2.1 Aspects of Development


Self-Activity 1

Consider the following two questions:

1. Who are you?
(To answer this question, think about factors such as your personality characteristics, your intellectual skills, your relationships with others, your appearance, your occupation and so on.)

2. How did you become this person? What has made you into the
person you are?

(Write a paragraph similar to the example below, in which you try to identify some of the important influences on you when you were younger)

• Who influenced you while you were growing up?
• What events had an impact on you?
• How have these people or events formed or changed you?

For example, Jacqui writes: I could say that I am quite tall with curly hair and blue-green eyes. I think that I inherited these features from my mother. I am hardworking and try to give of my best, probably because my parents were themselves like that, and my father particularly worked very hard. Since both my parents couldn’t finish their schooling due to finances, they placed value on education, and encouraged me. I trained as a teacher because I was inspired by some of the excellent teachers who had encouraged me. I then developed an interest in teacher education because of my interest in children’s development and the needs for teacher training in our country.

So, we could work out Jacqui’s answer to the questions above by considering her description:
She is a woman who values hard work and has developed skills as an educator.
She has strong interests in teacher education and is motivated to make a contribution.
She inherited some of her characteristics from her parents, but also learnt from observing their lifestyles. She was also influenced by her own teachers.

Who we are, and how we become what we are, is what developmental psychology is all about. This is why we asked you to do the self-activity.

What is developmental psychology?

Developmental psychology is the “study of how individuals change over time and what factors produce these changes” (Shaffer, 1996:4).

Developmental psychology looks at how human beings grow and develop over the course of their lives. It examines changes in:
• physical development
• social relations
• emotional development
• personality development
• moral development (perceptions of what is right and wrong)
• cognitive ability (thinking, processing information, learning)

Self-activity 2

1. Draw a time line between your birth and your current age, marking the line in sections of 5 years. You may prefer to turn a piece of A4 size paper in this direction, to give yourself more space:

2. Now fill in any significant life events you remember at the age at which they happened – and you might like to draw in some pictures representing these. (For example there are happy events: you may have moved home, or won an award, or gone on a significant holiday, or got married, or had a child. There are also difficult events: you may have had an accident, or lost a loved one, or failed at something). We call such a drawing a time line.

After drawing your personal time line, we hope that you can see that development is a process, which continues over the whole of a lifespan. Development will also be impacted on by a variety of life experiences, such as those you represented on your time line. Thus it is important to see that development is a complex process with many influential factors playing a role.

2.1.1 Why do we study Developmental Psychology?

We study developmental psychology because as educators, we make important contributions to learners’ development. If we know something about what makes our learners the people they are, then, as responsible educators, we will:

  • try and make sure that children receive the best possible care, so that they become healthy, well-adjusted people.
  • be better able to decide on appropriate child-rearing and teaching practices. We need to make sure we promote the development of children to prevent problems in the future.
  • know what changes happen as a child grows older, and roughly when they occur. If these changes do not occur when expected, then we become alert to possible problems. Also, remember that a learner must acquire certain skills before they can acquire other skills.

For example: We know from a study of developmental psychology that a child usually begins to say some words from about age 12 - 18 months. If a child has not started talking within this time or soon after, we start to wonder why.

  • have a better understanding of what a child needs to develop in the best possible way. If we know what children need, then we can make sure that we structure suitable educational and social programmes to meet their needs.
  • understand what issues children face as they develop. Knowing this helps us to support them better.
  • not make assumptions about what a learner can or cannot do on the basis of their age alone.
  • expect that learners may show little progress at some times and make significant progress at other times.
  • try and help learners to overcome the problems they may have.

For example: Research in developmental psychology shows us that children growing up in conditions of violence can experience many emotional problems, and can end up using violence to solve their own problems. Here you can see that we often need to know how people have become what they have become, in order to help them grow and develop in positive ways.

Knowledge of developmental psychology is very important in South Africa, where thousands of children grew up under the apartheid system, which may have influenced them physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively and morally, as adults today. The importance of developmental psychology is recognized in the new South African constitution because the care and education of children are specifically noted. We can use our knowledge of developmental psychology to understand developmental differences and assist children, and to make sure that we create the best possible conditions for the development of future generations of children.

Education legislature in South Africa points towards building a culture of learning and teaching that aims to achieve quality education for all learners, where differences among learners are respected, and where all learners are given the opportunity to learn and participate fully in the curricula of schools and learning institutions. Outcomes Based Education (OBE) provides a framework for learning and teaching which can be structured to respond effectively to a wide range of learner needs.

One purpose of schooling is to facilitate learning, to make learning more effective by removing or minimising barriers to learning and participation that might learners might experience. Another purpose of schooling is to broaden a learner’s horizons, through a balanced curriculum.

The curriculum, then, must be responsive to all learners. Different aspects of the curriculum include: the content/what is taught; the language or medium of instruction; the organisation and management of the classroom; the methods and processes used in teaching; the pace of teaching and the time available to complete the curriculum; the learning materials, resources and equipment used; and, how learning is assessed. If the curriculum is to be responsive to the needs of all learners, all these aspects must be considered.

Curriculum 2005 and its OBE approach is learner-centred. By learner-centred we mean:

  • all learners must be given the opportunity to learn to their full potential
  • educators have the responsibility of creating learning environments that are challenging, inviting and motivating for all learners
  • learners should be allowed to demonstrate their competence as it relates to their abilities or to their levels of development and functioning
  • learners must be allowed to develop at their own pace and rate

Given that teachers cannot teach and learners cannot learn everything at once, teachers have to sequence tasks and activities within the curriculum. It is necessary for teachers to fit teaching to the nature of learners’ emerging understanding.

If a teacher knows something about how learners grow and develop, what barriers and challenges they may face, he will be better placed to create more effective learning experiences for his learners. Teachers will, for example, be more competent to set relevant tasks, ask helpful questions and provide responses at the right level of difficulty. They are also more likely to recognize significant developments in their interactions with learners, and are better able to predict what interests learners of different ages will have.

For example: The age of the children when they reach puberty (the age at which a girl is capable of bearing a child, and a boy is capable of fathering a child) can affect how they develop emotionally. Research seems to show that boys who mature physically earlier than other boys are more confident and more popular. Here you can see how one aspect of development (physical) can influence another (emotional).

When teachers plan lessons, they are faced with a task of ensuring that the work set is appropriate for the learners in their class. They must ensure that the work is sufficiently challenging and interesting. On the other hand, they must not teach above their learners’ levels, because learners then lose confidence. Children may become bored in class, but it is important to remember that their boredom may be either the result of a lack of intellectual challenge (when work is too easy or uninteresting) or a failure to understand (when work is too difficult).

If you remember the time line activity you did earlier, you will remember that many different factors had an impact on your life and your development.

Individuals don’t develop in a vacuum. In other words, how you develop depends on many things: your own biology, your parents, your teachers, your peers, the cultural group you are a member of, the religion you may belong to, the political context and how these relate to each other.

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