Developmentally Appropriate Practice
Q. Several of the other parents were as disappointed and
offended as I was when our children's second-grade teacher brought an old,
claw-foot bathtub into the classroom, put pillows inside it, and told the kids
that any time they felt like it, they could climb in there and read a book and
relax. The kids are free to get in there and mess around, chat with friends,
waste time, and make a mockery out of the school day. This is a young, new
teacher, and the other teachers think she's great. She's big on "DAP," and uses
that jargon with us parents to make us feel "out of it" while SHE's the one who
knows best. What is "DAP" and what should we do about this?
take a guess: she thought it would make reading "fun." Right? She doesn't
believe in teaching them the rules of spelling, making them diagram sentences,
or write book reports showing that they've comprehended what they've read. If
they have "fun," it's a good lesson. Right?
given us a perfect example of why DAP is sooooo wrong. Developmentally
Appropriate Practice is a good idea in preschool but has unfortunately spread
into grade school through the third grade in most public schools, with no hope
of getting rid of it any time soon. Younger teachers are more indoctrinated
with it, since it has been spread through the nation's colleges of education.
If you haven't taught with a traditional, content-rich, instructionally-sound
method before, you don't have much of a chance of realizing how deficient DAP
your school uses DAP techniques. If they do, you honestly might consider
transferring your child to a private school that does not.
DAP is a
process-oriented, content-minimizing philosophy which is dumbing down grade
school more than anything else.
that's tragic, since it is in the grade-school years that children most need to
be adding content to their knowledge bases. DAP has been called an insult to
children's intelligence in the way that it promotes some fuzzy notion of
"self-esteem" instead of providing substantive learning experiences and
practice to children. Schoolwork that is too easy mires disadvantaged children
in a simplistic mindset, while boring the pants off advantaged children. And
boy, do those two things show in our schools today.
DAP, there's no whisper of a thought about getting results from the academic
dollar spent and hour invested. It's all about HOW to teach - the focus is on
the activity, not the knowledge - the teaching, not the learning.
based on a misinterpretation of the work of child development expert Jean
Piaget, who pointed out that children like to do concrete things - hands-on
activities. Yes, he said that - but he ALSO said the POINT of those hands-on
activities was to help kids bridge over into the more sophisticated
abstractions, such as reading, writing and thinking. If Piaget were alive
today, he would approve of DAP in preschool, and stride through grade-school
classrooms smashing "reading bathtubs" and pushing over "hands-on science centers"
the way Jesus upended the moneychangers' tables in the Bible.
reason: DAP is also known as "child-centered education." Instead of delivering
a pre-set curriculum for each grade level to the children, they are put in
charge and flit from center to center, topic to topic, like butterflies,
gathering the nectar of knowledge from wherever and however they'd like. In
later grade school, instead of writing a book report, they can paste pictures
onto a posterboard on the same topic.
course, the fact is, as you point out, that doesn't work because when offered a
chance to mess around and waste time, kids will take it.
term for DAP is "constructivism" - the idea that children "construct" their own
knowledge base out of their own experiences, and that instructing them is
paired with "thematic instruction" - the teacher no longer teaches math
separately from history separately from science. They're all smeared together,
and breadth, depth and clarity are all casualties. This comes from the DAP idea
- which is true in the preschool years - that you can't separate physical
development from social development from cognitive development. Once again, DAP
makes sense and is helpful for one age group, but is disastrous when forced to
apply to another.
nothing about it that really matches the teaching style to individual child
development, either. It's a "teach to the norm" strategy, or more accurately,
"teach to BELOW the norm so that no one's self-esteem is damaged." If that means
treating 8-year-olds like 4-year-olds, so be it. THAT'S what educators who are
entrenched in DAP believe is "appropriate" - whatever they and the educational
opinion-makers they follow BELIEVE is appropriate. Here's a typical scenario: a
second-grade girl is reading on the seventh-grade level, but in p.e. her gym
skills are below average. DAP practitioners would make her read books written
on the second-grade level instead of the seventh-grade level, so the area in
which she SHOULD be developing high self-esteem is quashed, and then meanwhile,
they will alert her parents to her "deficiencies" in p.e. and get everybody all
upset that she is not developing "appropriately" in that area.
see how damaging this is? It's the way schools were ruined in the former Soviet
Union - the individual is lost in the group, and unique gifts must be
suppressed for the "good" of the whole.
out of early childhood education and special education, so it is geared toward
young children and those who have learning problems. Somehow along the way,
educators decided that older children and those who don't have learning
problems would ALSO enjoy DAP. Not gain from it - enjoy it. That's the name of
the game. If a mischievous 4-year-old will sit still in a bathtub for 10
minutes and look at picture books, to a DAP educator, that means a bathtub is a
great idea in a second-grade classroom, if it will get kids "engaged with
books." Too bad they're too busy messing around in there to read and
especially entrenched in Head Start and other preschool programs for low-income
children. So long as the DAP crowd remains in charge of the early childhood
arena, efforts to close the achievement gap and otherwise extricate children
from poverty through education will remain ineffective.
Homework: For a good
understanding of what DAP is and why it is a good idea for use in preschools,
see this article from the National Association for the Education of Young
criticism of DAP, google "Developmentally Appropriate Practice" with these
three educators - J.E. Stone, E.D. Hirsch and Martin Kozloff - who oppose it in
K-12 education. Or see this article
from the Illinois Loop, concerned citizens interested in education reform: