This study highlights the importance of mentorship focused on reflective practice during preservice teacher education and early years of teaching. Thoughtful reflection about teaching practices during early years of teaching is critical in preparing teachers for a child-centered curriculum. To successfully distinguish between teacher-directed and child-centered learning experiences, novice teachers require adequate understanding of child development and observations that inform planning and classroom teaching practices. This article discusses an early childhood teacher education program in Hong Kong in light of the need to broaden the scope of inquiry-based, reflective practice in ongoing teacher professional development. The author provides recommendations for successful mentorship programs and collaborations between educator preparation programs and schools.
Early childhood education is a key period, as it is the gateway to the education system and the basis of physical, social, emotional, and moral development of children ages 0 to 6. Early childhood education needs professionals with sound and updated training. This means that initial training must be complemented with a wide and diversified range of continuing training (Early et al., 2006).
Child-centered curriculum has been promoted in early childhood education for a long time. A number of early childhood educators advocate a child-centered curriculum based on the different rates of child development and educators' progressive educational philosophies. These educators are familiar with the many studies suggesting that a child-centered curriculum can benefit children's school progress and personal adjustment (Dunn & Kontos, 1997; Frede & Barnett, 1992).
Child-centered curriculum emphasizes children's individual interests and freedom to create their own learning activities and projects. Thus, two areas of knowledge must be well-established in teachers' daily practice. First, they must understand child development and relate what they see in their classrooms to what they plan for the children. They must understand what children do in their explorations and why. Next, they must be child watchers, using observations to inform planning and practice as a regular part of their classroom structure. In other words, a teacher dedicated to putting child-centeredness into practice observes, interprets, and reflects on the children's behavior and learning in the classroom, and reconceptualizes and applies multiple theories in structuring the class based on the concept of child-centeredness, which is the valuing of children's needs and interests.
Teachers new to child-centered curriculum often fail to recognize that such a curriculum provides children with opportunities to independently explore concepts and follow their own interests, fueled by their curiosity and motivation. Thus, novice teachers often place more stress on the teacher's control over children's exploration of learning. And classroom activities are often teacher-directed, resulting in products that are adult-like in nature (Clark, 2006).
A novice teacher's interest in child-centered curriculum for personal development must be at the heart of the experience in order for the experience to be meaningful to the teacher. Otherwise, the teacher provides the experience for the children without reflecting on his/her own development as a result of the learning activities. Without this connection, the teacher will have less interest invested in the children's learning...