Early Childhood License (Pre K-3) Major 

Conceptual Framework: The Three Themes

Grounded in the liberal arts, the Early Childhood Teacher Education Program at OWU is organized around three themes: Content Knowledge, Teaching and Learning, and Character and Professionalism. These themes are supported by current research and address the standards adopted by the State of Ohio from the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Additionally, content knowledge is aligned with the Ohio Academic Content Standards which, in turn, are aligned with the various professional organizations related to each content area. The theoretical, philosophical,and research bases underlying each theme are described as follows:

Theme One: Content Knowledge

Faculty in the Early Childhood Teacher Education Program believe that strong subject matter understanding is a prerequisite for successful teaching (Grossman, 1990). We hope our candidates come to view subject matter as an evolving body of knowledge, constructed by both scholars and students, that is open to different perspectives and interpretations. So that Early Childhood educators develop the intellectual, personal, and professional competencies necessary for effectively teaching all students, ages 3-8, they must take general liberal arts courses and acquire in-depth knowledge of one discipline by studying an area of concentration termed a “minor.” The following are the aspects of content knowledge that we think are essential for prospective Early Childhood educators:

General Education

Course work in general education is firmly grounded in the liberal arts and is designed to impart knowledge of the various domains of inquiry so that prospective teachers come to understand themselves, their society, and the world in which they live. This information serves as a tool throughout life to solve problems, to appreciate aesthetic works, to become sensitive to public and private value issues, and to comprehend past, present, and future events. Because early childhood teachers are generalists as well as specialists, they need to be knowledgeable about many disciplines as well as capable of understanding them in multiple contexts. They must also perceive the interrelatedness among various fields of human inquiry (Goodlad, 2001).

A second major aspect of the general education component is designed to develop and enhance certain fundamental competencies of future teachers. As candidates progress through the curriculum, they are expected to acquire the foundational skills of reading, writing, speaking, and quantitative analysis. From these skills are built the capacity to think critically and logically, the ability to employ methods used in the various disciplines, and the competence to understand the symbolic languages used to communicate knowledge in today's society. Additionally, candidates are expected to develop an appreciation of cultures through study of their historical and current contexts.

Candidates are also asked to consider the pedagogical use of the content they are learning (Goodlad, 1994, p. 169). This in-depth study leads to the understanding of the assumptions and limitations of the discipline—its complexity and evolving nature—and its relationship to other areas of study and to the world. This “pedagogical content knowledge” of the subject areas they will teach (Shulman, 1987) helps candidates understand how knowledge is organized and analyzed so that it can be effectively learned by all students. This understanding, in turn, helps early childhood teacher candidates grasp that students approach learning in many ways and that content must be made comprehensible and cognitively engaging to meet diverse cultural perspectives, learning styles, and developmental needs of their students. Candidates are expected to embrace the concept that they teach both students and content (Sarason, 1999, p. 54).

To accomplish these goals, students select courses from the areas of communications, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and the arts. Course work must be well distributed across disciplines, as well as selected to fulfill the suggested minimum distribution requirements for early childhood teachers mandated by the State of Ohio.

Area of Concentration (Minor)

Prospective early childhood teachers also pursue in-depth study of a particular field of knowledge. Such study complements the knowledge acquired in the general studies component by providing early childhood teachers with specialized understanding of one discipline. This will allow them to perceive how a particular body of knowledge is organized and conceptualized as well as corrected and expanded. It is expected that teachers will develop an enthusiasm for that discipline and will, in turn, transmit their enthusiasm to children.

Areas of concentration or minors may come from the humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts. Students choose an Ohio Wesleyan minor or may design their own area, subject to departmental approval. For all students, the guiding principle for acquiring competence in an academic specialty will be to ascertain whether they have sufficient knowledge to instruct learners at their individual levels of readiness, while still remaining true to the structure of the discipline. Course work in the area of concentration/minor is planned to achieve this goal.

Theme Two: Teaching and Learning

However, knowledge of subject matter is not enough. We believe teachers must also possess a thorough knowledge of learners and the learning process (McDiarmid, Ball, & Anderson, 1989, p. 17). A child development frame of reference undergirds all pedagogical strategies that candidates study in the program. Emphasis is on fusing knowledge of children with appropriate methods for planning, sequencing, and managing instruction. Thus, candidates need to both master pedagogical skills and understand human development so they can make complex ideas and concepts accessible to all learners. They must know how to evaluate what they do so they can adjust their teaching to meet the ongoing needs of all their students. They learn to value the necessity of developing an instructional context that is supportive and nurturing, yet filled with high expectations for student achievement (Katz and Chard, 1989). The judicious use of technology undergirds this process (Van Scoter, Ellis, & Railsback, 2001).

The pedagogical component of the teacher preparation program in Early Childhood Education includes courses in foundational studies, generic pedagogical knowledge, and specialized pedagogical knowledge. Each aspect is complemented by opportunities to work directly with children in planned field and clinical experiences. In this way candidates can clearly see how sound research and theory guide practice. Although described separately, each aspect is not perceived as a discrete part of a fixed sequence. Rather, the professional studies component is viewed as a collection of interactive curricular elements designed to ensure professional competence.

Foundational Studies (Introduction to Early Childhood, Teaching for Equity and Social Justice, and Educational Psychology)

Foundational studies build on the knowledge and habits of inquiry developed in the general education component (see Theme One). However, foundation courses in education are unique in that attention focuses on issues directly related to education, including the study of how social, historical, political, philosophical, and legal issues influence schools as well as basic ideas in learning and human development. Prospective early childhood teachers are expected to critically examine these issues and draw conclusions as to their effects on teaching and learning.

Generic Pedagogical Knowledge (Educational Psychology, Methods courses)

Generic teaching skills are those pedagogical elements common to all teaching experiences, regardless of level. Courses focusing on these skills are viewed as essential prerequisites to the more specialized courses as they provide an intensive introduction to general concepts, skills, attitudes, and values in teaching, including the ability to thoughtfully observe classroom events, conceive and plan instruction, use a variety of instructional techniques, evaluate, manage the classroom so productive learning occurs, provide for the needs of children with disabilities and cultural differences, and use appropriate interpersonal techniques and assessments to work effectively with parents, colleagues, and other professionals. By studying and practicing these generic competencies, prospective early childhood teachers attain sufficient facility in their use.

Specialized Pedagogical Knowledge (Methods courses, Field Experiences, Student Teaching)

Students also acquire knowledge of more specialized pedagogical skills. Some relate specifically to the content to be taught, while others relate specifically to the age or ability of the learner. Still others help teachers learn the specific strategies they need to work effectively with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Thus, professional studies in specialized teaching skills help students use appropriate instructional strategies, materials, assessments, and management strategies for each subject taught in the early childhood curriculum. They will also know how to adapt these strategies according to student age, ability, or cultural background. Candidates develop the habit of adjusting their plans to meet the ongoing needs of their students. They come to realize that ends and means do not follow a precise, linear sequence, but instead require constant reassessment based on research knowledge and the immediate context (Thompson and Zeuli, 1999, p. 350). They also come to understand the importance of assessment that is authentic, frequent, purposeful, and varied to meet individual student needs (Howey and Zimpher, 1989, pp. 465, 469; Eisner, 1998, p. 216). Through a series of such experiences, prospective teachers move professionally toward full responsibility for classroom instruction.

Theme Three: Character and Professionalism

Teaching is a social, moral, and political act that involves constructing the world in which we live (Beyer, Feinberg, Pagano, & Whitson, 1989, pp. 16-18). The OWU Early Childhood Teacher Education program nurtures prospective teachers as they move beyond their personal self-interest and begin to identify with the culture of teaching (Goodlad, 1994, pp. 83-4). The liberal arts foster the habits of heart and mind conducive to participation in a democratic society. Campus and community programs provide the context for this participation. Professional study unites the two.

These experiences lead to early childhood teachers who are reflective practitioners. Such teachers believe all students can learn. They are convinced that the continuation of our society compels them to embrace a democratic mission founded on multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, and multiecological relationships. They understand the role of education in a democratic society, are able to analyze and interpret human experience, and believe that equality of opportunity, equity, and excellence should characterize all classrooms and schools (Goodlad, 1983, p. 29). They develop an ethic of care that is grounded in the human condition (Noddings, 2002, p. 148) while simultaneously respecting the intellectual mission of schooling. In essence, they become “thoughtful” teachers (Clark , 1995, pp. xv-xvii) who show enthusiasm and commitment to their present and future professional development. They are also confident that they possess the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions to ensure this mission is fulfilled.

The Ultimate Goal

In short, the ultimate goal of the Early Childhood Teacher Education Program at Ohio Wesleyan University is to foster learning in all children, ages 3-8, as well as in our teacher candidates. We hope this will lead to the creation of informed critical thinkers who contribute meaningfully and ethically to our democratic society. Candidates model the qualities that they develop during their undergraduate studies, aspiring for their students what they have experienced for themselves (Eisner, 1998, p. 206). We aspire to develop teachers who effectively and humanely guide the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth of all students, while respecting individual needs and differences (Clark , 1995).

Theoretical Assumptions Underlying the Conceptual Framework of the Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Program

The program reflects the thinking of renowned scholars in the field of education as well as those whose focus is more specifically on early childhood education. Some of the main theorists include Chomsky, Kohlberg, Gilligan, Dewey, Erickson, Piaget, Vygotsky, Elkind, Maslow, Kamii, Clay, Katz, Dyson, Montessori, the Reggio Emilia movement, Gardner, Greenspan, Goleman, and others. The latest research on best practices and knowledge acquisition in various content areas (IRA, NCTE, NCTM, NSTA, NCSS, etc.) and guidelines from national standards movements (CAPE, INTASC, NAEYC) also undergird the program. This body of research leads us to hold the following assumptions:

  • Young children—their development, safety, and well-being—should be at the center of all early childhood education programs (Brazelton and Greenspan, 2000).
  • Growth in cognition, language, social skills, physical skills, aesthetic awareness, and morality is developmental and contextual. This means that young children differ significantly in their development from older children—and sometimes markedly from each other. Teachers must respond appropriately to the age/stage and individual characteristics of each learner. We call this “developmentally appropriate practice.” Early learning environments in which teachers use developmentally appropriate practices can significantly influence children's development (Piaget, 1952; Chomsky, 1972; Gilligan, 1982; H. Gardner, 1983; Kohlberg, 1984; Bredekamp and Copple, 1997; Levine, 2002; Vandell, 2002).
  • Development in young children occurs as an integrated whole with progress in each area influenced by growth in other areas (Maslow, 1970; Pucket and Black, 2001).
  • Young children actively construct their knowledge. They learn through interacting with an environment of rich, varied experiences that are facilitated by adults and mediated with peers. Thus, they need many varied opportunities to represent their knowledge through play, talk, writing, and other active experiences (Dewey, 1938; Kamii, 1985; Dyson, 1989; Brooks and Brooks, 1993; Gardner, 1993, 1999; Wilson et al., 1987; DeViries et al., 2002).
  • Young children's thinking is integrated. Thus, they need a curriculum that is structured so that connections are made between disciplines and children's experiences. This makes learning holistic and thus meaningful (Dewey, 1938; Katz and Chard, 1989; Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998).
  • Young children are intrinsically motivated to learn, grow, and become competent by acquiring skills in reading, writing, computing, and thinking. Teachers must respect and nurture this natural motivation and curiosity (Maslow, 1970; Montessori, 1995).
  • Play is a central contributor to children's growth. Effective teachers of young children can play a significant role in promoting social and cognitive competence by providing opportunities for play that promote cooperative problem solving, independent self-regulation, choice, and contact with peers (Elkind, 1981; Schrader, 1990; Kamii, 1993; Kontos and Wilcox-Herzog, 1997; Katz and McClellan, 1997; Jambor, 2000; Paley, 2004).
  • Effective teachers of young children scaffold learning by providing their students with activities just beyond their independent level but within their “zone of proximal development” so as to provide sufficient intellectual challenge that leads to growth in knowledge and understanding. From this perspective, learning is a mutually constructed experience between teacher and child (Vygotsky, 1978; Berk and Windsler, 1995).
  • Assessment of young children should be naturally embedded in curriculum and daily routines and should be authentic (related to real-life tasks and concepts while maintaining respect for individual needs and differences). It should be viewed as a positive tool that informs teachers so they can support learning of all young children (Darling-Hammond; Cohen, Stern, & Balaben, 1997; Falk, 2000).
  • Many disciplines undergird the curriculum for young children. Prospective teachers must understand how knowledge is structured in these disciplines as well as how this knowledge can be appropriately and effectively communicated to children (Smith, 1985; Clay, 1991; Sims et al, 1995; Stauffer and Davidson, 1996; National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment, 1996; National Council of the Social Studies, 1997; International Reading Association, 1998; National Council of Teachers of English, 1997; Neuman, Copple, & Bredenkamp, 1999; National Reading Panel, 2000; National Council for Teaching of Mathematics, 2000; Katz and Chard, 1989; Kamii, 2000; Clements, Sarama, & DiBiase, 2001).
  • Young children's learning is affected by their self concept, sense of autonomy, security, independence, and competence as well as their feelings of self-efficacy. Therefore, early childhood programs must support the development of these qualities by providing a nurturing, supportive and accepting environment that values individuality and diversity (Erikson, 1963; Maslow, 1970; Paley, 1998).
  • Young children are diverse. To work effectively with children from various cultures and communities as well as those with special developmental needs, prospective teachers must foster empathetic and just interactions with children of different races, ethnic backgrounds, economic class, and sexual orientation as well as those with differing abilities or physical needs (Cusher, McClelland, & Stafford, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Perez, 1994; Wolery & Wilbers, 1994; Delpit, 1996; Dyson, 1997; August & Hakuta, 1998; Tabors, 1998; Kohn, 1999; Nieto, 1999; Sandall et al., 2000).
  • Teachers must be knowledgeable about and skilled in using multiple teaching and learning approaches that account for student diversity (Cusher et al., 1992; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Delpit, 1996).
  • Because the lives of young children are firmly embedded in their families and communities, prospective teachers must value families and communities as significant partners in the educational process (Bronfenbienner, 1986; Epstein, 1991, 1997; Goleman, 1995).
  • Reflection is a fundamental activity in teaching. It is a deliberate act, carrying the connotation of making choices, of coming to decisions about alternative courses of action (Van Manen, 1991; Schón, 1983; Zeichner, 1983).
  • Committed teachers are advocates for developmentally appropriate practices within school and for helping all learners become thoughtful, ethical, democratic citizens (NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct, 1998).
  • Committed teachers are models of lifelong learning. This learning is multi-faceted and involves a commitment to studying new research-based pedagogy, new instructional materials, new technologies, and new subject matter knowledge (McEwin and Dickinson, 2001).

Knowledge, Skill, and Disposition Outcomes for Ohio Wesleyan University's Early Childhood Education Program Candidates

We believe students in our program should attain a number of specific competencies to become successful teachers of young children. These knowledge, skill, and disposition outcomes we have identified evolve directly from the conceptual framework. Knowledge of child development is the beginning point. Emphasis is on using knowledge of children as the basis for selecting content methods and materials, structuring the environment for optimal learning, and effectively interacting with parents and other professionals. Curriculum is also tempered by state and national mandates.

Following are the specific Early Childhood program outcomes we think are central to our program. These, in turn, are aligned with unit, state, and NAEYC standards.  Each is followed by a “K”, “S” or “D” to indicate whether it is a “knowledge”, “skill,” or “disposition” outcome.

Candidates in Ohio Wesleyan's Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Program will:

  • Acquire and use broad, integrated knowledge of the liberal arts as well as in-depth knowledge of one subject area. (K)
  • Develop and use the pedagogical content knowledge (content, tools of inquiry and structure of disciplines) and skills necessary to make content comprehensible and developmentally appropriate for young children. (K)
  • Acquire and use basic skills in reading, writing, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and technology. (K, S)
  • Use knowledge of child development and learning to create developmentally appropriate learning activities and experiences that support the physical, linguistic, social, moral, aesthetic, and cognitive growth of all young children. (K, S)
  • Create learning activities and experiences that are aligned with local, state, and national standards as well as with what current research has identified as appropriate practice for working with young children (including integrated curriculum, centrality of play, progression from concrete to abstract, etc.). (K, S)
  • Use knowledge of child development to create learning environments that are appropriately challenging and provide for active engagement, yet also develop independence, critical thinking, curiosity, self-motivation, collaboration, and positive social interactions in all young children. (K, S, D)
  • Establish and maintain a positive, safe learning environment that promotes fairness and equal opportunity for all students. (S, D)
  • Understand the multiple, underlying causes of children's challenging behaviors and use a varied repertoire of research-based approaches to effectively and positively guide the behavior of all young children. (K, S)
  • Use a child development frame of reference to develop and implement a wide variety of authentic assessment strategies that monitor and inform the continuous learning and social development of all young children as well as provide information on the success of one's own teaching. (K, S)
  • Account for student diversity (developmental, cultural, socioeconomic, gender, etc.) when planning for instruction and make accommodations for all diverse students so their learning is optimized. (S, D)
  • Show respect for all young children regardless of abilities, exceptionalities, cultural differences, and life experiences and use this understanding to ensure that all young children are treated equitably within the school setting. (K, S, D)
  • Recognize the collaborative role of family, community, and other education professionals in the academic progress and successful emotional adjustment of young children to school. (K, S, D)
  • Use effective and skilled written, verbal, electronic, and multi-media communication to interpret and articulate children's progress to parents and other professionals, then enlist their support for providing optimal learning environments for all children. (S)
  • Demonstrate the belief that all children can learn and that positive relationships are the foundation of all interactions with young children. (S, D)
  • Continually evaluate his/her own effectiveness in the classroom and pursue improved knowledge and performance through appropriate professional development activities and collaboration with other professionals. (S, D)
  • Uphold ethical standards for the early childhood profession. (K, D)

Read more about National Standards of the program.

 Advising Sheet (PDF)