A&M International Student, Prof Collaborate on ECE Research

Children learn best when their learning environment is centered on them and they take an active role in making decisions.

That's some of the key findings of recent research conducted by Dr. Linda Medearis, Texas A&M International University associate professor of early childhood education (ECE) and former student Erica Esparza, a kindergarten teacher at Matias De Llano Elementary School.

The pair reported their research findings at the annual conference of the Association for Childhood Education International in San Antonio recently. The research compared teaching approaches, reviewed results and recommended strategies to improve teaching effectiveness.

The case study research focused on the performance and experiences of an ECE student teacher and a first-year teacher, Esparza. Dr. Medearis visited and videotaped ten 30 to 45-minute observations during Esparza's kindergarten internship and during the first semester of her inservice prekindergarten teaching.

Esparza was one of the earlier students to complete preservice training through A&M International's College of Education Center for Professional Development (CPDT). The center focuses on learner-centered instruction.

The tapes were later examined and assessed for developmentally appropriate environments. The research benefits were two-fold: they identified successful practices and improvement areas for Esparza's teaching and helped the university to identify the most relevant training. The findings underscore the need for enriching and extending preparatory coursework.

"For example, we've found that teacher education students need to be prepared with more skills and knowledge of physical development for young children and that their preparation should include appropriate use for large group time," explained Dr. Medearis.

Esparza noted the pair's research identified a need to embrace effective practices and employ motivational techniques.

"Our research also indicates future teachers should learn more effective ways to use music and creative dramatics and how to utilize the motivational capacities of games in the classroom," Esparza noted.

Medearis said that overall findings indicate that a developmentally appropriate, child-centered environment in which children take an active and creative role in their education provides a fertile landscape upon which education can blossom best.

The research identified areas of strength including the effective use of an integrated curriculum, a well-designed and managed early childhood classroom, and an emphasis on young student autonomy. All exemplify a learner-centered classroom.

"Research like ours continues to show that teacher preparation programs like A&M International's must continue to be diligent in educating teachers to a multitude of techniques and strategies to help insure the creation of that fertile learning environment," Medearis concluded.

For more information, contact Dr. Medearis at Texas A&M International University's College of Education at 326-2687 or by email at lmedearis@tamiu.edu.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at pais@tamiu.edu