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Posted on Apr 16, 2012

UCSD Research Student Finds Deep, Sustained Learning in Gillispie’s EC Program

April 5, 2012

To gather data and write a final paper for her UCSD Human Development research class, a student recently conducted a ten-week study in Gillispie’s Room 3 preschool classroom. Visiting once a week for four hours, she observed three-year-olds interacting with their two teachers. Upon completion of her observations, she shared her final paper.

The first part of her paper highlighted some of the research on emergent curriculum produced in the last decade. Based on studies, our visitor pointed out, “Emergent curriculum provides a stimulating environment for learners,” and, “It’s child directed and initiated; rather than having pre-planned goals, teachers consider the students’ interests, abilities, and needs; provide materials; and plan activities around those interests to increase understanding and learning.” Moreover, research also has found that, “Teacher observations and inquiries of children’s interests provide more meaningful and higher quality learning opportunities compared to a more formal teacher-initiated approach.”

The second part of her analysis came from repeated classroom visits. One of her conclusions noted an increase in “learner engagement” during classroom meetings when teachers listened for and organized efforts around an area of interest suggested by the children. During morning circle time and reflection meetings, teachers and students regularly discuss emerging ideas–two recent examples from Room 3 include shadows and trains. Furthermore, the student researcher found that students most extensively pursued topics when teachers had provided support through appropriate activities and materials. As a result, weeks after the shadow discussions were held, these young learners continued to identify examples of shadows and lighting, both inside and outdoors, and likewise thoroughly enjoyed their visit to the downtown San Diego Train Station, which provided a real-life, applied experience born from their classroom conversations.

As seen by an outsider observer, emergent curriculum as practiced at Gillispie not only keeps students engaged, but enables learning at deep, meaningful, and sustained levels.

Alison Fleming
Head of School

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