Catalog #211

Dispositions: Definitions and Implications for Early Childhood Practice


One of the major questions to be addressed when developing a curriculum is, What should be learned? I have suggested elsewhere that one way to answer this question is to adopt at least four types of learning goals: knowledge, skills, dispositions, and feelings. The acquisition of both knowledge and skills is usually taken for granted as a goal for which educational institutions have a special, if not unique responsibility. That is not to say that knowledge and skills are not learned outside of schools. Families, museums, the media, libraries, sports clubs, and many other contexts are sources of voluntary as well as incidental knowledge and skill learning. However, schools and preschools are deliberately and explicitly designed to enhance knowledge and skill acquisition. Most educators would also readily agree that many feelings (e.g., self-esteem) are influenced for better or worse by school experiences and are worthy of inclusion among curriculum goals. However, dispositions are not usually listed among curriculum goals, though they are often implied by the inclusion of attitudes (e.g., toward learning) as goals. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the construct disposition, and with a working definition, explore its relevance to curriculum and teaching practices in early childhood education.

Examination of the place of dispositional learning in early childhood education is prompted by recent discussions of school readiness among professionals that have been stimulated by the promotion of the National Educational Goals, recently renamed Goals 2000: Educate America. A case in point is the report of the Goal One Technical Planning Subgroup to the National Educational Goals Panel titled Report on School Readiness. The report includes "approaches to learning" as one of five dimensions of school readiness to be assessed in national samples of preschoolers. Elaborating on the "approaches to learning" dimension, the Technical Planning Subgroup defines them as "the inclinations, dispositions, or styles rather than skills that reflect the myriad ways that children become involved in learning, and develop their inclinations to pursue it." With the subgroup's report as a point of departure, I begin with a discussion of definitional issues.

Continue to Part 1: Definitional Issues

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