in ever more powerful patterns to support more complex thought
(Bukatoko & Daehler, 2001, p. 14). These ideas about how mental processes
function as new information is acquired, stored, and organized while old information
is retrieved, have laid the groundwork for cognitive theories of learning.
Cognitive Theories of Learning
Cognitive learning theory suggests that learning involves mental processes
that may not be directly observed or objectively measured (Huffman et al., 1991).
This is in contrast to the learning theories of behaviorists who view learning as an
observable and measurable change in behavior. Cognitive views derive from the
philosopher Immanuel Kant who believed that people are bom with certain capacities
or mental structures for acquiring concepts and skills and that these innate structures
29


develop as the individual develops (Posner, 1992). This idea is again in contrast with
behaviorist theory which suggests that humans are bom with a tabula rosa onto which
the environment writes the story of the individuals life. Through the lens of
cognitive learning theory
Knowledge and beliefs the individuals acquire affect the way they perceive
and think about subsequent ideas, objects, and events. Thus, people do not
passively receive information from their senses; rather, they actively construct
ideas and generate meaning from sensory input by interpreting the input on
the basis of existing ideas and previous experience. (Posner, p. 109)
The learner in the case of cognitive learning theory is seen to actively process
and construct information into knowledge. This is the guiding theory behind
constmctivism, one of the most commonly used theories to inform practice in early
childhood programs today.
Constructivism. Constructivist learning theory maintains two assumptions:
(a) the learner constructs knowledge by actively engaging in an authentic
environment and (b) the learner creates new knowledge in light of prior knowledge
and previous experiences (Alesandrini & Larson, 2002). In regard to the first point,
the learner, who is the child in this case, leams through the process of exploration and
discovery in an authentic environment. The environment is considered authentic
when the events in which the children participate represent those that they are likely
to naturally encounter in the real world (Alesandrini & Larson). While participating
in real events, the child seeks to construct understanding and meaning about such
events by finding regularity and order in the events of the world, even in the absence
30


of complete information (Resnick, 1983, p. 472). Learning in this respect is not
attaining the right answer, but rather represents the process of constructing
understanding and meaning.
In regard to the second point, the acquisition of knowledge is focused on
building relationships and connections between new and old ideas. All learning
depends on prior knowledge. Learners try to link new information to what they
already know in order to interpret the new material in terms of established schemata
(Resnick, 1983 p. 473). Meaning and understanding are constructed in the process of
linking new information to previous knowledge and experience (Alesandrini &
Larson, 2002). Throughout the learning experience, meaning is continually
constructed and reconstructed through reflection upon previous experiences of the
learner (Nourot, 2005).
Piaget and constructivism. Piaget defined constructivist learning in the
following way: The establishment of cognitive or, more generally, epistemological
relations . that involve a set of structures progressively constructed by continuous
interaction between the subject and the external world (Piaget, 2000, p.33). He went
on to say, in order to know objects, the subject must act upon them and therefore
transform them (p. 34). Finally, Piaget asserted that knowledge is not acquired by a
mere recording of external information but has its origin in interactions between the
subject and objects (p. 35).
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Piaget focused on how mental structures, to which he referred as schemes,
undergo change through a process of assimilation and accommodation in order to
form new stages in development. Assimilation is the integration of external
elements into evolving or completed structures of an organism (Piaget, 2000, p. 39).
As children go through a process of assimilation and accommodation of schemes,
their development enhances, thus becoming more sophisticated. This process of
assimilation and accommodation are expanded upon in the following excerpt:
Children actively construct their knowledge of the world, incorporating new
information into existing knowledge structures, or schemes, through
assimilation. As a result, schemes are modified or expanded through the
process of accommodation. ... As a consequence, that scheme becomes
altered to include new information. The outcome is greater equilibrium or
balance among the pieces of knowledge that make up the childs
understanding. (Bukatoko & Daehler, 2001, p. 267)
Learning results from a continual process of revising and reorganizing schemes in
conjunction with experience (Piaget, 2000).
One of Piagets major contributions with this theory is that learning, or
cognitive development, results from the active engagement of the child with his or her
environment: Knowledge . arises . from interactions between the subject and
the objects. ... it is only through action that these relations originate (Piaget, 2000,
p. 35). This theory created an image of children as active thinkers and processors
rather than passive instruments of reception. Yet, two major critiques of Piagets
theory were that it placed little emphasis on individual differences and paid little
32


attention to how social and emotional factors influence learning (Bodrova & Leong,
2007).
Vygotsky and the social component to constructivism. Ideas from Vygotsky
aligned in many ways with Piagets theory of constructivism, yet Vygotskys ideas
emphasized what Piagets lacked (Bodrova & Leong, 2007): (a) individual
differences and (b) how the social element influences learning. In regard to the first
point, Vygotsky believed that the individuals unique cultural and historical
background influenced the ways one interprets an experience thus influencing the
learning that takes place during the experience. Each learners conception of reality
varies based on his/her prior experiences [and knowledge is constructed] via his/her
prior experiences, mental structures, and beliefs (Jaramillo, 1996, p. 135). Thus, the
unique way that an individual has defined meaning around specific cultural tools,
symbols, language, and ways of thinking will greatly impact learning (Jaramillo).
Based on this idea, a childs cognitive growth, or learning, must be understood within
the context of the culture in which he or she inhabits (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).
What is learned and how are not universal and therefore cannot be standardized
(Jaramillo).
In regard to the second point, Vygotsky believed that because social
experience shapes the ways of thinking and interpreting the world, learning cannot be
considered without taking into account the social element (Bodrova & Leong, 1996).
[Learning] is dynamic, a never-ending transaction involving continuing, reciprocal
33


exchanges; people and settings transform the child, who in turn affects the people and
settings surrounding him, which further reshape the child in an endless progression
(Bukatoko & Daehler, 2001, p. 27). Meaning and understanding, constructed from an
experience, are socially negotiated (Jaramillo, 1996). The group, with which the
learner interacts, supports the learner in his or her process of constructing new
knowledge and is considered to be vital to the learning process (Bodrova & Leong,
1996). Often this group will consist of more knowledgeable and skilled peers who
guide the learner to a new level of understanding (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).
Dewey and experience. Experiences had by the learner are considered to be a
critical component of constructivist theories of learning, since learning is viewed as a
process of constructing knowledge by making connections between new and old
experiences. Dewey (1938) emphasized the role of experience in the learning
process. In his book, Education as Experience, he spent a good deal of time defining
the type of experiences that should be offered to promote optimal learning in children.
He pointed out that not any kind of experience will accomplish this task:
The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not
mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative. Experience and
education cannot be directly equated to each other. . Any experience is mis-
educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further
experience. (Dewey, 1938, p. 25)
The final point in the excerpt above illustrates one of Deweys requirements
for a quality experience, that is the influence of a current experience upon later
experiences. The idea is that every experience lives on in further experiences and as a
34


result, it is critical to select the kind of experiences that have the potential to live
fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences (Dewey, 1938). Dewey believed
that a quality experience was one that the learner found to be meaningful to his or her
individual life experience and one from which the individual could grow in the
prospect of future experiences.
In conclusion, ideas from Piaget, Vygotsky, and Dewey created social-
constructivist learning theory: children learn by actively engaging in authentic
experiences from which they socially construct new levels of meaning and
understanding by building upon previous knowledge and experiences. Although
Vygotsky is not considered a constructivist, his ideas have been frequently merged
with constructivist ideas in order to emphasize the impact of the social environment
and the uniqueness of each individual on learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). Since
the classroom observed in the study emphasized the social component to their
constructivist approach with children, their model of instruction will be referred to as
social constructivist throughout the write-up of the study. The following section
describes what a classroom might look like that chooses to use social constructivist
ideas to guide instruction.
Social-Constructivist Model Today
In a social-constructivist setting, the child is viewed as someone who actively
constructs knowledge through participation and interaction with their physical and
social world (Alesandrini & Larson, 2002). Greenberg (1990) suggested that one
35


might observe the child to be encouraged to do the following in a social-constructivist
classroom: be purposeful and think creatively; make major choices; initiate activities;
discover, dismantle, reassemble; grapple with challenges; plan and collaborate with
other children and adults; evaluate her own work; and experience spontaneous
encounters with learning.
Another focus of a social-constructivist classroom is on the construction of
knowledge through interaction with peers, teachers, manipulaives, and other aspects
of the contextual setting (Jaramillo, 1996). Social settings . provide opportunities
for students to work cooperatively solving problems that no student could have solved
alone (Posner, 1992, p. 110). Thus, teachers in a social-constructivist classroom
encourage collaboration, discussion, and cooperation among children. As a result,
one might observe several small groups of children dispersed throughout the room
engaged in conversations and problem-solving around issues of importance to them.
The teacher may be involved in the discussion to push the childrens thinking one
step further, or the teacher may be standing back listening to the children as they
cooperatively work through their cognitive disequilibrium.
To plan for learning experiences, teachers in a social-constructivist classroom
take into account each childs individual stage of development, and, more
importantly, what the child already knows about a particular topic as this frame of
reference will determine what new information the child will be able to absorb
(Bukatoko & Daehler, 2001; Steele, 2005). It is also of great importance, in social-
36


constructivist settings, that these experiences are meaningful to the children, related
to their real-life experiences, initiated by the children, and based on the childrens
current interests and level of development. Thus, experiences for learning are not
based on random facts of information that children should know, but rather on topics
of meaning and interest to the children on which they have already begun to construct
a basis of knowledge.
It is often misunderstood that this way of planning in social-constructivist
programs ignores the teaching of basic skills and subjects. The truth is, children
learn subject area skills and subskills and facts in meaningful contexts ... as a
need for these skills crops up in activities a child has eagerly elected to involve
himself in (Greenberg, 1990, p. 76). For example, the teacher may offer music as a
means for learning about mathematical concepts, such as counting and identifying
patterns, to children who enjoy listening to music and have developed a basic
knowledge of rhythm.
An early childhood setting that uses social-constructivist instruction seeks to
promote high-level thinking skills such as problem-solving and analysis (Steele,
2005). As problem-solvers, children are viewed as capable of constructing
knowledge and discovering answers to their own questions without the direct
instruction of the teacher. For example, one might observe a child asking a teacher
Where does wind come from? Instead of answering the child, the teacher might
invite the children outside on a windy day to experience wind and investigate theories
37


to their own hypotheses; steer the children toward resources on wind; bring materials
into the classroom that provoke the children to become producers of wind; or
encourage groups of children to debate their theories by using drawing as a tool for
making their ideas concrete in order to share with others. In this way, children are
encouraged to become active participants in the learning process, and experiences are
offered to the children where they can engage physically and socially in order to
construct knowledge and meaning.
Purpose of the Study
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the study was to examine how a childs
sense of well-being is influenced by different models of instruction in early childhood
programs. The study investigated this issue from the childs perspective as the childs
perspective was needed in order to understand better how a program influences their
sense of well-being. The study looked specifically at 4-year-old children as 4-year-
olds represent the majority age of children currently attending early childhood
programs (National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development, 2004).
Preschools were chosen as the type of early childhood education setting as they are
the setting most commonly associated with a school setting. One preschool
represented a social-constructivist model of instruction while the other represented a
direct-instruction model. These two different models of instruction were chosen as
they are often the center of attention in the debate over what constitutes best practice
in educational settings.
38


Research Questions
The goal of the study was to capture the childrens perspectives on how they
experience their sense of well-being in these different settings through their reports of
what they think about the different activities in which they participate. The study
placed an emphasis on the following research questions:
1. What are childrens perceptions on the activities in which they participate
in regard to their sense of well-being?
2. What activities have the most influence on the childrens sense of well-
being?
3. Are there differences in the way that children experience their sense of
well-being depending on model of instruction?
4. Are there differences in the way that children experience their sense of
well-being depending on gender?
The first research question seeks information concerning childrens
perceptions about the activities in which they participate and how these activities
influence the childrens sense of well-being. The focus was on the activities in which
the children participate because the activities were assumed to differ based on model
of instruction, thus defining the difference between the two schools. Therefore, if a
difference was discovered in how children experience their well-being in activities
offered by each model, then it could be attributed to model of instruction. These two
different models are designed to incorporate factors that adults think are best for
39


children and that influence children in positive ways. Yet it is not clear what factors
children believe are best for them and influence them in positive ways. As a result,
childrens perceptions on the activities in which they participate and how these
activities influence their sense of well-being are desperately needed to balance out the
knowledge base and to understand better childrens experiences in these two different
types of settings.
The second research question focuses on understanding the activities that
children indicate as having the most influence on their sense of well-being. The
purpose of this question is similar to the first research question where childrens
perceptions are needed to balance out the knowledge base regarding childrens
experiences in early childhood settings. Knowing what activities have the most
influence on childrens well-being can help inform decisions about what experiences
are offered to children.
The third research question hones in on whether or not differences exist in the
way that these two models of instruction influence childrens sense of well-being
from the childrens perspective. Some have concluded one model is better than the
other when considering the influence on the childrens sense of well-being. Yet, once
again, childrens perspectives on this matter have not been taken into account.
Additionally, studies have shown that, overall, childrens perceptions of their
experiences tend to be more on the optimistic side and offer similar responses about
how they perceive their experiences in settings that some would regard as quite
40


different from each other (Armstrong & Sugawara, 1989; Kurtz-Costes, McCall,
Kinlaw, & Wiesen, Joyner, 2005; Wiltz & Klein, 2001). These findings provoke the
question: Do different models of instruction create different experiences for
children?
The fourth question examines how and if daily events in social-constructivist
instruction and direct-instruction settings influence children differently based on
gender. Adults have shared their opinions about models of instruction that they
believe have a more positive influence on girls and those that have a more positive
influence on boys. Yet, research that has focused on understanding childrens
perspectives on this topic has shown that boys and girls have similar preferences for
instruction and are influenced by different models in similar ways (Wood, 2003).
Thus, it is important to investigate childrens perspectives on how the daily activities
in which they participate in these different settings influence their sense of well-
being.
Data gathered to inform the questions above offered a significant knowledge
base concerning childrens experiences in social-constructivist instruction and direct
instruction programs in regard to the programs influence on the childrens sense of
well-being from the childs perspective. These results are discussed in chapter 4.
Methodology
The methodology for the study involved a sequential exploratory design, a
mixed methods research design where qualitative data were collected and analyzed
41


first and quantitative data were later used to augment the qualitative data (Hanson,
Creswell, Plano Clark, Petska, & Creswell, 2005). The qualitative framework of the
design was a multiple case study. During data collection each child who participated
in the study constituted one case and the focus of each case was his or her experience
of well-being. Qualitative data were collected by conducting a series of one-on-one
and group interviews with the children. The interviews were analyzed along the way
using both domain analysis as well as some constant comparative analysis.
Information gleaned from the analyses and reflections from previous interviews
influenced the design of the interviews that followed. Taxonomic analyses and
further constant comparative analyses were used after completing the interviews with
children as a means of delving more deeply into the data. During the later analysis,
what constituted a case changed depending on the purpose of the analysis. This
information is expanded upon later in chapter 3.
Quantitative data included descriptive statistics that measured the length and
frequency of time children participated in various activities that positively or
negatively influenced their sense of well-being and the frequency of responses from
children reflecting various themes that emerged from the qualitative data. Various
elements of quantitative data were used to support qualitative data in all four research
questions. The length and frequency of time children participated in activities, in
addition to a score provided from children for each activity, were also used to conduct
a time measurement that has been used in previous studies as a way of measuring
42


childrens well-being based on activities (Ben-Arieh et al., 2001). Time measurement
was an additional source of data used to augment findings related to the third research
question that examined for differences between schools on experience of well-being.
A total of 12 children participated in the study: 3 boys and 3 girls from each
of the two sites. Prior to the interviews, initial observations were made in order for
me to become familiar with the events of the day, what a typical day looked like for
each child participating in the study, and to build rapport with the children. Data
collected for my own analysis included written notes, transcribed interview
conversations, and childrens drawings. Additional data collected to support my
discussions with children included video and photographs of the children engaged in
various activities throughout their day.
Potential Contributions of the Study
The major contribution of this study is childrens perspectives about how
social-constructivist instruction and direct instruction early childhood programs
influence their sense of well-being. Knowledge about how programs influence
childrens sense of well-being can provide invaluable information that can be used to
promote school readiness in early childhood programs. Being aware of the childrens
perspectives can also add to the knowledge base about childrens experiences in
social-constructivist instruction and direct instruction early childhood settings. The
knowledge gained about childrens experiences from their perspective can also be
used to improve practice in early childhood settings by potentially generating the
43


following: discussion from parents, early childhood educators, and child care
providers about what children are experiencing in a particular setting; evaluations of
the possible assumptions of how different models of instruction influence childrens
sense of well-being in light of school readiness; insight into how and in what ways
certain aspects of these models influence children in regard to their sense of well-
being; and conversations that might encourage policymakers, administrators, or
others involved in the development of early childhood programs to include childrens
perspectives in the design and implementation of future programs.
Introduction to the Chapters
The dissertation includes four additional chapters. Chapter 2 discusses and
reviews the research and literature supporting a rationale for the study. Chapter 3
provides a detailed description of the methodology used for collecting and analyzing
data. Chapter 4 offers an introduction to the two different schools, including what a
typical day looked like at each school, and discusses the findings from the study in
regard to the four research questions. Chapter 5 addresses interpretations of the
findings along with connections to relevant past research studies, implications of the
results on the field of education, projections for areas of further research, and
reflections on the process of the study.
44


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
For many years, the adult lens and voice have dominated the literature base
concerning childrens experiences in early childhood settings. However, children
perceive the world very differently from adults. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that
the adult point-of-view is the equivalent of the childs point-of-view. For this reason,
the childs point-of-view must be taken into account, and studies that serve to bring
about childrens perspectives on their experiences are critical for balancing out the
current literature base. More specifically, knowledge about how children perceive
their experience in social-constructivist and direct-instruction settings is needed in
order to better inform the discussion regarding the potential of these models in
fostering school readiness and success in school. Additionally, it is important to
know how children perceive their experience in these settings with attention to their
sense of well-being, as chapter 1 demonstrated how a childs well-being can be
considered an influential factor on school readiness.
The purpose of the chapter is to provide a support and rationale for the study
through a review of the research and literature on topics relevant to the study. The
chapter is divided into sections that address different aspects of the study. First, the
section titled Constructions of Childhood and Children examines traditional and
45


contemporary views of children and childhood. The following section titled
Influence of Traditional and Contemporary Constructions of Childhood on
Conducting Research With Children addresses how such constructions impact
researchers beliefs about children as reliable subjects and serve to create an
unbalanced literature base lacking a balance in childrens voices. Then, A Call for
the Childrens Voice challenges traditional and contemporary constructions of
childhood previously examined and presents a strong argument for why the childs
perspective should be seriously considered. Studies of Childrens Perspectives
reviews research that investigated childrens perspectives on various aspects of their
experience in school. This section also demonstrates the difference between what
adults perceive children are experiencing and what children perceive they are
experiencing, further emphasizing the need for childrens perspectives.
Next, Social-Constructivist Instruction and Direct Instruction summarizes
themes emerging from studies that investigated the effects and outcomes of both
models in relation to school readiness and success in school. The review of this
research base reveals a gap in looking at how these models influence the childs sense
of well-being, a critical component of school readiness and success in school. The
section titled Influence of Psychological, Social and Emotional, and Physical Well-
Being on School Readiness and Success in School examines the research base that
connects a childs sense of well-being to school readiness and success in school. The
review of this research base reveals a gap in looking at how different models of
46


instruction influence a childs sense of well-being. Finally, the section titled Issues
and Ethics in Research With Children examines the issues and ethics that various
researchers have identified as critical to consider when eliciting and interpreting
information from children.
Constructions of Children and Childhood
The purpose of this section is to examine traditional and contemporary
constructions of children and childhood. It is important to begin with an examination
of such constructions since they have a major influence on how research is conducted
with children and researchers beliefs about children as reliable subjects.
The Roots of Childhood
Childhood is a time that is socially constructed by adults, when children
exist (Mayall, 2000; Qvorturp, 2000). Qvorturp expanded on this idea of childhood
as socially constructed in the following excerpt: Childhood is a variable, the
contours of which are determined by an ensemble of parameters pertaining to a given
society (p. 79). Thus, the way that childhood is defined is dependent upon how a
particular society chooses to define it. Furthermore, as society changes, so do ideas
about childhood. As a result, the shape of thinking about childhood is due to the
changing requirements of society. Qvorturp used the following examples to
demonstrate this idea:
The following propositions appear to be valid for changes in the social forms
of childhood specifically over the past century . due to changes in
industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and individualization: first,
47


childhood has in numerical terms become relatively much smalleri.e.
children have become relatively fewer due to a declining birth rate and longer
life expectancy; second, childhood has become less stable due to an increase
in family forms; third, childhood has become more and more institutionalized
and organized; fourth, children are more exposed to the risk of becoming
relatively poor; and fifth, childrens chances of obtaining subject-or
individual status have increased, (p. 83)
Qvorturp (2000) later added that hardly any childhood is unaffected by these
changes, and moreover, each childhood is impacted by these developments in the
same direction (p. 83). Since childhood is socially constructed by society, it must
also be noted that adults in the society socially construct childhood.
Mayall (2000) defined childhood as an institution structured by adult views
. . of what childhood is (p. 120). She went on to say, Adults have divided up the
social order into two major groups-adults and children, with specific conditions
surrounding the lives of each group: provisions, constraints and requirements, laws,
rights, responsibilities and privileges (pp. 120-121). In fact, childhood cannot be
understood unless done so in relation to adulthood:
Childhood and adulthood are simultaneously produced in relation to each
other. How adulthood is constructed thus always has implications for
childhood and vice versa. This also reminds us that adulthood itself is not the
finished product towards which children are headed, but a phenomenon
constantly in process, review and change. (Christensen & Prout, 2005, p. 55)
The above paragraphs demonstrate that the institution of childhood is a social
construction created by adults. The following section highlights exactly how adults
have chosen historically to socially construct childhood.
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A History of Thinking About Children and Childhood
Dominant perceptions of childhood over the last century include childhood as
something that is non-adult, as being in process, as a phase, and as a time for
preparation and protection (Christensen & Prout, 2005). [During childhood] the
child is in the process of becoming an adult, and represents potential human capital
awaiting realization through investment; he or she is that which is yet to be, a
structured becoming (Jenks, 1982, p. 70). In quoting de Lone (1979), Qvorturp
(2000) extended on this idea by stating, [children] have been the objects of thoughts
and plans and instrumentalized for safeguarding the wealth and prosperity of. .
countries futures (p. 80). Thus, childhood is comprised of becomings (children)
who are viewed as empty vessels with potential sociality and passive recipients
expected to reproduce cultural systems set up for them by beings (adults; Denzin,
1977; Qvorturp, 1991).
Hardman (1973) identified childrens lack of visibility and muteness in her
research of social and cultural studies, suggesting that childhood is a time of
invisibility and muteness. Gersch, Moyse, Nolan, and Pratt (1996) added, In
Victorian times children were meant to be seen and not heard and were regarded as
passive objects (p. 28). Morrow and Richards (1996) found that understandings of
modem childhood deprive childrens actions and contributions of any genuine or
serious impact or importance for societal life. Furthermore, childhood is understood
49


by both adults and children as a time of dependency and subordination (Mayall,
2003).
In summary, these views suggest that childhood is not perceived as a time of
being but rather a time of becoming and preparation. These views further suggest
that those inhabiting childhood, children, are not honored nor are they valued in their
present state as children during childhood. Instead, what is honored during childhood
is the potential of what the child might become as an adult and the potential
contributions the child might make as an adult. In other words, the social
construction of childhood sets children up as having potential as adults, not as having
potential as children. As a result, what children say and do as children is rarely
perceived as significant and important, but rather undeveloped and immature in
comparison to what they will say and do someday as adults. Therefore, those who are
influenced by this way of thinking about childhood often find childrens ideas,
thoughts, and opinions to be undeveloped and immature, thus passing them off as
insignificant and unimportant as well.
Contemporary Constructions of Children and Childhood
The history of thinking about childhood and children heavily shapes
contemporary constructions, especially in regard to childrens competencies and
capabilities. Dyer (1993) proposed, how we are seen determines in part how we are
treated; how we treat others is based on how we see them (p. 10). Clark (2005a)
added, Young children may be viewed in different ways according to the Tenses
50


adults use to see children and childhood (p. 489). Thus, the way society thinks about
children greatly influences how adults treat children. For this reason, contemporary
constructions of children and childhood must also be examined in order to clarify
how adults currently view children in the process of research.
Currently, children are viewed as poor in resources, weak, immature,
irrational, asocial, acultural, and undeveloped (Christensen & Prout, 2005; Dahlberg
et al., 1999; Mayall, 2003; Qvorturp, 1991). This deficit image of children inhibits
adults from seeing and understanding the vast competencies and capabilities already
possessed by children. Current images of children also place more emphasis on
childrens physical qualities, such as being cute or messy, than on their cognitive
qualities (Jenks, 1996; Valentine, 1996). This image is prevalent in the way the
media displays children in commercials and on television, as well as in the type of
materials marketed at children and in the way that adults respond to children
(Dahlberg et al). In addition, anthropological research has found that children are
often looked at as decorations (Hardman, 1973).
This emphasis on physical appearance in conjunction with a deficit image of
children hinders adults from seeing a competent and capable child and from taking
childrens ideas, thoughts, and opinions seriously. Furthermore, this image of
children causes adults to underestimate childrens capabilities and to patronize them
while assuming that children have nothing of interest or importance to say (Greene &
Hill, 2005). The major assumption is that the childs job is to listen to and obey the
51


adult because adults understand much better than children what is good for them and
how events impact them (Greene & Hill; Qvorturp, 1991). This is the image of
children that many adults carry into research with children and why adults do not see
children as capable of providing reliable information about their own experiences.
Influence of Traditional and Contemporary Constructions of Childhood
on Conducting Research With Children
The previous section addressed traditional and contemporary constructions of
childhood that revealed a deficit-based image of children as incompetent and
incapable. This deficit-based image of children heavily influences how adults
conduct research with children. Currently, the literature base regarding childrens
experiences is unbalanced with the adult voice outweighing the childrens voices.
This section demonstrates that there needs to be more of a balance of childrens
voices with adults voices in the literature base on matters concerning children.
Furthermore, the section illustrates how and why traditional and contemporary
constructions of children and childhood have inhibited adults from conducting
research that seeks to bring forth childrens perspectives, thus creating the imbalance.
An Unbalanced Literature Base
Perceptions about childrens experiences are more often understood through
the lens of the adult, rather than the lens of children (Cook-Sather, 2002; Eide &
Winger, 2005; Fattore, Mason, & Watson, 2007; Kortesluoma, Hentinen, &
Nikkonen, 2003; Smith, Duncan, & Marshall, 2005). Cook-Sather and Eide and
52


Winger pointed out that childrens lives, especially in educational institutions, have
primarily been explored through adult views, understandings, and notions of how
children should be conceptualized. Even when children are considered the key
stakeholders, rarely are their voices seriously taken into account, if heard at all (Wood
2003).
For example, a study by Herry, Maltais, and Thompson (2007) sought to look
at the effects of a full-day preschool program on 4-year-old childrens development.
In this study, the researchers used various scales, such as the Peabody Picture
Vocabulary Test and Test for Auditory Comprehension of Language, to measure
childrens development in linguistic, academic, social-emotional, and psychomotor
domains. A questionnaire was sent to parents asking them to assess their level of
satisfaction with the program, the role of the program in their childs development,
and the amount of progress made by their child since the beginning of the year. A
questionnaire was also given to teachers asking them to assess the childs adjustment
to academic life, awareness of writing, mathematics, academic behavior, and motor
development. Both teachers and parents were asked to assess the childs prosocial
behavior and conduct problems. The researchers could have also benefitted from
seeking the same information from children that they sought from the parents and
teachers. For example, understanding what the children perceived as the role of the
program in their development could have provided a great deal of information, yet
children were only assessed on their developmental outcomes.
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Another study by LoCasale-Crouch, Mashbum, Downer, and Pianta (2008)
looked at pre-kindergarten teachers use of transition practices and childrens
adjustment to kindergarten. This study focused only on the teachers perceptions of
the effectiveness of transition practices on childrens adaptation to kindergarten. Yet
children were the key stakeholders in this study as the researchers wanted to discover
what worked best for the children. Findings from the study could have been
strengthened with the childrens perceptions of how such practices influenced their
adaptation to kindergarten.
Finally, a study by Palermo, Hanish, Martin, Fabes, and Reiser (2007) sought
to understand what role the teacher-child relationship plays in preschoolers academic
readiness for kindergarten. Data gathered assessed teachers perceptions of the
quality of their relationships with each student. No data represented the childrens
perceptions of the quality of their relationship with the teacher.
Smith et al. (2005) found the following in a review of the research literature
regarding childrens experiences:
Childrens voice has been conspicuously missing in a great deal of
psychological and educational research, which uses measures constructed by
adults. These measures allow children little choice or spontaneity to express
their views. Researchers (reflecting wider social norms) do not have a culture
of listening to children, and children are not accustomed to being asked their
opinions. It is uncommon for childrens knowledge and understanding of
their own learning to be used to improve teaching and learning, (p. 474)
As adults are influenced by traditional and contemporary constructions of childhood,
these constructions impact the decisions adults make regarding research on childrens
54


experiences. As a result, children are often not considered capable of providing
meaningful and valuable information on their experiences, and the adult voice and
perspective dominate the literature base on matters concerning children. Smith
(2002) expanded on this idea in the following excerpt:
One major reason which is often given for not allowing children to participate
[in research] is their lack of competence, and this is often assumed to be
related to age. It is thought that children are not competent to express their
views or participate in decisions. Powerful normative models shape our
assumptions about what children can and cannot do. (Smith, 2002, p. 82)
For example, Mantzicopoulos, Patrick, and Samarapungavan (2008)
researched young childrens motivational beliefs about learning science. They sought
to create a measure that would test young childrens motivational beliefs related to
science learning. They developed the Puppet Interview Scales of Competence in and
Enjoyment of Science (PISCES). PISCES is intended for young pre-literate children
who may not possess the linguistic or information processing skills to articulate
differentiated self-beliefs within a particular domain such as science (p. 383). The
researchers attempted to be conscious of the varying levels of linguistic development
kindergarten children possess actually ended up undermining the capabilities that
children do possess and assuming a minimum standard for all children.
The researchers stated we thus opted not to rely on open-ended questions (p.
383) as they did not feel children possessed the capabilities in answering their
questions. Instead of asking open ended questions, or questions to which the children
could answer yes or no, the researchers used bipolar statements: The procedure
55


involved one puppet making a statement representing the positive end of the
continuum for an item followed by a statement from the other puppet representing the
negative end of the continuum for the same item (p. 385). After the researcher made
these statements, the children chose the puppet that was most like him or her (p.
384). This procedure did not allow any room for children to elicit their own ideas as
the statements from which they choose were constructed by adults, and the children
only had a choice between those two statements. In this case, adults spoke for
children and took for granted that the statements they offered children reflected the
childrens perceptions.
Dockett and Perry (1999) added that childrens voices are often not included
because children are seen as egocentric ... in addition to there being a clash
between the conversational worlds of adults and those of children (p. 108).
Furthermore, with a deficit-based image of children as incompetent and incapable
little is taken into account of what children find meaningful and significant, and
adults end up focusing on what they think rather than trying harder to get at childrens
ideas. Ultimately we do not really know whether the domains and measures
identified by adult researchers are meaningful to children. Measuring childrens
competencies in adultcentric ways . incorporates assumptions about children
(Fattore et al., 2007, p. 12). As a result, adults end up relying almost exclusively on
adults when collecting data about childrens thoughts, feelings, and experiences
(Kortesluoma et al., 2003, p. 434).
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For example, a study by Bosacki (2007) looked at childrens understandings
of self and emotion. To assess childrens perceptions of their competencies, three
subscales from Harters (1985) Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC) were
used (p. 160). She also included that the present study focused on three aspects that
some researchers consider particularly relevant to children (p. 160). Although these
adult-devised measures and domains were useful to the researchers, relying solely on
them to convey childrens perceptions of self created the assumption that the children
in the present study found the same domains to be representative and meaningful to
how they would describe their self-concept.
I found the following two themes emerge from the literature that discusses
why the voice of the adult tends to out balance the voice of the child: (a) children are
viewed as unreliable, untrustworthy, and incompetent in providing meaningful
information about their experiences and (b) children are viewed as objects of research
rather than subjects of research. These themes offer insight into how adults typically
view children in the research process and are expanded upon below.
Children as Unreliable, Untrustworthy, and Incompetent
Greig, Taylor, and MacKay (2007) pointed out that adults have long held the
assumption that children are not able to contribute reliably towards discussions on
their feelings, needs and future (p. 89). Additionally, they addressed the assumption
that children have little to add to the research and that even expressing a point of view
is considered too distressing for a child. From these assumptions emerges the notion
57


that data obtained through direct interviews with young children lack reliability
(Evans & Fuller, 1996).
Cook-Sather (2002) discovered the following in her research on students
voice and participation in decision-making processes:
Adults basic distrust of [children] and insistence on being in control of
education has meant that not only are [children] not authorized as knowers,
they are dehumanized, reduced to products, and thus certainly devoid of those
qualities that would make them authorities: trustworthiness and legitimacy as
knowers. (pp. 8-9)
Epstein, Stevens, McKeever, and Baruchel (2006) added children have been
excluded from research . because they are considered less experienced, less
rational, more dependent, and less competent than adults (p. 2). This excerpt is an
example of how a deficit-based image of children, focusing on what children lack,
inhibits adults from seeing children in light of what they do possess. While it is true
that children do not possess the same level of experience and development in life as
adults, the experience and development that they do possess should not be
disregarded. Furthermore, children possess knowledge about what it is like to be a
child, something that adults have become less in touch with as they acquired the very
experience and development that they claim children lack (Critchlow, 2005;
Kortesluoma et al., 2003) and something that as adults they spend a great deal of time
trying to understand. It is understandable how a deficit-based image of children can
provoke adults to feel that their thoughts and ideas can be used in place of childrens.
Yet it is important that children are equally viewed in light of what they do possess
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and adults should use their thoughts and ideas in addition to the thoughts and ideas of
children.
Children as Objects of Research
Greig et al. (2007) also claimed that traditional views of childhood cause
researchers to view children as objects of study, thereby doing research on children
rather than with children. This is evident in the way that theories and hypotheses are
generated by adults, standardized tests are done on the children or in controlled
experiments, and that data are statistically analyzed (Greig et al., p. 89). Greene and
Hill (2005) added that the focus on child-related outcomes rather than child-related
processes, and child variables rather than children as persons, further endorse this
idea of viewing children as objects of research. Pole, Mizen, and Bolton (1999) felt
that in research children have simply become objects of the researchers gaze.
Graue and Wash (1998) expanded on this idea of children as objects and
variables in research throughout Studying Children in Context: Theories, Methods,
and Ethics. They opened the book with the following statement:
The dominance of a particular psychological perspective [is that] researchers
see children as either windows onto universal psychological laws or as
indicators of treatment effects. In both cases, the children themselves are
simply instruments. The quest has not been to understand children but to
pursue the lofty academic goals of the absolute universal law and the ultimate
treatment. As windows to universal laws, children, most often examined in
laboratories, become raw materials for the construction of theories of
development and learning. (Graue & Walsh, p. 1)
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In this way, children are vehicles for measuring outcomes and who they are beyond
their demographic characteristics is immaterial (Graue & Walsh). Such universal
laws and ideas about children should be used to inform understandings about children
rather than define understandings of children. In other words researchers should be
using universal laws to help them understand children better rather than using
children to better understand universal laws.
Concluding Thoughts
The purpose of this section was to demonstrate why adults voices are
overrepresented and childrens voices are underrepresented in the literature base
regarding knowledge about childrens experiences. Adults perceptions, thoughts,
ideas, and opinions regarding what they think is happening in childrens lives are
extremely valuable and useful. In this way, adults have contributed a great deal of
knowledge to the literature about childrens experiences, yet they only provide a
portion of the complete picture of childrens experiences at best. More attempts to
bring forth childrens voices are always needed to balance out the knowledge base
regarding childrens experiences.
Furthermore, adults are the secondary source when it comes to childrens
experiences and are often led by the illusion that they know more about a child than
they actually do. As Eide and Winger (2005) pointed out, what adults have
considered to be the childs perspective is not necessarily the same as the childs
own point of view or perspective (p. 5). Instead, it is only the adults interpretation
60


of the childs perspective. As adults we will never see the world through the childs
eyes (Kortesluoma et al., 2003, p. 437). The more adults can gather from children,
the closer their interpretations will be to what children are really experiencing. For
this reason, it is of utter importance to find as many opportunities as possible to
gather childrens perspectives so that the knowledge base regarding their experiences
becomes more representative of how children actually perceive what is happening to
them. In order for this to happen, adults must view children as competent and
capable human beings, thus challenging traditional notions of children that present a
deficit-based image of children. The following section reviews the literature that
challenges traditional notions about children, viewing them as competent participants
in the research process.
A Call For The Childrens Voice
This section provides support for a study that emphasizes the need for
childrens perspectives and a rationale for taking into account their perspectives,
especially in matters concerning them. Additionally, the section introduces the theory
of the new sociology of childhood that challenges traditional ways of thinking about
children and offers a new lens through which to view children in the research process.
The section concludes with a summary of benefits for including childrens voices in
educational settings.
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The Need for Childrens Perspectives
Many have made clear that knowledge about children is incomplete and
inadequate unless their perspectives, voices, and opinions are taken seriously (Cook-
Sather, 2002; Critchlow, 2005; Daniels, 2003; Eide & Winger, 2005; Greene & Hill,
2005). Cook-Sather acknowledged that if children are the ones experiencing the
effects of what is happening to them, then it becomes a critical issue to understand
their experiences from their own perspectives. In other words, they are the ones with
the knowledge about themselves and as a result, it should be their voices that offer
expertise on this knowledge. Mayall (2000) used a sociological lens to extend this
idea in the following excerpt:
Children constitute a social group, a permanent feature of society, and thus
their knowledge of what it means to be a child and what it means to children
to engage with adult individuals and adult social groups is needed as part of
the task of improving our understanding of how the social order works, (p.
120)
Einarsdottir (2005) added that children, just like adults, hold their own views
and opinions, they have the right to express their ideas, and they are capable of
expressing their ideas (p. 524). Three images of children emerged throughout the
literature supporting a need for the childrens voice: children as rights holders, as
persons, and as competent.
Children as Rights Holders
In the past few decades, children have been legally recognized as rights
holders through initiatives such as the Children Act (1989), The National Childrens
62


Strategy (2000), and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(1989). Article 12 from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
asserted:
State parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own
views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child,
the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and
maturity of the child. (United Nations General Assembly, 1989, Article 12)
Article 13, pertaining to the childs right to give and receive information, asserted the
following:
The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include
freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds,
regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or
through any other media of the childs choice. (United Nations General
Assembly, 1989, Article 13)
It is important to mention here that these statements do not give children the
right to make decisions that override adults decisions. Sheridan and Samuelsson
(2001) clarified that within these rights that children have, adults support children in
the process of understanding the responsibility behind possessing such rights and
engage in a democratic decision-making process with the children (p. 171).
Furthermore, childrens capacity to formulate and express views ... is highly
dependent on context, and especially the extent to which adults can read their voice
and provide a supportive framework for them to speak (Smith et al., 2005, p. 474).
Thus, the role of the adult is critical in supporting children in successfully fulfilling
their right to express their views.
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Outside of legal initiatives that acknowledge children as rights holders, others
who conduct research with children point out additional rights they feel children
possess. For example, Sheridan and Samuelsson (2001) asserted that it is the right of
children to communicate and develop skills to argue their standpoint as well as
influence and take responsibility for their environment and their own learning
processes. Smith (2002) affirmed that children have the right to participate as active
members and contributors to the society in which they live. In conclusion, viewing
children as rights holders validates the argument that their voices deserve to be
included in the literature regarding their experiences.
Children as Persons
The previous section concerning the adult-dominated literature base
illuminated a history of research that views children as objects of study. Greene and
Hill (2005) considered this shift in focus from children as objects to children as
persons in the following excerpt:
Studying children as persons implies a view of children as sentient beings who
can act with intention and as agents in their own lives. An interest in
researching childrens experience can, therefore, be allied to a moral
perspective on the role and status of children which respects and promotes
their entitlement to being considered as persons of value and persons with
rights. The focus shifts thereby to studying children and not child variables.
... If we accept a view of children as persons, the nature of childrens
experiential life becomes of central interest, (p. 3)
Graue and Walsh (1998) maintained that each individual child must be
understood in his or her unique social, cultural, and historical context. In other
64


words, each child has his or her own personhood that can only be completely
understood through communication of his or her thoughts about that personhood.
Evans and Fuller (1996) recognized children not just as persons, but as citizens whose
opinions and views should be valued, respected, and taken into account. In
conclusion, viewing children as persons validates the argument that their voices
deserve to be included in the literature regarding their experiences.
Children as Competent
The most common reason given for not including childrens perspectives on
their own experiences is that they are not competent enough to offer their
perspectives. Competence is usually defined in relation to adults praxis (Qvorturp,
1994), and it is common for adults not to appreciate the many ways that children are
competent (Greig et al., 2007; Kortesluoma et al., 2003). Hutchby and Moran-Ellis
(1998) defined competence as something that has more to do with childrens ability to
manage their social surroundings in order to engage in meaningful and contextually
appropriate ways. Smith et al. (2005) added that childrens competence is also
defined by their experience and the extent to which they can express their views
about it (p. 474).
In her research on childrens perceptions on their experience of being a child,
Critchlow (2005) found that children are experts in their own views and experiences
and can competently articulate these in research (p. 5). Einarsdottir (2005) added to
this idea by suggesting children are capable and knowledgeable experts on their own
65


lives, possessing knowledge, perspective, and interest that is best gained by
interaction with them (pp. 524-525). In their research on young childrens views of
their academic, social, and emotional lives, Measelle, Allow, Cowan, and Cowan
(1998) established that children can provide meaningful information about
themselves and are the best informants about their own feelings. Mayall (2000)
claimed that when children are viewed as competent, they are credited with
knowledge rather than with the relatively transient and flimsy perspective, view
or opinion. . Through conversing with children we can learn about what they
know . and how they learn (p. 120). An adults perspective is still only a
perspective, view, or opinion, yet it seems to be credited more as knowledge
compared to a childs perspective, view, or opinion which Mayall implied can be
viewed as transient or flimsy. Thus, she credits children with knowledge about their
experiences. Finally, in their work with children, Eide and Winger (2005) discovered
that talking to children opens their eyes and giving children the opportunity to tell
their stories has the power to enlighten and astonish researchers. In conclusion,
viewing children as competent validates the importance of including their voices in
the literature regarding their experiences.
The New Sociology of Childhood
The basic premise for the new sociology of childhood holds an active view of
the child that is promoted through a sociological lens of childhood. Children are
recognized as social actors who are considered beings rather than becomings and
66


whose lives, interests, priorities, and concerns are of extreme value and importance
(Christensen & James, 2000; Mayall, 2002; Qvorturp, 1994).
The theories that create the foundational beliefs for the new sociology of
childhood challenge and critique dominant discourses about children and childhood
discussed earlier in the chapter: children as incompetent, as becomings, as future
stakeholders, as insignificant, as weak, as passive recipients, as poor in resources, and
as incapable of contributing anything of worth to society. The new sociology of
childhood offers a lens through which to view children in a way that challenges the
traditional views of children and childhood. Furthermore, the theory recognizes that
children are a group apart with their own social relationships, cultures, and cultural
lenses and who are viewed as worthy of study in their own right, not just in relation to
adults (Barter & Renold, 2000; Graue & Walsh, 1998). The following sections define
the main concepts that constitute the new sociology of childhood in greater detail.
Some of these concepts have already been discussed, however, this section discusses
the same concepts in the context of the new sociology of childhood.
Childhood as Socially Constructed
Childhood is understood as something that is socially constructed by adults.
Childhood.has come of age sociologically and is considered a part of society, not
something that precedes society (Christensen & Prout, 2005; Jenks, 2000). In other
words, children are commonly not considered as contributing members of society
until they are adults. This statement suggests that a child is a part of childhood before
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they are a part of society. The new sociology of childhood views the time of
childhood as having a current place in society and views children as contributing
members of society while they are still children.
Jenks (2000) revealed that childhood is traditionally thought of as something
that is a natural phase into becoming an adult. The sociological perspective seeks
to transform what is thought to be a naturally occurring phenomenon into that which
is cultural. In other words, childhood is typically viewed as a part of life that
naturally occurs before adulthood. The new sociology of childhood suggests that
instead of childhood being viewed as something that naturally occurs in our lives, it is
instead something that is culturally constructed and therefore does not naturally exist
without cultural constructions. Jenks (2000) implied that viewing childhood through
a sociological lens attempts to free the child from the constraints of naturalism by
placing childhood squarely within the realm of the culturally located and thus
humanly constituted (p. 68). Jenks went on to say that in this sociological view of
childhood, the child is seen as a product of its time and material conditions.
We need also, however, to grasp childhood as a social institution that exists
beyond the activity of any particular child or adult. There must be theoretical
space for both the construction of childhood as an institution and the activity
of children within and upon the constraints and possibilities that the
institutional level creates. (James & Prout, 1997, p. 27)
The overall idea is that childhood is not a physical time that is constructed and
inhabited by children. Instead, childhood is something that is socially constructed by
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adults and dependent upon the context in which it is constructed. Essentially,
childhood does not exist without these social constructions.
Understanding Children Not in Relation to Adults
The new sociology of childhood examines how traditionally childhood and
children are constructed through notions of adulthood and what it means to be an
adult. The adult-child relationship is traditionally understood through notions of
difference and the other where the adult is understood as independent, mature, and
responsible while the child is understood as the other who is dependent, immature,
and irresponsible (Christensen & Prout, 2005). As such, children are viewed as
inferior to adults and they are only understood in relation to constructions of what it
means or does not mean to be an adult. Furthermore, children are located as a social
group in a generational order proposed by adults (Mayall, 2000). Overall, children
are traditionally understood only in relation to adults.
The new sociology of childhood proposes that childhood and children are seen
as worthy of investigation in their own right, separate from adults (Christensen &
James, 2000; James & Prout, 1997; OKane, 2000; Qvorturp, 1994). Viewing
children as worthy of investigation in their own right means attempting to understand
children and childhood without comparing to adults and adulthood. This idea offers a
conceptual autonomy of children who have lives that matter and about which they are
knowledgeable (Fattore et al., 2007). It encourages the researcher to move away from
focusing on the child-adult relationship as the most important factor and, instead,
69


viewing childrens interrelationships and interactions with others as equally important
(Christensen & Prout, 2005).
Children as Beings Rather than Becomings
Children are traditionally viewed as becomings who transition into beings
when they become adults (Qvorturp, 2000). Viewing children as becomings implies
that their present state and lives as children are considered less important and
significant as compared to their future lives as adults. The new sociology of
childhood challenges this traditional idea and emphasizes children in their current
state as beings. This view of children establishes children as social agents instead of
merely entities who are in the process of becoming such (Einarsdottir, 2005).
Therefore, childrens present lives and identities as children hold meaning and value.
Second, viewing children as beings gives rise to the idea that each child is a
unique individual rather than universal entity clumped with others in the traditionally
assumed universal state of childhood. There is not one childhood, but many, formed
at the intersection of different cultural, social and economic systems, natural and
man-made physical environments. Different positions in society produce different
experiences (Christensen & Prout, 2005, p. 54). Jenks (2000) added, Inevitably the
socially constructed child is a local, rather than a global, phenomenon and tends to
be extremely particularistic (p. 69).
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Children as Social Actors
Traditionally, children have been viewed as a group to which things are done
rather than being the group that acts. The new sociology of childhood recognizes
children as social actors in their present lives who influence social factors and are
influenced by them (Christensen & Prout, 2005). Christensen and Prout also implied
that, one must perceive the [child] as not only a product of his or her own culture
but also as a co-writer of reality and the interpreter as well as mechanical reproducer
of society and culture (p. 50). Thus, children are considered to be active,
contributing persons and participants in their social and cultural contexts (Eide &
Winger, 2005; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; Mayall 2002). Jenks (2000) further
described children as real, active . embodiments of agency, interactional partners,
constructors of worlds, [and] competent social members (p. 65).
Children as Active Meaning-Makers
A traditional view of children situates them as passive recipients of a social
and cultural society with nothing of value to contribute. The new sociology of
childhood asserts that children are active meaning-makers in their social, historical,
political, and cultural contexts (Mayall, 2000). Christensen and Prout (2005) defined
children as interpreters and creators of meaning rather than simply absorbing the
meanings of adults (p. 49). In other words, they are not passively taking in and
absorbing their social and physical environment, but instead are actively making
meaning from it. Christensen and Prout went on to say that children make meaning
71


of social life through interactions with other children and adults [and by doing so]
they are actively participating in the reproduction of cultural knowledge (p. 40).
Through the process of meaning-making, children generate opinions and views of
their own and co-construct the meaning of their own learning (Smith, 2002).
These views suggest that children are capable of expressing their perspectives.
More importantly, these views demonstrate that children possess a vast array of
knowledge that can contribute to adults understanding of children and their
experience in this world. The following section highlights how beneficial the process
of obtaining childrens perspectives can be.
Benefits of Including Childrens Voices in Educational Settings
The most important aspect of including childrens voices involves the many
benefits that go along with it. Cook-Sather (2002) has invested a great deal of time in
researching the effects of authorizing students voices in educational settings. She
discovered that by authorizing students perspectives, the following can occur:
teachers can begin to see the world from the students perspectives, which can help
teachers make what they teach more accessible to students; current practice can be
improved; current conversations about educational reform, policy, and practice are
informed; teachers know at a deeper level who children are as learners, thereby
expanding and enriching their sense of what it means to teach; students gain the
ability to think metacognitively and critically about their educational experience;
students feel more engaged and more inclined to take more responsibility for their
72


education because it is something they are involved in; and students feel empowered
and motivated to contribute constructively in their education.
Cook-Sather (2002) further asserted, authorizing student perspectives
recognizes and responds to the profound and unprecedented ways in which the world
has changed and continues to change and the position students occupy in relation to
this change (p. 4). Although, Cook-Sather was referring to older students in her
research, she noted that these ideas can be transferred to younger children and their
experiences in early childhood settings.
Gersch et al. (1996) concurred with Cook-Sather that knowing childrens
perspectives can help improve the effectiveness of teaching. Additionally, they
included that the process of seeking childrens perspectives also tends to boost self-
confidence and self-image for children. Sheridan and Samuelsson (2001) added that
teachers who are aware of childrens perspectives can create better opportunities for
participation as well as opportunities when children can express their views and argue
their viewpoints, thus allowing them to develop skills that can influence decisions.
Daniels et al. (2001) extended the benefits of including the childrens voices to a
larger educational perspective:
By carefully assessing and attending to childrens views at early ages, trends
toward school alienation, devaluing of learning and education, and other
negative effects such as low attendance and school drop-out can be reversed
and averted, (p. 270)
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It is clear from the arguments stated above that there are many benefits involved
when researchers seek to include childrens perspectives and bring forth their voice
into the literature base on matters concerning them.
Concluding Thoughts
The above sections challenge previous assumptions of children as not worthy
or capable of providing information about their experiences and assert that children,
as rights holders, as persons, and as competent, can be considered capable of
discussing their views with adults and offering valid and insightful perspectives on
their experiences. Utilizing childrens perspectives, in conjunction with the
perspectives of adults, can help adults understand better children and their
experiences. Furthermore, the new sociology of childhood offers a new lens through
which to view children in the process of research. Researchers have attempted to
gather childrens perspectives on their experiences in school and the chapter proceeds
with a review of this research and literature.
Studies of Childrens Perspectives
In the last decade, a handful of studies sought to understand childrens
perspectives on their experiences in early childhood settings. This section serves as
an opportunity to review these studies while addressing.the threads and gaps that exist
in the knowledge base regarding childrens experiences. The section begins with a
review of studies that provide evidence for the difference that exists between adult
and child perspectives. The remainder of the section summarizes themes from studies
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that have tried to capture the childs perspective on various aspects of his or her
experience in particular early childhood settings.
Differences Between Adult and Children's Perspectives
Studies have demonstrated that differences exist between adult and child
perspectives regarding a particular event or topic (Dockett & Perry, 1999; Fattore et
al., 2007; King, 1979; Stephen & Brown, 2004; Wiltz & Klein, 2001; Wood, 2003).
Garbarino, Stott, and Faculty of the Erikson Institute (1992) added that childrens
thinking is different from adults and as a result, it is important for adults to
understand that the childs interpretation of a situation may be quite different from the
adults interpretation of the same situation. Although it is important for adults to
keep this issue at the forefront of their minds, I wonder how often adults attempt to
see the situation from the childs perspective and whether traditional views of
children, suggesting that a child is not capable of having a reliable perspective,
influence adults ability to consider the childs perspective at all.
In the process of reviewing the literature on studies that examine both
childrens and adults perspectives, I discovered that the adult participants rarely
attempted to try and understand a situation from the childs perspective. In other
words, the researchers were not trying to understand situations from the childs
perspective, but instead, focused on what they thought was best for children, what
children needed, and what children were thinking. The following studies demonstrate
how adults can become inhibited by their own biases and assumptions about children
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and what adults think is important for children, leading to major discrepancies in how
they understand how children are experiencing various events and situations.
A study conducted by Stephen and Brown (2004) found differences between
the ways teachers and children experience the culture of practice in a preschool
classroom. The teachers perspectives were focused on the demands of group care
and trying to balance the childs curricular experience. The childrens perspectives
on the preschool culture focused on play, making choices, and observing and
enjoying the company of their peers. Furthermore, satisfaction for children was
influenced by the opportunities that their setting offered for peer groups to develop
and for children to spend time together (p. 333).
Yet the behavior of the teachers, influenced by their perspectives on what they
thought was important for children, constrained opportunities for children to
experience that which they expressed as important to them. An adult culture of
managing learning and accounting for balance was over-riding the childrens
approach which was to pursue an activity until satisfied with it (Stephen & Brown,
p. 333). These findings suggest that, there is a distinctive culture or at least a
perspective among children that is frequently overlooked when attention is focused
on the nature of provision, the role of the adults, or the assessment of childrens
developmental progress (p. 332). Results from this study illustrate how adults can
become so focused on what they consider to be important for children that their
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ability to understand what is considered to be important from the childs perspective
is hindered.
Dockett and Perry (1999, 2003, 2005) developed The Starting School Project,
based at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. This project sought to learn
about childrens experiences, expectations, and perceptions regarding their transition
to school. Children in the study were encouraged to express what they saw as
important as they started school. The researchers found that what matters for
children in the transition to school is different from what matters for adults (Dockett
& Perry, 2005, p. 507). Adults considered the childs social adjustment to school,
disposition about school, and skills to operate in a school setting, as the most
important aspects in the childs transition to school. Children, on the other hand,
believed that knowing the rules of the school and the rules of the classroom were the
most important aspects to consider in their transition.
Dockett and Perry (1999) illustrated how adults and children may have
different interpretations of the same event with the following example:
Teachers of children in the first few weeks of school do not report setting out
to focus so overwhelmingly on rules. Rather, they report focusing on issues
of social adjustment. However, what teachers interpret as social adjustment,
in terms of children fitting into the large class group, children interpret as
rules. The aim is still the same, that is, fitting in. Whereas teachers believe
they are achieving this by establishing cooperative, interactive environments,
focusing on social rights and obligations, children believe that they are being
taught the rules, (p. 116)
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In addition to their emphasis on rules, children indicated that friends at school are of
major importance. Yet in teachers focus on what children will be doing next year
and how well they are prepared for it, they did not ascribe the same level of
importance to the childrens friendships (Dockett & Perry, 2003).
Wiltz and Klein (2001) interviewed children on their perceptions of high- and
low-quality classrooms. The researchers found that given the two very different
environments, the children had similar perceptions of their classroom experience.
Overall, children exhibited a general optimism and resiliency about their experiences
in both types of settings, and both groups focused on play as defining their
experience, even in classrooms where time for play was not frequent. These findings
are interesting as they contradict adults previous notions that children have two very
different experiences depending on which type of setting they are in.
The childrens and teachers perceptions differed in other areas as well, such
as circle time and field trips. Teachers viewed circle time as a time that presented
opportunities for children to learn, share ideas, develop communication skills, listen
to stories, and form group interactions (Wiltz & Klein, 2001, p. 229). Children, on
the other hand, defined circle time as an obligatory event that took too long, required
doing stupid stuff and entailed a great deal of listening (p. 229). In regard to field
trips, teachers saw field trips as an opportunity for children to experience the world
hands-on. Children viewed many field trips as boring and were more concerned
about getting back to school in time for outdoor play (Wiltz & Klein). This study is
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