Development refers to long-term personal changes that have multiple sources and multiple effects.
Some human developments are especially broad and take years to unfold fully.
A person's ever-evolving ability to “read” other's moods may take a lifetime to develop fully. Other developments are faster and more focused, like a person's increasing skill at solving crossword puzzles.
The faster and simpler the change is, the more likely it is to be called “learning” instead of development.
The difference between learning and development is a matter of degree.
When a child learns to name the planets of the solar system the child may not need a lot of time, nor does the learning involve a multitude of experiences. So it is probably better to think of that particular experience—learning to name the planets—as an example of learning rather than of development (Salkind, 2004; Lewis, 1997).
Students’ development matters for teachers, but the way it matters depends partly on how schooling is organised. In teaching a single, “self-contained” grade-level, the benefits of knowing about development will be less explicit, but just as real, as if teaching many grade levels. Working exclusively with a single grade highlights differences among students that happen in spite of their similar ages, and obscures similarities that happen because of having similar ages.
Under these conditions it is still easy to notice students’ diversity, but harder to know how much of it comes from differences in long-term development, compared to differences in short-term experiences. Knowledge about long term changes is still useful, however, in planning appropriate activities and in holding appropriate expectations about students.
What changes in students can a teacher expect relatively soon simply from his current program of activities, and which ones may take a year or more to show up?
This is a question that developmental psychology can help to answer.
If a teacher teaches multiple grade levels then his need for developmental knowledge will be more obvious because he will confront wide age differences on a daily basis. A physical education teacher may teach kindergarten children at one time during the day, but sixth-graders at another time, or teach seventh-graders at one time but twelfth-graders at another.
Students will differ more obviously because of age, in addition to differing because of other factors like their skills or knowledge learned recently.
Nonetheless, the instructional challenge will be the same as the one faced by teachers of single-grade classes: all teachers want to know what activities and expectations are appropriate for their students.
To answer this question, teachers need to know not only about how students are unique, but also about general trends of development during childhood and adolescence.
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