New research from The City College of New York (CUNY) and Teachers College illustrates seven principles of practice that offer an expanded definition for “high-quality early learning.” The principles recognize “the promise and possibility of children's lives, and are aimed at ensuring that “the lived experiences of those who have historically been underserved and the growing numbers of multilingual children and children of color in our country can see themselves represented in their learning environments,” write the authors, led by TC’s Mariana Souto-Manning, Professor of Early Childhood Education and Director of TC’s Early Childhood Education Program, and Beverly Falk, Professor and Director of the Graduate Programs in Early Childhood Education at the School of Education, The City College of New York.
The research — a year-long qualitative study of nine prekindergarten classrooms representing three different socioeconomic communities in New York City — is a cross-disciplinary effort that brings together “the study of child development and the science of early learning, culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy, and multilingual development.” Souto-Manning, Falk and their team say the work “lays the groundwork for better communication between early childhood educators and child development experts and improves practice as a result.”
The findings of the new report illustrate how high-quality early learning is promoted by putting into practice seven core principles:
- All children can learn;
- Their learning is varied;
- They are active and multimodal meaning makers;
- They have diverse, fluid, and flexible language practices;
- Their sociocultural contexts are assets and valuable resources for learning;
- They are critical thinkers and inquirers; and,
- They learn best when they are in caring and reciprocal relationships.
The authors further highlight practices, behaviors, and attitudes that “are increasingly important as early childhood classrooms become more diverse and as New York City makes good on its promise that children from all backgrounds receive high-quality learning opportunities.”
The principles recognize “the promise and possibility of children's lives” and aim to ensure that “the lived experiences of those who have historically been underserved and the growing numbers of multilingual children and children of color in our country can see themselves represented in their learning environments.”
— The authors of “Quality UPK Teaching in Diverse Settings”
“The primary contribution of this research lies in the observable behaviors described in the sub-principles,” says Souto-Manning. “From the way that teachers incorporate children’s cultures and language practices into the curriculum and how reflective of families and communities classroom materials are, to fostering advocacy or providing nutrition supports and culturally-relevant family engagement opportunities — these approaches position a child’s family and community as central to their learning and development.”
The researchers find that these teaching strategies, tools, and approaches are visible not only in the teaching of academic skills, but also in:
- The curriculum, materials, and the symbols on walls which incorporate the experiences and interests, cultures, and languages of children’s varied backgrounds;
- Language practices used with children and families to further children’s learning in their home language;
- Supports and programs made available to families, such as health, homelessness, violence prevention, and fostering resources;
- Opportunities provided for families to partner with educators and be resources for children’s learning at home; and,
- The many ways that the community’s contexts and resources were incorporated into children’s learning in culturally-relevant ways.
The researchers also found that the quality of teaching in classrooms was determined by the degree to which educators enacted these principles, rather than only by formal instructional tools and the communities’ available resources, demographics, and/or socioeconomic status — a finding they stress is particularly timely in light of the remote learning occasioned by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
These approaches position a child’s family and community as central to their learning and development.
— Mariana Souto-Manning, Professor of Early Childhood Education
“As our city, state, and country continue to face the impacts of COVID-19, it is significant to note that the principles were observed as important contributions to children’s development across all the different demographic communities,” says Falk.
The authors conclude with several recommendations for using their findings as a framework in professional learning:
- Learning is more than academics. It also requires care and support for young children and their families including health care, nutrition, counseling, educational opportunities for families, resources to address food insecurity, homelessness, housing needs, rent, violence prevention, abuse, and fostering. Schools/ and child care centers should address these supports.
- All early-childhood educators should have child development and depth of preparation in early childhood education. This practice, alongside salary/and benefit parity, will support a high-quality and diverse teaching workforce and help retain teachers in community-based centers.
- Schools and child care centers need to recruit and sustain the development of teachers who value and reflect the identities, cultures, languages, and backgrounds of the children they teach. Further, schools and centers need to provide professional development to support teaching that is developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant and sustaining, and multilingual.
The new report was made possible by The New York City Early Childhood Research Network, a unique partnership of researchers from the city’s higher education institutions who work with the New York City Department of Education, New York City Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity to study the implementation of New York City’s early childhood system and use the knowledge gained to improve instruction and outcomes for all children. The study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development. The New York City Early Childhood Research Network is a project of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York and is funded by Early Childhood Partners NYC, Foundation for Child Development, Heising-Simons Foundation, and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation.