About The Learning Curve
The Learning Curve
Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basic Books.
“What is the kind of knowing in which competent practitioners engage? How is professional knowing like and unlike the kinds of knowledge presented in academic textbooks, scientific papers, and learned journals?” (pg. viii)
We developed THE LEARNING CURVE, the self-assessment tool, in order to obtain detailed information about learning levels, strengths, and self-reported knowledge base gaps of practitioners who work with young children and their families. Our goal is to inform training needs to promote workforce development for the infant/family arena. We wanted to include key concepts that form a basic framework in the preparation of infant/family practitioners emphasizing two broad areas of knowledge: developmental process concepts and concepts of reflective practice. These concepts organize the helping relationship.
To guide the development of statements for THE LEARNING CURVE, we drew on the work of Quay, Hogan, & Donohue (2009)*who surveyed the infant/early childhood mental health (IECMH) literature to develop a draft list of competencies. They invited review of the resulting pool of statements by a nationwide panel of infant /early childhood experts in order to obtain numerical ratings, rankings, and content groupings to describe the relative importance of 143 competencies identified as desirable for mental health therapists working with the birth to five populations and their families.
Once you complete THE LEARNING CURVE you will receive results based on your responses to the statements in the assessment. Your self-ratings on each statement are described in six learning levels (See FAQs). The results you receive combine learning level ratings into Learning Zones that summarize your readiness to use your knowledge in each knowledge domain as you take on the daily tasks of supporting young children and their caregivers.
The Whole Child
Early on in our work on this self-assessment, we recognized how important it is to emphasize the whole child. Developmental processes and aspects of reflective practice are relevant across the range of disciplines that contribute to supporting the well-being of young children.
In order to represent the whole child, we included developmental knowledge from the range of disciplines involved in supporting young children and their families. We supplemented our initial list of statements from Quay et al. (2009)*with additional developmentally focused knowledge statements to address areas deemed important by developmental specialists. The statements were reviewed and piloted with a transdisciplinary group of approximately 40 providers in a large hospital-based children’s mental health/developmental disabilities program that included experienced developmental clinicians and mental health clinicians. This transdisciplinary approach integrates the domains of knowledge that are essential to our understanding of a young child’s developmental trajectory across important domains.
*Quay, H., Hogan, A., & Donohue, K. (2009). Competencies for Infant Mental Health Therapists: A survey of expert opinion. Infant Mental Health Journal, 30 (2), 180-201.
Five Knowledge Domains
Being comfortable with ones’ own self in order to be with families and young children.
Professional engagement is a reciprocal process of active listening and responding with both the caregiver and child while reflecting on developmental processes and family dynamics. We each must endeavor to recognize our own beliefs and knowledge and recognize that the other person’s sense of meaningfulness is equally as strongly embraced. Our ability to be respectful of difference or sameness is terribly powerful; it leaves us able to be curious and to understand.
This domain includes understanding one’s clinical expertise, thinking about the child’s developmental functional capabilities, listening in order to understand the caregiver’s experiences in their own words, and respectfully seeking to be educated by them about their culture and experience (past and present) as it contributes to family dynamics in their life/community. Engagement also means recognizing issues that may require other treatment approaches for either the caregiver or child.
Maintaining a clear sense of comfort with our roles is the essence of sustaining a sense of boundaries and flexibility in these boundaries “as they may need to shift.” More important, it is the sense of true mutual responsibility, the sense of working with a person rather than doing something to that person that is the crucial attitude that protects everyone.
Formulation is the process of developing hypotheses about “what is going on” for this child and family at this time. Formulation involves knitting assessment data together into an understanding of the factors predisposing (history) to the current problematic situation and identifying precipitating (current triggers), perpetuating (ongoing contributing factors), and protective factors (resources and strengths) in order to develop treatment objectives and a treatment plan. (This process may or may not require applying classification system diagnostic labels such as those in DSM-5, ICD-10 or DC: 0-5.)
The process of synthesizing results of a comprehensive assessment into a working formulation guides treatment planning. The process involves characterizing details of the child’s history, current psychosocial context, specific risk factors, the effects of cumulative risk, emotional deprivation or neglect and overall developmental trajectory as these relate to cognitive deficits, difficulties in social adjustment, in learning, in functional developmental competencies, or in difficulties in parent-child interactions. While diagnosing a caregiver’s mental health problems is not a focus, formulation includes identifying the impact of stress, trauma, and mental illness in parents/caregivers, possible distortions in the caregiver’s perception of the child, and potential individual treatment needs for the caregiver. The formulation provides a working hypothesis about the dynamics that are contributing to the child’s behavioral presentation. The formulation may include some details of caregiver history, but this history becomes important in that it emerges in salience as a part of the child’s experience.
Assessment Domain Concepts that support and elaborate an assessment framework include observational skills, an understanding of family context, parent-child interaction dynamics, behavioral manifestations of attachment-exploration balance, caregiver representations of self and child, and caregiver behaviors that contribute to adaptive/maladaptive parent-child interaction. Assessment concepts also include phase/stage appropriate challenging child behaviors, developmental processes, and understanding of factors indicative of risk and normative or disturbed developmental trajectory. These concepts provide an organizational framework that guides a comprehensive assessment process.
Assessment activities are based on the capacity to observe young children and caregivers organized by a general approach to assessment. The assessment process involves compilation of data on familial and child health, functional developmental status, behavioral presentation, and cultural impact on the child and family system. Assessment supports “problem-setting”, the process of naming and framing the problematic situation impacting the child and family.
Developmental Skill Areas
How able is the practitioner to use knowledge about age-related functional competency to characterize the child’s capacity to effectively employ developmental skills to solve the array of problems that the child encounters in the context of daily activities. Functional developmental competency describes the child’s current integration of skills across developmental domains to organize affective, interactive, communicative, cognitive, and physical/sensory experiences to successfully adapt to the various challenges of daily life. Through observation and interaction based activities, the practitioner determines whether a child demonstrates age level functional competencies across the routines and settings of daily life and in interactions with all caregivers. Or are there difficulties with specific developmental skills that undermine functional competency and limit the child’s capacity to adapt successfully to solve the problems of his/her daily life?
Developmental Skill Areas include cognition (reason, mentalization, representation, logic, pretense/fantasy), language development, communicative function and communicative intent, typical and atypical physical development and motor functioning, adaptive or self-help skills, the developmental sequence of sleep-wake patterns, and sensory processing concepts that includes inputs/experiences that may support or interfere with a young child’s responses in specific settings. Knowledge of developmental skill areas supports the practitioner’s ability to determine impact of specific skills (both strengths and challenges) on a child’s adaptation to the tasks of daily life.
Social-Emotional Developmental Processes
Social and emotional developmental processes contribute to the child’s successes and challenges in social interaction and social “problem-solving”. How able is the practitioner to use understanding of age expected presentations of representational capacities, social communication cues to engage peers or caregivers, dynamics of individuation, and emerging sense of self, to reflect on the child’s experiences? These concepts are windows into powerful motivators of a child’s behaviors and reactions that underlie both normative presentations of challenging behaviors and maladaptive motivational organizations that undermine the child’s developmental trajectory.
Social Emotional Developmental Processes include a child’s capacity for play, utilizing representational and symbolic capacities, anxieties (fears) associated with different developmental stages, the normative developmental sequence for the emergence and expression of negativism, frustration tolerance and delay of gratification, affect sharing, social referencing and joint attention in parent-child interactions, the normative developmental sequence in the differentiation of affects (e.g., fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, embarrassment) and caregiver’s capacity to set limits relative to a child’s behavior. These concepts contribute to the practitioner’s ability to make inferences about a child’s internal experience and motivations that are contributing to a child’s actions, reactions, and initiations toward others. These concepts also support understanding of age-appropriate strategies for discipline, limit setting and other parenting tasks associated with the child’s developmental needs.
What are Developmental Processes?
The pathway of individual development is a journey through time, the lifetime of an individual, during which momentous changes occur. Developmental progression is constituted of myriad, interrelated developmental processes that transform the child. The first few years of life are a period of rapid changes of complex evolution in physical, mental, emotional, social, and relational abilities. Many of these changes are observable, but many aspects of developmental change have to be inferred because they are not available to direct observation.
The knowledge base associated with developmental processes is core to sound early intervention with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with their families. Across disciplines, awareness of the dynamics of early development is the foundation for assessment, clinical case formulation, and treatment/intervention planning. Familiar domains include cognition, language, motor, social-emotional, and self-help or adaptive skills. In addition, functional developmental competency describes the child’s capacity for relating, interacting, and problem-solving so is a reflection of the integration of developmental achievements across physical, mental, emotional, social, and relational domains. Functional competency describes the child’s ability to successfully adapt to and solve the range of challenging problems that make up daily life.
Developmental processes are measured in several complimentary ways including developmental milestones, developmental stages, and developmental lines that describe both quantitative and qualitative change. These complimentary metrics support our understanding of the dynamics of progression and regression that make up a normative or adaptive developmental pathway. These metrics are the basis for determining whether a young child’s development is following a normative trajectory or demonstrating divergences that are severe enough to warrant intervention.
Our task as interventionists is to identify not just the evidence of development in jeopardy but to identify the likely factors that are contributing to the disturbances in development.
About The Learning Zones
Feedback on the Results page describes your readiness to put your knowledge to work as Learning Zones. The Learning Zones are created by grouping subsets of the individual TLC knowledge statements into Knowledge Domains and combining your self-ratings into a summary for you on each of the five knowledge domains. The Learning Zones can be associated with suggested learning activities to promote ongoing learning.
Bloom, B. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: A classification of educational goals. David McKay Company, Inc.
“The emphasis on knowledge as involving little more than remembering or recall distinguishes it from those conceptions of knowledge which involve “understanding”, “insight”, or which are phrased as “really know” or “true knowledge”. In these latter conceptions it is implicitly assumed that knowledge is of little value if it cannot be utilized in new situations or in a form very different from that in which it was originally encountered.” (pg. 29)
The Learning Zones Defined
Remembering (recalling) of previously learned information: These learning zones indicate that the practitioner’s command of developmental concepts is the abstract theory and research frame of classroom learning. Familiarity with the concepts ranges from recognition to recall but lacks the “feel” for translating concepts into “what it looks like” in a child’s presentation. Each child’s presenting problems are new and puzzling. The practitioner may worry about being able to identify the problematic situation, may doubt his/her professional self and ability to reflect on the uncertainty, in part, because practitioner knowledge of the concepts does not provide practical insight to guide exploration to “figure out what is going on” for the child.
Progressing toward Comprehension/Comprehension
Grasping (understanding) the meaning of information in the concepts: These learning zones indicate the practitioner is able to differentiate among details of developmental concepts, to provide examples, and begin to discover interrelationships among the categories of developmental skills and processes. The practitioner may recognize some aspects of developmental concepts in a child’s behavior but needs more depth of understanding and clinical experience to use the concepts to frame and reframe presenting problems. The practitioner is working to refine the ability to put knowledge to work and needs more experience to be able to recognize “what it looks like” in problematic situations with a child or in observations of a new child client.
Progressing toward Application/Application
Use of previously learned information in new and concrete situations to solve problems: These Learning Zones indicate the practitioner has developed the capacity for transactional engagement with the problematic situation. This internal conversation makes use of the practitioner’s accumulating repertoire of experiences with a range of ages/issues that fuels knowledge of “what it looks like” in this unique child. An internalized, reflective professional self supports embracing the ambiguity of unknowns and uncertainties. Knowledge of developmental dynamics facilitates exploration of the current situation supported by self-observation. The practitioner’s ability to translate developmental dynamics into “figuring out what is going on” for this unique child in this family guides problem-setting and formulation.