Understanding Development Psychology in Literacy

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

The better we can understand our students' developmental progressions, the better equipped we will be to teach them across the content areas. This lesson helps you consider the ways that developmental psychology interacts with students' literacy.

Why Development?

Sometimes, even to the most experienced of teachers, children seem mysterious. They do things that seem to make little sense and they think in creative, but incomprehensible ways. This is because children are in different stages of development, or systematic growth and change. Their bodies and brains are growing and changing every day. Why is it important for teachers to think about development, and what does it have to do with teaching children to read and write in particular? Well, the way students are able to think and relate to each other and the world, plays an integral part in their growing ability to interact with written language. As teachers, we are better equipped to support children on their journey toward literacy if we have a solid understanding of the ways reading and writing interact with the developmental process.

The Ability to Symbolize

Very young children tend to be concrete thinkers. They believe in what they see and they generally think in terms of whatever is directly in front of them. Sometime toward late preschool or early elementary school (the precise age will vary depending on a variety of factors), though, children develop a more sophisticated ability to symbolize, or understand how one thing might stand for something else. For instance, a drawing of a tree that looks like a lollipop still symbolizes a tree. It is actually the development of the ability to symbolize that allows children to begin decoding, because they become equipped to understand the concept of a letter standing for a sound. As teachers, we might forget that this is not natural and immediate for everyone, but for children, developing this capacity takes time and is facilitated by exposure to images and print.

Theory of Mind and Perspective Taking

Toward the middle of childhood, often around age seven or eight but with some normal variation, children develop what is known as theory of mind, or the ability to see things from different points of view. Theory of mind works on very concrete levels, in that children become able to see that if you stand on one side of the room and they stand on the other side, you may be seeing different things. Theory of mind also operates more abstractly, in that it allows children to consider problems, issues, and events from different perspectives or points of view. When children begin to develop theory of mind, their reading comprehension, or ability to understand and make meaning from text, really begins to take off. Children gain better understandings of character motivation, author's intent, and possible outcomes. They also become equipped to have increasingly complex conversations about books that can be supported by good teaching.

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