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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 52
16 To know how each of the children is doing in a setting, we have first to explore the degree in which they feel at ease, act spontaneously, show vitality and demonstrate self-confidence. All this indicates that their emotional wellbeing is good and that their basic needs are fulfilled. The second indicator, involvement, is linked to the developmental process and requires the adult to set up a challenging environment favouring concentrated, intrinsically motivated activity. Care settings and preschools have to focus on both aspects - paying attention only to emotional wellbeing and a positive climate is not enough, while efforts to enhance involvement will only have an impact if children feel at home and are free from emotional constraints. Involvement, the key word for increasing competencies Involvement refers to a dimension of human activity, not linked to specific types of behaviour, nor to specific levels of development. Both the baby in the cradle playing with his voice, and the adult trying to formulate a definition, can share that quality. One of the most predominant characteristics of this 'flow state' (Csikszentmihalyi1) is concentration. Involvement only occurs in the 'zone of proximal development2' and goes along with strong motivation, fascination and total implication. Further analysis reveals a manifest feeling of satisfaction and a bodily felt stream of positive energy. Of course, one could describe a variety of situations where we can speak of satisfaction combined with intense experience, but not all of them would match our concept of involvement. Involvement is not the state of arousal easily obtained by the entertainer. The crucial point is that the satisfaction stems from one source - the exploratory drive, the need to get a better grip on reality, the intrinsic interest in how things and people are. Only when we succeed in activating the exploratory drive do we get an intrinsic type of involvement and not just involvement of an emotional or functional kind. One couldn't think of any condition more favourable to increase the competencies of young children. If we want deep level learning, we cannot do without involvement. Deep level learning The concept of 'deep level learning' expresses the concern for a critical approach to educational evaluation. We don't see the process of development as a mere addition of discrete elements of knowledge to an existing repertoire. On the contrary, every performance depends on an underlying structure of fundamental schemes. These operate as basic programmes that regulate the way one processes incoming stimuli and constructs reality. Through them we interpret new situations and act competently - or not. They determine which and how many dimensions of reality can be articulated in one's perception and cognition. Impact on practitioners Practitioners welcome the concepts of 'wellbeing' and 'involvement' as stimulating and helpful in improving the quality of their work. The concepts match the intuitions of many practitioners and give them a scientifically based confirmation - that when we can get children in that 'flow state', increasing their competencies must and will take place within the area(s) addressed by the activity. In contrast to effect variables -- the real outcomes are only seen on the longer run -- the process variables give immediate feedback about the quality of interventions and tell us on the spot something about their potential impact. Furthermore, bringing involvement and wellbeing to the foreground as key indicators for quality, engenders a lot of positive energy and synergy. The enthusiastic responses of children are very empowering and give the practitioner deep satisfaction both at the professional and the personal level. Impact on policy Impact can also be measured on a large scale. By measuring 'wellbeing' and involvement' in a pre- and post-test design, it's possible to answer the key question, 'Is what we are doing (e.g. the implementation of a training programme) leading to the expected outcomes?' Multiple research results both in the UK and Belgium indicate significant improvement in both wellbeing and involvement over the course of one year. This increase is strongly linked to improvements in the learning environment, such as the materials and activities on offer, organisation, adult style, degree of freedom for children and climate. Conclusion Taking wellbeing and involvement as points of reference in the guidance of professionals makes it possible to respect the actual level of functioning of the practitioner and the setting. When implementing one starts where one stands, with all the limitations linked to the actual situation. This is the real impact - wellbeing and involvement mobilise and enhance energy in people, drawing them into a positive spiral which engenders deep level learning. Only in this way can we make early childhood settings more effective and strong enough to meet the challenge of education. It is quality in progress. More information: Research Centre for Experiential Education -- University of Leuven Schapenstraat 34, bus 3776 B-3000 Leuven BELGIUM Fax: ++32 16 32 57 91 Tel: ++32 16 32 09 22 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.cegopublishers.be 1 Mihály Csíkszentmihályi first proposed the state of 'flow' to describe total absorption in an activity. 2 A concept developed by Lev Vygotsky to describe the range of abilities that an individual can perform with assistance, but cannot yet perform independently.
Reflections Magazine Issue 51
Reflections Magazine Issue 53 Summer 2013