To have a thorough knowledge and a good understanding of how to identify next steps in learning process for a child, especially during the early years, is one of the most important responsibilities of an educator. Most important, because depending on whether or not it is done well would determine the degree to which a child will go on to grow and unleash his or her full potential.
The Process of Identifying the Next Steps for Child’s Learning
The following four tasks are expected to be performed by an educator, to effectively carry out the task of identifying the Next Steps for a child’s learning:
- Gather knowledge about child development milestones
- Identify child’s interests and extend support
- Impart every new learning well
- Be Aware of the personality of the child
1. Gather Knowledge About Child Development Milestones
A reasonably thorough knowledge of child development milestones is the primary and the most fundamental prerequisite for executing the next steps for children’s learning.
There is a popular saying that goes: “If you don’t know where you stand, holding a map wouldn’t help.” Similarly, if an educator doesn’t know the current state of the developmental levels of a child (the milestones) to begin with, it is practically not possible to even initiate the process of identifying the next steps – let along carrying it out.
Using his or her thorough knowledge of child development milestones, the facilitator should carry out three tasks:
- Map the current developmental level of the child to the developmental milestones for his or her age
- Identify if there are any gaps (be it healthy or shortcomings)
- Determine the next level of development and set up a milestone based on the individual potential of the child
However, the teacher needs to be aware that the prescribed next step may be too challenging for some children, and too easy for others. It therefore becomes important that each of the next step is defined specifically for each child.
The current developmental stage of the child can be determined by using the information gathered through the observations and assessments performed.
2. Identify Child’s Interests and Extend Support
Through the observations of the child done carefully, and the appropriate assessments done, the educator should be able to identify the child’s area of interest.
This should immediately be followed by identifying the child’s area/s of their interest, and ensure adequate support is extended to encourage the identified area of interest. The process of extending support can be made effectively, by applying the strategy called Scaffolding.
To encourage the child to have access to different areas of the curriculum, developmentally appropriate activities (DAP) that can kindle a child’s attention may be introduced.
Here’s an example of next steps in early years: A child who is interested in a fire engine can be extended support to play in the outdoors, by providing water hoses to splash water on the wall, or sprinkle water on the lawn or the garden.
3. Impart Every New Learning Well
There will be moments of truth when the educator observes a specific knowledge emerging in the child. These are very special and crucial moments when one shouldn’t get lost and disrupt the learning happening in the child.
Rather, those moments are the right and the best time to reinforce the new learning acquired by the child, by repeating the activity again, and again.
Once reinforced, it is time for the facilitator to move to the next step by introducing a new dimension to the very same activity, and take it to a higher level. The objective to introduce the new dimension could either be to impart a higher learning over and above the already imparted learning, or to introduce the child an altogether new learning.
Another example for the next step could be a scenario where the teacher may see the child thoroughly enjoying solving a 9-piece jigsaw puzzle with a specific picture. In this case, once the child becomes very good at it, 3 or 4 puzzles with different pictures but with the same number of pieces should be given. Once the child becomes good at them too, on then should puzzles with higher number of pieces (12, 16 or 20 pieces, and so on) should be provided.
4. Be Aware of the Personality of the Child
Within the process of identifying next steps for a child’s learning, this can be considered as a critical one.
A child who is secure and confident with certain positive dispositions will not only have the ability to learn relatively more quickly when compared to the peer group, he/she will also be able to move on to the next step with ease.
That’s why the facilitator should take special efforts, deliberately, to develop the child’s 3 major domains of development.
One of the key awareness an educator must always have, is that learning does not happen in a child in a linear manner. In other words, the children don’t have to necessarily complete one particular learning in order to learn another new thing, as they can learn many things simultaneously.
What is to be noted however, is that while they can indeed learn new things simultaneously, the learning across each segment invariably happen at a different pace.
For instance, a kindergartener can indeed learn to read, write and speak (with more vocabulary) simultaneously. However, the child may learn mostly one or may be two of the skills at a good pace and may be slow at the third.
That’s why the facilitator should never, ever, attempt to rush the child to learn things ‘quickly’ only to make them scramble to go the next level. Rather, the pace of learning should be watched across different areas of learning.
This should be followed by implementing strategies to support each learning with the other two; like writing with speaking and reading, or reading with speaking and writing, or writing with speaking and reading.
Right from gathering knowledge about child development milestones to being aware of the personality of the child, identifying the next steps for a child’s learning is a cyclical process. Simply put, identifying the next steps is an ongoing process, and has to happen sequentially.
For instance, after gathering knowledge of the milestones, unless the educator identifies the child’s interests and imparts the necessary learning as per his or her interests, it won’t be possible to be aware of the personality of the child that has evolved through the new learning.
Only after understanding the newly evolved personality, will the teacher be able to figure out the new developmental level the child has attained, which becomes the new baseline for the next cycle.