• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 26th April, 2007

It's the teachers who need the knowledge

Researchers see worrying signs of a knowledge gap opening between the traditional curriculum-based skills teachers use in the classroom and recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and genetic and environmental studies.How much teachers need to know about child development and how far that understanding should feed into the life of the classroom was among a range of cross-disciplinary topics discussed at a conference in Boston last month.One of the themes to emerge from the roundtable at the Society for Research and Child Development’s biennial meeting was that while teachers may be expert at imparting subject knowledge, they find it harder to articulate their good instincts about the lasting value of social and emotional development and of ‘learning to learn’.They are likely to blame excessive pressure to meet academic targets: they protest that they just don’t have the resources to venture far beyond the curriculum. But Professor Rick Thoms from Baltimore told the Boston conference delegates that there was a bigger reason: too weak a connection between standard teacher training and teaching practice and what is emerging from rapidly advancing developmental science.Thoms gave as an example the concept of ‘executive functioning’ — the capacity to control and effectively synthesize more pure cognitive processes (such as attention, perception and memory). Good executive function is vital for abstract thought, shifting attention, problem-solving and inhibition of inappropriate emotional and behavioural responses."We are beginning to understand how executive functioning can be measured, and how important it is for prediction of future social, emotional and behavioural, as well as academic outcomes," he said. "We want to see more of what we now know being used to good effect in schools.As well as asking what teachers should know about child development, researchers should be asking teachers what they can do to translate child development research for the classroom. "We are looking forward to the day when researchers start working alongside teachers to shape practical tools for improving practice - and so preparing children for genuinely lifelong learning."

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