Early Years Communication Theory Essay

Communication Theories Essay

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In interpersonal communication there are many theories that are similar yet different in many ways. The theories can be combined to describe people and how those people interact and communicate with each other. Many of these theories help explain how people in society form impressions of others, how they maintain these impressions, why people interact with certain people in society, and how people will use these impressions that they have formed later on in life. These theories also help people to better understand themselves, to better understand interpersonal communication, and to better understand people in general. There are two theories in interpersonal communication that, despite their differences, can go hand in hand. The first is…show more content…

213). As a whole, society tends to mirror the emotions of the person who is speaking or of the person who is playing a part. If a person goes to a play and the actors are experiencing fear, than the people who are watching the play will tend to experience that same fear. If one actor is mad at another actor, than the people watching the play will either experience that same emotion of anger or they will side with the other actor and experience the emotion that the other actor is feeling, whether it be uncertainty about why the other actor is mad at them or a feeling of sadness because the other actor is mad at them. Imitating others emotions happens all the time in society and as long as there is communication between people, whether it is verbal or nonverbal, this catching of emotions will continue.
     The interaction adaptation theory and the emotional contagion theory both have similarities and differences, just like any other set of theories. Both of these theories suggest that people adapt to people who are around them and whom they interact with. These two theories allow people to mirror those with whom they communicate with. These theories go hand in hand because when you are communicating with someone and mirroring their actions and behaviors, it is hard to not mirror their emotions. If someone is sad and decides to talk to someone about their problem,

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This section highlights what is known about cognitive development in young children. It begins with key concepts from research viewpoints that have contributed to recent advances in understanding of the developing mind, and then presents the implications of this knowledge for early care and education settings. The following section addresses the learning of specific subjects, with a focus on language and mathematics.

Studies of early cognitive development have led researchers to understand the developing mind as astonishingly competent, active, and insightful from a very early age. For example, infants engage in an intuitive analysis of the statistical regularities in the speech sounds they hear en route to constructing language (Saffran, 2003). Infants and toddlers derive implicit theories to explain the actions of objects and the behavior of people; these theories form the foundation for causal learning and more sophisticated understanding of the physical and social worlds. Infants and young children also are keenly responsive to what they can learn from the actions and words directed to them by other people. This capacity for joint attention may be the foundation that enables humans to benefit from culturally transmitted knowledge (Tomasello et al., 2005). Infants respond to cues conveying the communicative intentions of an adult (such as eye contact and infant-directed speech) and tune in to what the adult is referring to and what can be learned about it. This “natural pedagogy” (Csibra, 2010; Csibra and Gergely, 2009) becomes more sophisticated in the sensitivity of preschoolers to implicit pedagogical guides in adult speech directed to them (Butler and Markman, 2012a,b, 2014). Young children rely so much on what they learn from others that they become astute, by the preschool years, in distinguishing adult speakers who are likely to provide them with reliable information from those who are not (Harris, 2012; Jaswal, 2010; Koenig and Doebel, 2013). This connection of relationships and social interactions to cognitive development is consistent with how the brain develops and how the mind grows, and is a theme throughout this chapter.

Much of what current research shows is going on in young children's minds is not transparent in their behavior. Infants and young children may not show what they know because of competing demands on their attention, limitations in what they can do, and immature self-regulation. This is one of the reasons why developmental scientists use carefully designed experiments for elucidating what young children know and understand about the world. By designing research procedures that eliminate competing distractions and rely on simple responses (such as looking time and expressions of surprise), researchers seek to uncover cognitive processes that might otherwise be more difficult to see. Evidence derived in this experimental manner, such as the examples in the sections that follow, can be helpful in explaining young children's rapid growth in language learning, imitation, problem solving, and other skills.

Implicit Theories

One of the most important discoveries about the developing mind is how early and significantly very young children, even starting in infancy, are uniting disparate observations or discrete facts into coherent conceptual systems (Carey, 2009; Gopnik and Wellman, 2012; Spelke and Kinzler, 2007). From very early on, children are not simply passive observers, registering the superficial appearance of things. Rather, they are building explanatory systems—implicit theories—that organize their knowledge. Such implicit theories contain causal principles and causal relations; these theories enable children to predict, explain, and reason about relevant phenomena and, in some cases, intervene to change them. As early as the first year of life, babies are developing incipient theories about how the world of people, other living things, objects, and numbers operates. It is important to point out that these foundational theories are not simply isolated forms of knowledge, but play a profound role in children's everyday lives and subsequent education.

One major example of an implicit theory that is already developing as early as infancy is “theory of mind,” which refers to the conceptual framework people use to reason about the mental lives of others as well as themselves. This example is discussed in detail below. Some additional illustrative examples of the development of implicit theories are provided in Box 4-1.

BOX 4-1

Examples of the Development of Implicit Theories. Even babies hold some fundamental principles about how objects move about in space and time (Baillargeon et al., 2009). For example, babies are surprised (as measured by their increased looking time) if (more...)

Theory of Mind

People intuitively understand others' actions as motivated by desires, goals, feelings, intentions, thoughts, and other mental states, and we understand how these mental states affect one another (for example, an unfulfilled desire can evoke negative feelings and a motivation to continue trying to achieve the goal). One remarkable discovery of research on young children is that they are developing their own intuitive “map” of mental processes like these from very early in life (Baillargeon et al., 2010; Saxe, 2013; Wellman and Woolley, 1990). Children's developing theory of mind transforms how they respond to people and what they learn from them. Infants and young children are beginning to understand what goes on in people's minds, and how others' feelings and thoughts are similar to and different from their own.

Infants first have a relatively simple theory of mind. They are aware of some basic characteristics: what people are looking at is a sign of what they are paying attention to; people act intentionally and are goal directed; people have positive and negative feelings in response to things around them; and people have different perceptions, goals, and feelings. Children add to this mental map as their awareness grows. From infancy on, developing theory of mind permeates everyday social interactions—affecting what and how children learn, how they react to and interact with other people, how they assess the fairness of an action, and how they evaluate themselves.

One-year-olds, for example, will look in their mother's direction when faced with someone or something unfamiliar to “read” mother's expression and determine whether this is a dangerous or benign unfamiliarity. Infants also detect when an adult makes eye contact, speaks in an infant-directed manner (such as using higher pitch and melodic intonations), and responds contingently to the infant's behavior. Under these circumstances, infants are especially attentive to what the adult says and does, thus devoting special attention to social situations in which the adult's intentions are likely to represent learning opportunities.

Other examples also illustrate how a developing theory of mind underlies children's emerging understanding of the intentions of others. Take imitation, for example. It is well established that babies and young children imitate the actions of others. Children as young as 14 to 18 months are often imitating not the literal observed action but the action they thought the actor intended—the goal or the rationale behind the action (Gergely et al., 2002; Meltzoff, 1995). Word learning is another example in which babies' reasoning based on theory of mind plays a crucial role. By at least 15 months old, when babies hear an adult label an object, they take the speaker's intent into account by checking the speaker's focus of attention and deciding whether they think the adult indicated the object intentionally. Only when babies have evidence that the speaker intended to refer to a particular object with a label will they learn that word (Baldwin, 1991; Baldwin and Moses, 2001; Baldwin and Tomasello, 1998).

Babies also can perceive the unfulfilled goals of others and intervene to help them; this is called “shared intentionality.” Babies as young as 14 months old who witness an adult struggling to reach for an object will interrupt their play to crawl over and hand the object to the adult (Warneken and Tomasello, 2007). By the time they are 18 months old, shared intentionality enables toddlers to act helpfully in a variety of situations; for example, they pick up dropped objects for adults who indicate that they need assistance (but not for adults who dropped the object intentionally) (Warneken and Tomasello, 2006). Developing an understanding of others' goals and preferences and how to facilitate them affects how young children interpret the behavior of people they observe and provides a basis for developing a sense of helpful versus undesirable human activity that is a foundation for later development of moral understanding (cf. Bloom, 2013; Hamlin et al., 2007; Thompson, 2012, 2015).

Developing Implicit Theories: Implications for Adults

The research on the development of implicit theories in children has important implications for how adults work with and educate young children. Failure to recognize the extent to which they are construing information in terms of their lay theories can result in educational strategies that oversimplify material for children. Educational materials guided by the assumption that young children are “concrete” thinkers—that they cannot deal with abstraction or reason hypothetically—leads educators to focus on simple, descriptive activities that can deprive children of opportunities to advance their conceptual frameworks. Designing effective materials in a given domain or subject matter requires knowing what implicit theories children hold, what core causal principles they use, and what misconceptions and gaps in knowledge they have, and then using empirically validated steps to help lead them to a more accurate, more advanced conceptual framework.

Sensitivity to Teaching Cues

Csibra and Gergely (2009) argue that humans are equipped with a capacity to realize when someone is communicating something for their benefit and that they construe that information differently than when they merely witness it. As noted previously in the discussion of developing theory of mind, children as early as infancy devote special attention to social situations that are likely to represent learning opportunities because adults communicate that intention. Information learned in such communicative contexts is treated as more generalizable and robust than that learned in a noncommunicative context.

In one study, for example, 9-month-old babies saw an adult either reach for an object (a noncommunicative act) or point to an object (a communicative act). The entire display was then screened from view, and after a brief delay, the curtains were opened, and babies saw either the same object in a new location or a new object in the same location. The short delay imposed a memory requirement, and for babies this young, encoding both the location and the identity of the object taxes their memory. The location of the object will typically be more salient and memorable to babies than the object's properties, but the prediction of this study was that babies who saw the adult point to the object would construe the pointing as a communicative act—“this adult is showing me something”—and would thus be more likely to encode the properties as opposed to the location of the object. Babies' looking times served as a measure of their surprise at or interest in an unexpected event. As predicted, babies appeared to encode different aspects of the event in the different conditions. When they had previously witnessed the adult reaching for the object, they were surprised when the object was in a new location but showed no renewed interest when there was a different object in the old location. In contrast, when babies first saw an adult point to the object, they were surprised when a new object appeared in the old location but not when the old object had changed locations (Yoon et al., 2008).

Infants' Sensitivity to Teaching Cues: Implications for Adults

Babies have the capacity to realize when someone is communicating something for their benefit and therefore to construe information differently than when they merely witness it. When adults use face-to-face contact, call a baby's name, and point for the baby's benefit, these signals lead babies to recognize that someone is teaching them something, and this awareness can affect how and what they learn.

The significance of eye contact and other communication cues also is evident in research on whether, how, and when young children learn from video and other forms of digital media. Experiments conducted with 24-month-olds, for example, revealed that they can learn from a person on a video screen if that person is communicating with them through a webcam-like environment, but they showed no evidence of learning from a prerecorded video of that person. The webcam environment included social cues, such as back-and-forth conversation and other forms of social contact that are not possible in prerecorded video. Other studies found that toddlers learned verbs better during Skype video chats than during prerecorded video chats that did not allow for authentic eye contact or back-and-forth interaction (Roseberry et al., 2014; Troseth et al., 2006). (See also Chapter 6 for more on technology and learning.)

The benefits of communicative pedagogical contexts for the conceptual development of preschool children also have been investigated. In one set of studies, 4-year-old children were exposed to a novel object's function either by seeing an adult deliberately use the object or by seeing the adult deliberately use the object after maintaining eye contact with the child and saying “watch this.” In both conditions, children noticed the object's property and attempted to elicit it from other similar objects. But when those objects were doctored to be nonfunctional, the children in the nonpedagogical condition quickly abandoned their attempts to elicit the property and played with the objects in some other way. Children who saw the same evidence but with direct communication for their benefit persisted in trying to elicit the property from other objects (Butler and Markman, 2012a,b). In other words, children's conviction that other similar objects should have the same unforeseen property was bolstered by their belief that the adult was performing the function for their benefit. Moreover the intentional (but nonpedagogical) condition versus the pedagogical condition produced strikingly different conceptions of the function (Butler and Markman, 2014). Four- and 5-year-old children witnessed an object's function and were then given a set of objects to play with. Some objects were identical in appearance to the first object, while some differed in color (in one study) or shape (in another). Half of the objects of each color (or shape) had the unforeseen property, and half did not. Children were told they could play with the objects for a while and then should put them away in their appropriate boxes when done. The goal was to see whether children would sort the objects by the salient perceptual property (color or shape) or by function. Children in the pedagogical condition viewed the function as definitive and classified the objects by systematically testing each to see whether it had the function, while children in the nonpedagogical condition sorted by the salient color or shape. Thus, identical evidence is construed differently when children believe it has been produced for their benefit.

Implications for Care and Education Settings and Practitioners

The research findings on cognitive development in young children summarized above reflect an evolving understanding of how the mind develops during the early years and should be part of the core knowledge that influences how care and education professionals support young children's learning, as discussed in Chapter 7. Many of these concepts describe cognitive processes that are implicit. By contrast with the explicit knowledge that older children and adults can put into words, implicit knowledge is tacit or nonconscious understanding that cannot readily be consciously described (see, e.g., Mandler, 2004). Examples of implicit knowledge in very young children include many of the early achievements discussed above, such as their implicit theories of living things and of the human mind and their nonconscious awareness of the statistical frequency of the associations among speech sounds in the language they are hearing. Infants' and young children's “statistical learning” does not mean that they can count, nor are their “implicit theories” consciously worked out. Not all early learning is implicit, of course. Very young children are taking significant strides in their explicit knowledge of language, the functioning of objects, and the characteristics of people and animals in the world around them. Thus early learning occurs on two levels: the growth of knowledge that is visible and apparent, and the growth of implicit understanding that is sometimes more difficult to observe.

This distinction between implicit and explicit learning can be confusing to early childhood practitioners (and parents), who often do not observe or recognize evidence for the sophisticated implicit learning—or even the explicit learning—taking place in the young children in their care. Many of the astonishingly competent, active, and insightful things that research on early cognitive development shows are going on in young children's minds are not transparent in their behavior. Instead, toddlers and young children seem highly distractable, emotional, and not very capable of managing their impulses. All of these observations about young children are true, but at the same time, their astonishing growth in language skills, their very different ways of interacting with objects and living things, and their efforts to share attention (such as through pointing) or goals (such as through helping) with an adult suggest that the cognitive achievements demonstrated in experimental settings have relevance to their everyday behavior.

This point is especially important because the cognitive abilities of young children are so easily underestimated. In the past, for example, the prevalent belief that infants lack conceptual knowledge meant that parents and practitioners missed opportunities to explore with them cause and effect, number, or symbolic play. Similarly, the view that young children are egocentric caused many adults to conclude that there was little benefit to talking about people's feelings until children were older—this despite the fact that most people could see how attentive young children were to others' emotions and how curious about their causes.

In light of these observations, how do early educators contribute to the cognitive growth of children in their first 3 years? One way is by providing appropriate support for the learning that is occurring in these very young children (see, e.g., Copple et al., 2013). Using an abundance of child-directed language during social interaction, playing counting games (e.g., while stacking blocks), putting into words what a classroom pet can do or why somebody looks sad, exploring together what happens when objects collide, engaging in imitative play and categorization (sorting) games—these and other shared activities can be cognitively provocative as long as they remain within the young child's capacities for interest and attention. They also build on understandings that young children are implicitly developing related to language; number; object characteristics; and implicit theories of animate and inanimate objects, physical causality, and people's minds. The purpose of these and other activities is not just to provide young children with cognitive stimulation, but also to embed that stimulation in social interaction that provokes young children's interest, elicits their curiosity, and provides an emotional context that enables them to focus their thinking on new discoveries. The central and consistent feature of all these activities is the young child's shared activity with an adult who thoughtfully capitalizes on his or her interests to provoke cognitive growth. The implications for instructional practices and curricula for educators working with infants and toddlers are discussed further in Chapter 6.

Another way that educators contribute to the cognitive growth of infants and toddlers is through the emotional support they provide (Jamison et al., 2014). Emotional support is afforded by the educator's responsiveness to young children's interests and needs (including each child's individual temperament), the educator's development of warm relationships with children, and the educator's accessibility to help when young children are exploring on their own or interacting with other children (Thompson, 2006). Emotional support of this kind is important not only as a positive accompaniment to the task of learning but also as an essential prerequisite to the cognitive and attentional engagement necessary for young children to benefit from learning opportunities. Because early capacities to self-regulate emotion are so limited, a young child's frustration or distress can easily derail cognitive engagement in new discoveries, and children can lose focus because their attentional self-regulatory skills are comparably limited. An educator's emotional support can help keep young children focused and persistent, and can also increase the likelihood that early learning experiences will yield successful outcomes. Moreover, the secure attachments that young children develop with educators contribute to an expectation of adult support that enables young children to approach learning opportunities more positively and confidently. Emotional support and socioemotional development are discussed further later in this chapter.

The characteristics of early learning call for specific curricular approaches and thoughtful professional learning for educators, but it is also true that less formal opportunities to stimulate early cognitive growth emerge naturally in children's everyday interactions with a responsive adult. Consider, for example, a parent or other caregiver interacting with a 1-year-old over a shape-sorting toy. As they together are choosing shapes of different colors and the child is placing them in the appropriate (or inappropriate) cutout in the bin, the adult can accompany this task with language that describes what they are doing and why, and narrates the child's experiences of puzzlement, experimentation, and accomplishment. The adult may also be using number words to count the blocks as they are deposited. The baby's attention is focused by the constellation of adult behavior—infant-directed language, eye contact, and responsiveness—that signals the adult's teaching, and this “pedagogical orientation” helps focus the young child's attention and involvement. The back-and-forth interaction of child and adult activity provides stimulus for the baby's developing awareness of the adult's thinking (e.g., she looks at each block before commenting on it or acting intentionally on it) and use of language (e.g., colors are identified for each block, and generic language is used to describe blocks in general). In this interaction, moreover, the baby is developing both expectations for what this adult is like—safe, positive, responsive—and skills for social interaction (such as turn taking). Although these qualities and the learning derived from them are natural accompaniments to child-focused responsive social interaction with an adult caregiver, the caregiver's awareness of the child's cognitive growth at this time contributes significantly to the adult's ability to intentionally support new discovery and learning.

As children further develop cognitively as preschoolers, their growth calls for both similar and different behavior by the adults who work with them. While the educator's emotional support and responsiveness remain important, children from age 3 to 5 years become different kinds of thinkers than they were as infants and toddlers (NRC, 2001). First, they are more consciously aware of their knowledge—much more of their understanding is now explicit. This means they are more capable of deliberately enlisting what they know into new learning situations, although they are not yet as competent or strategic in doing so as they will be in the primary grades. When faced with a problem or asked a question, they are more capable of offering an answer based on what they know, even when their knowledge is limited. Second, preschoolers are more competent in learning from their deliberate efforts to do so, such as trial-and-error or informal experimentation. While their success in this regard pales by comparison with the more strategic efforts of a grade-schooler, their “let's find out” approach to new challenges reflects their greater behavioral and mental competence in figuring things out. Third, preschoolers also are intuitive and experiential, learning by doing rather than figuring things out “in the head.” This makes shared activities with educators and peers potent opportunities for cognitive growth.

Nonetheless, the potential to underestimate the cognitive abilities of young children persists in the preschool and kindergarten years. In one study, for example, children's actual performance was six to eight times what was estimated by their own preschool teachers and other experts in consulting, teacher education, educational research, and educational development (Claessens et al., 2014; Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, 1996). Such underestimation represents a lost opportunity that can hinder children's progress. A study in kindergarten revealed that teachers spent most of their time in basic content that children already knew, yet the children benefited more from advanced reading and mathematics content (Claessens et al., 2014)—an issue discussed in depth in Chapter 6. Unfortunately, when care and education professionals underestimate children's abilities to understand and learn subject-matter content, the negative impact is greatest on those with the fewest prior learning experiences (Bennett et al., 1984; Clements and Sarama, 2014).

Conversely, when educators practice in a way that is cognizant of the cognitive progress of children at this age, they can more deliberately enlist the preschool child's existing knowledge and skills into new learning situations. One example is interactive storybook reading, in which children describe the pictures and label their elements while the adult and child ask and answer questions of each other about the narrative. Language and literacy skills also are fostered at this age by the adult's use of varied vocabulary in interaction with the child, as well as by extending conversation on a single topic (rather than frequently switching topics), asking open-ended questions of the child, and initiating conversation related to the child's experiences and interests (Dickinson, 2003; Dickinson and Porche, 2011; Dickinson and Tabors, 2001). In each case, dialogic conversation about text or experience draws on while also extending children's prior knowledge and language skills. Language and literacy skills are discussed further in a subsequent section of this chapter, as well as in Chapter 6.

Another implication of these cognitive changes is that educators can engage preschool children's intentional activity in new learning opportunities. Children's interest in learning by doing is naturally suited to experimental inquiry related to science or other kinds of inquiry-based learning involving hypothesis and testing, especially in light of the implicit theories of living things and physical causality that children bring to such inquiry (Samarapungavan et al., 2011). In a similar manner, board games can provide a basis for learning and extending number concepts. In several experimental demonstrations, when preschool children played number board games specifically designed to foster their mental representations of numerical quantities, they showed improvements in number line estimates, count-on skill, numerical identification, and other important quantitative concepts (Laski and Siegler, 2014).

Other research has shown that instructional strategies that promote higher-level thinking, creativity, and even abstract understanding, such as talking about ideas or about future events, is associated with greater cognitive achievement by preschool-age children (e.g., Diamond et al., 2013; Mashburn et al., 2008). For example, when educators point out how cardinal numbers can be used to describe diverse sets of elements (four blocks, four children, 4 o'clock), it helps them generalize an abstract concept (“fourness”) that describes a set rather than the characteristics of each element alone. These activities also can be integrated into other instructional practices during a typical day.

Another implication of the changes in young children's thinking during the preschool years concerns the motivational features of early learning. Preschool-age children are developing a sense of themselves and their competencies, including their academic skills (Marsh et al., 1998, 2002). Their beliefs about their abilities in reading, counting, vocabulary, number games, and other academic competencies derive from several sources, including spontaneous social comparison with other children and feedback from teachers (and parents) concerning their achievement and the reasons they have done well or poorly. These beliefs influence, in turn, children's self-confidence, persistence, intrinsic motivation to succeed, and other characteristics that may be described as learning skills (and are discussed more extensively later in this chapter). Consequently, how teachers provide performance feedback to young children and support for their self-confidence in learning situations also is an important predictor of children's academic success (Hamre, 2014).

In the early elementary years, children's cognitive processes develop further, which accordingly influences the strategies for educators in early elementary classrooms. Primary grade children are using more complex vocabulary and grammar. They are growing in their ability to make mental representations, but they still have difficulty grasping abstract concepts without the aid of real-life references and materials (Tomlinson, 2014). This is a critical time for children to develop confidence in all areas of life. Children at this age show more independence from parents and family, while friendship, being liked and accepted by peers, becomes more important. Being in school most of the day means greater contact with a larger world, and children begin to develop a greater understanding of their place in that world (CDC, 2014).

Children's growing ability to self-regulate their emotions also is evident in this period (discussed more extensively later in this chapter). Children understand their own feelings more and more, and learn better ways to describe experiences and express thoughts and feelings. They better understand the consequences of their actions, and their focus on concern for others grows. They are very observant, are willing to play cooperatively and work in teams, and can resolve some conflicts without seeking adult intervention (CDC, 2014). Children also come to understand that they can affect others' perception of their emotions by changing their affective displays (Aloise-Young, 1993). Children who are unable to self-regulate have emotional difficulties that may interfere with their learning. Just as with younger children, significant adults in a child's life can help the child learn to self-regulate (Tomlinson, 2014).

Children's increasing self-regulation means they have a greater ability to follow instructions independently in a manner that would not be true of preschool or younger children. Educators can rely on the growing cognitive abilities in elementary school children in using instructional approaches that depend more independently on children's own discoveries, their use of alternative inquiry strategies, and their greater persistence in problem solving. Educators in these settings are scaffolding the skills that began to develop earlier, so that children are able to gradually apply those skills with less and less external support. This serves as a bridge to succeeding in upper primary grades, so if students lack necessary knowledge and skills in any domain of development and learning, their experience during the early elementary grades is crucial in helping them gain those competencies.

Building on many of the themes that have emerged from this discussion, the following sections continue by looking in more depth at cognitive development with respect to learning specific subjects and then at other major elements of development, including general learning competencies, socioemotional development, and physical development and health.

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