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Child Development Theories
Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. Ed. Fenwick W. English. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2006. p122-127.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 SAGE Publications, Inc.
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Page 122

CHILD DEVELOPMENT THEORIES

Children change in somewhat predictable but highly individualized ways. Child development theories identify discrete periods within childhood. Different theories explaining these changes help educational leaders understand and serve their communities of learners. Learning theories, such as behaviorism and constructivism, focus on the processes by which change in knowledge, skill, or disposition may be influenced. Developmental theories focus on sequential stages that may or may not consider learning as a factor, but may be a factor in learning. The sequence of learning is a continuous process, while the sequence of development is usually linear and irreversible.

DEVELOPMENTAL ASPECTS OF SCHOOL CURRICULUM

Schools are largely organized on the cohort model of grouping children by age in a gradual sequence, and most states grant teacher certification defined by the developmental level of the schools in which they may legally teach. Horace Mann may be credited with both those customs, having introduced kindergarten and grade-level divisions in the new public school system. He also pioneered teacher preparation, and his thoughts on teaching were widely circulated. These included sensitivity to children's capacities and adjustment of instruction in response to them.

American schools, at first designed to instill a canon of knowledge, eventually became contexts in which each child was nurtured to his or her fullest potential, thus revealing an assumption of natural impetus that schools should discover and enrich.

Current reform legislation (i.e., No Child Left Behind) emphasizes the achievement of academic objectives; most critics of the trend cite inconsistencies with what is developmentally appropriate, although the new standards emphasize developmentally appropriate instructional methods. The scope and sequence of curriculum was designed as a sequence of preparatory steps. Most use an "expanding horizons" model of topics gradually more distant from the children's immediate experience. As hypothesized by Jerome Bruner, however, any child can learn just about any concept if it is presented in a way the child can grasp. American public schools are closely scrutinized for curriculum materials that might prematurely expose children to mature sexual content. Waldorf schools carefully define what is and is not appropriate based on child development stages, for instance, prohibiting teachers from posing values clarification questions because they cause more confusion than certainty until children reach an age of reason.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF DEVELOPMENTAL THEORIES

Physical changes are the most obvious and were of greatest interest in early years of high mortality when it was unusual for a child to survive to adulthood. Survival of the child and survival of the family dictated an interest in predicting a healthy and productive development. Earlier concepts of development regarded the change from child to adult as a binary shift at some recognized signal, such as the physical capacity to bear children or perform rituals requiring reason and judgment. Not until modern times was childhood considered an important period with its own qualities, rather than merely preparation forPage 123  |  Top of Article adulthood. Rousseau famously extolled a romantic constraint-free childhood for boys, but not girls, to learn through curiosity and creativity. He triggered the last two centuries of interest in finding out how the mind develops its interests and capacities.

Child development theories changed radically, influenced by technological and philosophical innovations along with the momentum of popular culture. Widespread cultural changes have included child development issues. The exploitation of child labor in factories was cause for reform and even further focus on the rights of children to a safe environment in which to develop. Urban concentrations made large-scale observations possible, solidifying a knowledge base of normal and abnormal development rates. Queen Victoria popularized the charm of children while Prince Albert demonstrated the nurturing of their intellectual and practical achievements. Authors such as Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson, and Mark Twain highlighted the personal experiences and perspectives of children. The Common School movement and published texts such as McGufffy's Reader standardized American concepts of development through school.

Greater literacy rates have, in turn, influenced the dissemination of child development theories, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock's baby and child care books that loosened the grip of strict schedules and returned parents to trusting their instincts. This highlights the enduring tension of the nature versus nurture debate. New medical conditions, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, recognize the powerful influence of early exposure to toxins.

FREUD'S LEGACY

Most early psychological theories were based on the observation of people with problems to be solved or prevented. Sigmund Freud used universal physical changes of early childhood as the structure for his groundbreaking psychoanalytic theory of development based on sexual associations. His stages (oral, anal, phallic, and latent) were useful for explaining distortions in adult adjustment. He introduced the idea of fixation, meaning an arrested and abnormal development. His theory was based on instinctive drives, and his interest was in the adult understanding those drives. While few people accept Freud's complete model any more, the stages are a familiar concept used casually to describe behavior that is immature or maladaptive.

Freud's contemporaries extended his original concept of natural development. Alfred Adler departed from Freud's drive theory by adding the social context. He identified altruism as a mark of development; he explained motivation as an "upward thrust" that compels all children; and he identified the "world view" to explain stable distortions of perspective. His work, rejected by a medical establishment that embraced psychotherapy, was instead very influential in American education, particularly Rudolf Dreikur's goal-directed behavior theory.

ERIKSON'S EIGHT STAGES OF MAN

Erik Erikson extended Freud's childhood stages to address changes over a lifetime. Critical dilemmas at each stage must be resolved for optimal psychosocial development. Each stage has a healthy goal with its alternative distortion (i.e., trust vs. mistrust), resulting in hope if resolved satisfactorily, but suspicion and paranoia if not (see Table 1).

PIAGET'S COGNITIVE STRUCTURES

A meticulous researcher, Piaget observed young children's responses to their environment and posited that they required "interobjectivity," or interaction with objects, to develop their concepts of reality. According to schema theories, children develop models of the world in their minds and are constantly assimilating new information or accommodating conflicting information by adjusting their schemas. His stages are commonly used to explain the difficulty young children have with abstract ideas and are helpful to teachers trying to understand what will engage students in learning (see Table 2).

Piaget emphatically discouraged any manipulation of the stages, insisting that they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. The idea of accelerating the cognitive processes was absurd to him. In contrast to behaviorists, who focus on external stimuli to reinforce learning and drive reduction as a reward for successful adaptation, Piagetians focus on developmental readiness. They further suggest that there are sensitive periods in which appropriate cognitive activities must occur for optimal development. This theory has profoundly influenced American education.

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Table 1 Eriksons Eight Stages of Man SOURCE: Adapted from Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Table 1 Erikson's Eight Stages of Man
SOURCE: Adapted from Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Stage Psychosocial Crisis Goal
SOURCE: Adapted from Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
NOTE: Erikson's stages are psychoanalytic in that they are useful for adults to understand problems in their adjustment. The focus here is on interaction with others and personal capacity to solve problems made compelling by their natural order. He originated the concept of "identity crisis," a drama familiar to middle and high school educators.
0–1 yr (Oral-sensory) Trust vs. mistrust Hope
1–3 yr (Muscular-anal) Autonomy vs. shame & doubt Will
3–5 yr (Locomotor) Initiative vs. guilt Purpose
6–11 yr (Latency) Industry vs. inferiority Competence
Adolescent Identity vs. identity confusion Fidelity
Early adult Intimacy vs. isolation Love
Late adult Generativity vs. self-absorption Care
Maturity Integrity vs. despair Wisdom


Table 2 Piagets Cognitive Structures SOURCE: Adapted from Petersen, R.,  Felton-Collins, V. (1986). The Piaget handbook for teachers and parents. New York: Teachers College Press.

Table 2 Piaget's Cognitive Structures
SOURCE: Adapted from Petersen, R., & Felton-Collins, V. (1986). The Piaget handbook for teachers and parents. New York: Teachers College Press.

Stage Age Description
Sensorimotor 0–2 Physical experience helps build a schema.
Preoperational stage 2–7 Concrete physical situations are needed.
Concrete operations 7–11 Logical structures for physical experiences.
Formal operations 11–15 Conceptual reasoning is possible.

VYGOTSKY'S PSYCHOSOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM

Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky did not consider stages as a discrete sequence. He added "intersubjectivity," or interaction with people. His is rather a learning theory in which cognitive development was limited to a small range within each age, and social interaction with more experienced people was necessary to discover the student's "zone of proximal development," or ZPD.

Both Piaget and Vygotsky influenced a constructivist trend aligned with Bandura's social cognitive theory, which introduces the concept of agency, that is, the person's active effort to find meaning and take action. This is not a stage theory, but it is a developmental theory because future development is affected by the doubt and incompetence of early failure. Learned helplessness is a related concept focusing on interruptions to optimal development.

As Stephen Pinker pointed out, it is easier to find the single gene that causes a dysfunction than it is to find the multiple genes that are necessary for normal healthy behavior. For instance, John Bowlby contributed the concept of attachment in terms of an innate need for bonding demonstrated by the distress of primates deprived of maternal nurturing. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi are promoting the field of positive psychology to focus on the healthy and ideal development instead of the traditional interest in explaining the abnormal.

MASLOW'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

Abraham Maslow focused instead on healthy individuals to formulate a hierarchy of needs. In this motivation theory, there are innate needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) that must each be satisfied or the person cannot proceed to the next level. This explains why a person who is hungry or tired might not be satisfied with promises, hugs, or praise. This is a positive psychology because it focuses on what can be done; it is developmental in that gradually higher levels of need become the dominant focus as children mature. The sequence is typically illustrated in pyramid form.

BLOOM'S TAXONOMY

Revised in 2001 by members of the original team who codified it with Benjamin Bloom in 1956, Bloom's taxonomy describes development of three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychosocial. Each domain is a hierarchical model that is descriptive and does not

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Table 3 Blooms Taxonomy SOURCE: Adapted from Anderson, L., Krathwohl, D., Airasian, P., Cruikshank, K., Mayer, R., Pintrich, P., Raths, J.,  Wittrock, M. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Blooms Taxonomy fo

Table 3 Bloom's Taxonomy
SOURCE: Adapted from Anderson, L., Krathwohl, D., Airasian, P., Cruikshank, K., Mayer, R., Pintrich, P., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy for educational objectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Allyn & Bacon.

Cognitive Affective Psychomotor
Remembering Receiving Imitation
Understanding Responding Manipulation
Using Valuing Precision
Analyzing Organization Articulation
Evaluating Characterization Naturalization
Synthesizing

address motivation or internal processes. It is thus behavioral in the sense of acknowledging only that which can be observed, or assessed. While it is not a theory explaining how or why children change, it serves as a framework for understanding the sequence toward more mature thought, feeling, and movement (see Table 3).

The taxonomy of cognitive development has been a powerful influence on instruction and assessment, thanks to the work of Madeline Hunter, whose "theory into practice" included the identification of cognitive level in the objective for a lesson. The cognitive sequence is typically divided into "lower level" and "higher level" skills.

EGAN'S IMAGINATIVE EDUCATION

This approach to teaching, developed by Kieran Egan, in developmentally appropriate ways relies on cognitive structures. It is cultural and evolutionary, for the series of frameworks for understanding the world correspond to the development of narratives by civilizations. As a teaching theory, it is intuitively developmental for matching concepts and instructional experiences to students' capacities to interpret them (see Table 4).

Egan flatly rejected the associationist model of learning that requires the scaffold of previous learning, going so far as to call progressivism a myth. He identified cognitive tools that are best used once a child has developed oral language: stories (which


Table 4 Egans Imaginative Education Model SOURCE: Adapted from Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Table 4 Egan's Imaginative Education Model
SOURCE: Adapted from Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kinds of Understanding Developmental Process
Somatic Prelinguistic
Mythic Oral language
Romantic Learning literacy
Philosophic Theoretic abstractions
Ironic Complex communication

provide meaningfulness of the context and engage the emotions); binary oppositions (which define the scope of the topic); fantasy (which engages the imagination); and rhyme, rhythm, and meter for increasing the memorability and impact. These cognitive tools help the student develop a better understanding. As a philosophy of education, it focuses not on achievement of standard objectives so much as development of a lifelong learning capacity.

KOHLBERG'S LEVEL OF MORAL REASONING

Another dimension of cognitive development concerns decisions that affect other people. Unlike Piaget, who divided moral reasoning into two stages, corresponding to the shift from concrete to formal operations, Lawrence Kohlberg identified three levels with two stages each. Although the research basis for his model has been criticized (using hypothetical situations to reveal reasoning, and using only boys as subjects) and the cultural basis is limited (i.e., reflecting a dominant White male European value of justice and independence, with no acknowledgment of more feminist concerns of empathy or self-control), it remains a widely used sequence to explain the logic behind actions that affect others. He thought that very few people reach the most advanced stage and that the conflicts in school could be explained by adults expecting children to use a higher stage of moral reasoning than they are developmentally prepared to do. His framework is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and useful for understanding relationships (see Table 5).

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Table 5 Kohlbergs Levels of Moral Reasoning SOURCE: Adapted from Schunk, D. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective (4th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.

Table 5 Kohlberg's Levels of Moral Reasoning
SOURCE: Adapted from Schunk, D. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective (4th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.

Morality Levels Orientation Stage
Preconventional 1 Punishment-obedience
2 Instrumental relativist
Conventional 3 Good boy-nice girl
4 Law and order
Postconventional 5 Social contract
6 Universal ethical principle

SELIGMAN'S PERSPECTIVE-TAKING MODEL

To understand resilience in children, Martin Seligman proposed a perspective-taking theory, which describes the gradual capacity to understand others' points of view emerging from the egocentric. Three explanatory styles are used to understand perspective: personalization (me/not me), permanence (always/not always) and pervasiveness (everything/not everything). Each style is a continuum that may be interpreted, from naive to mature, for it is more reasonable to conclude that most things are not all about me, not always going to happen, and do not affect everything. The extreme positions typify irrational and immature behavior that educational leaders find themselves trying to mediate.

SAARNI'S EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE MODEL

Saarni's theory, like Piaget's, is grounded in careful research and, like Seligman's, focuses on the positive. It is a skill-based model of personality development that acknowledges social and cultural contexts. Carolyn Saarni articulated eight skills for school-aged children to master in order to become emotionally competent. Children learn these skills through experience and interaction with family and peers. Failing to learn these skills can result in unhealthy emotional behaviors. It is still very new, but some consider it a stage theory because mastery of one skill tends to mean it is generalized across relationships, signaling the maturity of the child to that developmental level (see Table 6).


Table 6 Saarnis Sequence of Emotional Competence Skills SOURCE: Adapted from Saarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: The Guilford Press.

Table 6 Saarni's Sequence of Emotional Competence Skills
SOURCE: Adapted from Saarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: The Guilford Press.

  1. Awareness of one's own emotions
  2. The ability to discern and understand others' emotions
  3. The ability to use vocabulary of emotion and expression
  4. The capacity for empathic involvement
  5. The ability to differentiate internal subjective emotional experience from external emotional expression
  6. The capacity for adaptive coping with aversive emotions and distressing circumstances
  7. Awareness of emotional communication within relationships
  8. The capacity for emotional self-efficacy

ANOTHER DEVELOPMENTAL MODEL

Suzanne Kobasa proposed the hardy personality theory of optimal development, similar to the first stages in Erikson's theory. This is an example of a model that has not been fully developed into a theory that can be used to explain phenomena. It is also an example of the continuous offering of new concepts of development, contrasting or synthesizing the existing knowledge base. The requirements of control, commitment, and challenge echo Albert Bandura's selfefficacy model and suggest William Glasser's control theory; the resolutions appear to be more affective than cognitive. The focus on practical skills and independent living echo Dewey's pragmatic philosophy and progressive pedagogy (see Table 7).

Her model offers a useful set of skills for the adolescent stage, with the implicit message that these skills are sensitive to experience and they do not develop automatically. They require thoughtful guidance, perhaps in schools.

Naomi Jeffery Petersen

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Further Readings and References

Anderson, L., Krathwohl, D., Airasian, P., Cruikshank, K. Mayer, R., Pintrich, P., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy for educational objectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bandura. A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The practice of control. New York: W. H. Freeman.

Barkow, J., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bjorklund, D. F. (1997). In search of a metatheory for cognitive development (or, Piaget is dead and I don't feel so good myself). Child Development, 68, 144–148.

Bingham, M., & Stryker, S. (1995). Things will be different for my daughter: a Practical guide to building her self-esteem and self-reliance. New York: Penguin Books.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1993). The evolving self. New York: HarperCollins.

Dewey, J. (1899). The school and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, J. (1997). My pedagogic creed. The School Journal, 54, 77–80. Available online at http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/e-dew-pc.htm

Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1–11.

Lewin, K. (1935). A dynamic theory of personality. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mahler, M. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant: Symbiosis and individuation. New York: Basic.

Novak, G., & Palaez, M. (2004). Child and adolescent development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Petersen, R., & Felton-Collins, V. (1986). The Piaget handbook for teachers and parents. New York: Teachers College Press.

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton.

Pressley, M., & McCormick, C. B. (1995). Advanced educational psychology for educators, research, and policymakers. New York: HarperCollins.

Saarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: Guilford Press.

Salkind, N. (2004). An introduction to theories of human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schunk, D. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective (4th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.

Spock, B. (1998). Dr. Spock's baby and childcare: Seventh edition. New York: Dutton.

Zimmerman, B., & Schunk, D. (Eds.). (2003). Educational psychology: A century of contributions. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Table 7 Kobasas Development of Hardy Personality SOURCE: Adapted from Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 111; and Bingham, M.,  Stry

Table 7 Kobasa's Development of Hardy Personality
SOURCE: Adapted from Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1–11; and Bingham, M., & Stryker, S. (1995). Things will be different for my daughter: A practical guide to building her self-esteem and self-reliance. New York: Penguin Books.

Stage Age Expected Resolution
Developing the Hardy Personality 0–8 Feel in control of own life, committed to specific activities, look forward to challenge and opportunity for growth
Forming an Identity as an Achiever 9–12 Develop steady, durable core of self as person who is capable of intellectual, physical, social, and work accomplishment
Skill Building for Self-Esteem 13–16 Feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert needs and wants; confidence in ability to cope with life
Strategies for Self-Sufficiency 17–22 Sense of responsibility for taking care of oneself and, perhaps, a family; based on a sense of emotional and financial autonomy
Satisfaction in Work and Love Adult Contentedness in personal accomplishments and social/personal relationships
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
Petersen, Naomi Jeffery. "Child Development Theories." Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration, edited by Fenwick W. English, vol. 1, SAGE Reference, 2006, pp. 122-127. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3469600091%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dcuny_hunter%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D14dca9f8. Accessed 18 Oct. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3469600091

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  • Adler, Alfred,
  • Altruism,
    • 1: 123
  • Associalist model of learning,
    • 1: 125
  • Attachment theory,
    • 1: 124
  • Bandura, Alfred,
  • Behavior theory
    • goal-directed,
      • 1: 123
  • Bloom's taxonomy,
  • Bowlby, John,
    • 1: 124
  • Bruner, Jerome,
  • Child development theories,
    • Bloom's taxonomy,
      • 1: 124-125
      • 1: 125 (table)
    • developmental aspects of school curriculum,
      • 1: 122
    • development of,
      • 1: 122-123
    • Egan's imaginative education model,
      • 1: 125 (table)
    • Erikson's eight stages of man,
      • 1: 123
      • 1: 124 (table)
    • Freud's influence on,
      • 1: 123
    • hardy personality theory of optimal development,
      • 1: 126
      • 1: 127 (table)
    • Kohlberg's level of moral reasoning,
      • 1: 125-126 (table)
    • Maslow's hierarchy of needs,
    • Piaget's cognitive structures,
      • 1: 124 (table)
    • Saarni's sequence of emotional competence skills,
      • 1: 126 (table)
    • Seligman's perspective-taking model,
      • 1: 126
    • Vygotsky's psychosocial constructivism,
      • 1: 124
  • Cognitive structures (Piaget),
    • 1: 124 (table)
  • Constructivism,
    • psychosocial,
      • 1: 124
  • Control theory,
    • 1: 126
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly,
  • Curriculum.
    • developmental aspects of school,
      • 1: 122
  • Dreikur, Rudolf,
    • 1: 123
  • Egan's imaginative education model,
    • 1: 125 (table)
  • Eight stages of man (Erikson),
    • 1: 123
    • 1: 124 (table)
  • Emotional competence skills,
    • 1: 126 (table)
  • Erikson, Erik,
    • eight stages of man of,
      • 1: 123
      • 1: 124 (table)
  • Expanding horizons model,
  • Freud, Sigmund,
  • Glasser, William,
  • Goal-directed behavior theory,
    • 1: 123
  • Hardy personality theory of optimal development,
    • 1: 126
    • 1: 127 (table)
  • Hunter, Madeline,
  • Imaginative education model (Egan),
    • 1: 125 (table)
  • Intersubjectivity,
    • 1: 124
  • Kobasa, Suzanne,
    • 1: 126
  • level of moral reasoning,
    • 1: 125-126 (table)
  • Learned helplessness,
    • 1: 124
  • Level of moral reasoning (Kohlberg),
    • 1: 125-126 (table)
  • Moral reasoning
    • level of (Kohlberg),
      • 1: 125-126 (table)
  • Personality theories.
    • hardy personality theory of optimal development,
      • 1: 126
      • 1: 127 (table)
  • Perspective-taking model, of child development (Seligman),
    • 1: 126
  • Piaget, Jean,
  • Piaget's cognitive structures,
    • 1: 124 (table)
  • Pinker, Stephen,
    • 1: 124
  • Positive psychology,
    • 1: 124
  • Psychosocial constructivism (Vygotsky),
    • 1: 124
  • Saarni, Carolyn,
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  • Saarni's sequence of emotional competence skills,
    • 1: 126 (table)
  • Schema theory,
    • 1: 123
  • Self-efficacy model,
    • 1: 126
  • Seligman's perspective-taking model,
    • 1: 126
  • Theory into practice,
    • 1: 125
  • Vygotsky, Lev
  • Waldorf schools,
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  • Zone of proximal development (ZPD),
  • ZPD (zone of proximal development),
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