Theory & Practice

What is it that distinguishes and sets apart the Bank Street approach to education? There are many ways to address this question. Stating it directly, we use theory to inform practice and practice to inform theory.

What does this mean? The Developmental-Interaction approach is the basis for much of Bank Street’s work with children and for the education of our graduate students who are preparing to teach children. The emphasis comes from developmental psychology and educational practice, with roots in early twentieth century progressive education ideals. (Read more: "The Developmental-Interaction Approach to Education: retrospect and prospect," by Edna K. Shapiro & Nancy Nager.

As applied to children, development emphasizes shifts and change over time. We assume that development unfolds at different times / ages for different children. We know, for example, that children learn to read at different ages. Or that one child will have better eye-hand coordination than another at the same age. Lastly, two children of the same age can differ in their interactions with others, one perhaps being more social and outgoing. The Bank Street approach emphasizes "meeting" children on their own terms. To do this, teachers must have deep knowledge of human development and be highly skilled at observing children in their daily lives.

Interaction refers to the child’s engagement with the world and to the teacher’s awareness of the interests of her / his students. When one Bank Street alumna from the Graduate School saw a bored child in her class throwing a paper airplane, she found a way to engage him and his classmates by developing an airplane curriculum with them over a few months. She had integrated one aspect of the "interaction" in Developmental-Interaction, which speaks to the importance of noticing and making use of children’s interests to further engage them with the world of people, materials and ideas.

A final point. Developmental-Interaction refers to the ways in which cognition and emotion are always interconnected in any teaching situation. Meaningful content (provided by a teacher) and active relationships and collaborations with student peers and teachers provide the basis for learning.  By closely observing the reactions, reflections, and interactions of students; by guiding with her own comments and questions; and by encouraging every ounce of student curiosity, the educator teaches her students.