Developmental Theories and how They Related to Children and Adolescent Literature


Children seek pleasure from a story, but are limited by their physical, cognitive, and affective development. This development is connected to their life experiences and emotional feelings they bring to a story. These will interact with other variables as students read, view, or listen to literature; creating a unique transaction between him or her and the story in a literary piece. Their personal developmental level limits or extends their depth of understanding of their transaction with literature.

As mentioned in the mini lecture - Responses to Literature. Response may be immediate or deferred; internal or external; emotional, interpretive, or evaluative; and literal, inferential or evaluative as well as at different levels of involvement and understanding.

To better understand and predict students' responses to literature and facilitate understanding, interpretation, and evaluation of literature it is helpful to study the development of different literary ideas across the ages of children and compare them to different developmental theories.

Student responses with respect to age and development

A child's first response to literature is usually a physical touch or grab.

The first response an adult hopes for is - a request for more.

A child's development to tell stories begins with a response of retelling a story beginning with a restatement of words, then phrases, and eventually a literal retelling of the story. All of these responses can be sprinkled with short interpretive responses (laughter, smile, or descriptive words or phrases).

Later interpretive responses are added to the retelling narration (when I was..., I had a dog that...) where children interpret the story and relate it to similar personal experiences they have had. With practice the responses become a more comprehensive personal retelling of the story with emotional, interpretive, and evaluative responses.

In the elementary school these emotional and interpretive responses are critical as they allow readers to enter into a story and make it their own. Resulting in better evaluative responses through increased comprehension (literal, inference, critical analysis, and evaluation), and appreciation.

Expression of ideas: Small children have problems stating themes of stories. We should realize, however, that although a small child cannot define "home" or "mother" they know what the concept is. Security, love, comfort, warmth, protection, honesty, are abstractions they may know but are unable to articulate. For children, knowing and saying are rarely the same.

Vocabulary: The better the reader's / listener's / watcher's understanding of vocabulary used in the literature and to describe literature pieces the more significant the involvement and the better they are able to communicate a response. Therefore, discussing and developing vocabulary is essential. However, we need to be careful to do it well and not make it dull or drudgery. Sugggestion and additional information for developing vocabulary.

Attention span: The better the reader's / listener's / watcher's attention span is maintained during the story the greater the involvement.

Amount of digression: Increased digression in the literary piece decreases involvement.

Relationships of character and actions:

Social character development Social skills and understanding is learned through interactions with people. Children with limited social experiences are not be able to understand social character development. However, if a story is within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) they can with support.

Amount of action and order of action: Students' memories are limited in the number of events they can remember that occur at the same time. Even adults are limited to about seven ideas at a time. Students can remember more if the ideas are told sequentially and chained together in some manner. Flashbacks are confusing to children who have not developed a fairly sophisticated concept of time (remember your first experience with them?).

Children are more literal than adults: Fred Gwyn'e Moose, Amelia Badelia are examples of what students enjoy about second grade when they begin to understand beyond strict literal interpretations.

Responses improve with cognitive and affective growth and development

Using developmental theories to predict and understand children's responses to literature

Understanding what and how children think can help us understand how they respond to literature. Therefore, theories of child development that suggest how children grow and develop socially, intellectually, morally, and physically can help us understand how students think and what their interests and needs are at different ages, which we can be use to help guide our selection and to guide students' selection of literature.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes