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Developmentally Appropriate Instruction

Nicholas Kowalski

Regent University

In partial fulfillment of UED 495 Field Experience ePortfolio, Fall 2018



Developmentally Appropriate Instruction includes methods of hands-on teaching

that match the stage of cognitive development that the students are currently in. It also

integrates a sensitivity and awareness of the cultures and subcultures from which these

students have emerged. This competency is vital for effective teaching because students

must learn based on their already existing knowledge and cultural base. Essentially in

order for instruction to work it has to approach students from where they are both

mentally and socially. Instruction must then be carefully planned and executed in order to

achieve this end.


The first artifact that I selected is a collection of readings and corresponding

questions that I created during my Practicum. These went along with a lesson that I was

doing on the emerging dominant economic philosophies of the early 20th century; those

being capitalism, socialism, and communism. The readings were short and sweet, giving

a brief description of how these philosophies formed as well as their core beliefs and

goals. The questions then ask students to think critically about these three philosophies;

specifically by asking to compare and contrast them. In addition to that the students

would also be expected to state positive ideas that each philosophy had. Afterwards they

would have to generate their own personal opinion on which idea might be most effective

and which might be least. I selected this because its an assignment that is designed to test

the thought processes and critical thinking skills of students at the average high school

level. It also asks them to challenge the traditional concepts that they would have been

taught up until that point (such as Communism being an inherently bad idea due to the

failures of the Soviet Union).

Challenging traditional ideas also played a role in why I selected the second

artifact. This is a lesson plan concerning the seemingly bland topic of European trade

expansion in the late 18th and 19th century. The lesson consisted of 20 minutes of lecture

broken up by group and whole-class activities. Content wise, it covered European

expansion in Japan, China and Africa, as well as the reactions of those regions and how

the trade expansion affected them. Instead of simply stating a collection of facts I wanted

my lesson to help the students relate the trade dynamics going on during the late 18th and

19th century, with the trade policies of the Trump administration during early 2018 (when

this lesson took place). I drew connection between the protectionist policies of China at

this time and similar policies by the current administration. I had a fun role play game

that made up a large chunk of the instruction on Japan’s reaction; the students relished

the idea to get up and act out the fears and isolation of Japan in response to what the

Japanese Shogunate saw as a force that was dividing the nation. These two segments

were designed specifically to engage high schoolers by making the lesson relatable and


The third segment of the lesson, however, was not only meant to be engaging but

also to address the culturally diverse classroom. Deep Creek high is made up of 40.3%

African-Americans (Virginia Depratment of Education, 2018), so the concept of the

beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade is a culturally sensitive topic. It might have been

simpler to pander to this need to strictly demonize all involved in this frankly horrific

mechanism. To me this seemed to be antithetical to the entire concept of developmentally


appropriate instruction. These students are at stage where they can understand things

beyond absolutes such as good or evil. I focused on how the Atlantic slave trade formed

and all of the wants and needs of the major players involved. At the end students, perhaps

reluctantly, came to the conclusion that the Atlantic slave trade was formed by a vicious

cycle of shortsighted quid pro quo trade and several economies (including African ones)

that were becoming increasingly dependent on the trade to survive. The conclusion was

that these groups were not viewing their actions as evil, but rather business as usual. This

lesson asked student’s to look beyond moral absolutes and look toward individual

motivations and beliefs and how they led to something that is objectively evil.


When it comes to planning instruction that is not only developmentally

appropriate, but also engaging one would be amiss not to turn first to Piaget’s Four

Stages of Cognitive Development for a good baseline of what students should be

challenged with. According to Piaget children above the age of twelve fall into the final

stage of cognitive development, the formal operational stage (Cherry, 2018). According

to Piaget students at this age can comprehend complex and hypothetical ideas. This

includes political/economic theories, as well as philosophy. This extends to the realm of

morality and concepts of right and wrong. Where younger students might need history

framed as a conflict between good guys and bad guys, students in this stage can

understand that while there are some truly evil figures in history, most of history is much

more complex. Groups have different perspectives and the differences between these

perspectives can sometimes lead to conflict. Political and economic ideas also become

much more complex and nuanced (Cherry, 2018). In order to provide developmentally

appropriate instruction the teacher needs to make the material being presented as more

nuanced. Sometimes, perhaps, that means taking a reconstructive approach to teaching

history (meaning treating lessons as disillusionment with a previous narrative).

Developmentally appropriate instruction means more than meeting the students at

their cognitive level, but also acknowledging their cultural backgrounds in order to make

instruction relevant and engaging. According to Vygotsky’s theory on Social learning,

students learn from their cultural leaders. Thus it’s impossible to teach someone without

first acknowledging how their cultural backgrounds shape they way they already view the

subject with which you are teaching. Instead of just stating flat facts, an instructor must

be able to build upon the culture of his or her students. That means that lessons must be

tailored individually to each class (McLeod, 2018).



Cherry, K. (2018, August 16). The 4 Stages of Cognitive Development: Backround and

Key Components of Piaget's Theroy. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from


McLeod, S. (2018). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from


Virginia Depratment of Education. (2018). School Quality Profile: Deep Creek High.

Retrieved September 12, 2018, from