“Every class, from the bottom of my heart, I want my students to connect with people,” says the Tidewater Community College psychology instructor. “It’s so easy to forget when we’re talking in a classroom that it’s real people, especially in child psychology, when we’re talking about so many different developmental stages. So many of my students want to work with kids one day, but they’ve never been around kids. So this is a safe, controlled opportunity to have firsthand experience with a child.”
Once each semester Palmisano has a mix of children in her Virginia Beach Campus classroom. Aubrey is 18 months; Austin is 5; Kaitlynn, 6; Bradley, 8; Madison, 12, and several teenagers are on hand, each selected to represent the various stages of development. Palmisano invites her students to bring in their own children and recruits her own and their friends to help with various exercises.
She starts with the younger children first.
“Can you see yourself?”
Aubrey gazes around, but can’t recognize her own image, even though Palmisano has dotted her nose with a red mark. That’s natural. Our sense of self doesn’t develop until we are 2, she says. Joele, 20 months, is more focused when shown her reflection.
“What’s that called?” Palmisano asks.
Her students answer, “referencing,” the correct response, as Joele is seeking help or cues from her mother.
When Palmisano spreads two rows of 16 pennies into two lines of eight apiece, she spaces one row farther apart than the other. Which row contains the most money, she asks.
Kaitlynn picks the longer row because “it’s longer,” she says, while Bradley is able to determine, “It’s the same amount. One is just spread out more.”
Palmisano also uses two stuffed monkeys to raise a question about stealing, demonstrating Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.
Palmisano concludes the class by having her students work one-on-one with children and teens to see where each is developmentally. Her students ask each person a series of questions. Describe yourself in five words. What groups do you belong to? What career path interests you?
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” Palmisano says. “Depending where they are in life, they’re going to give different answers. Some are going to say they want to be a fireman because it’s fun; another might say they want to be a fireman because their dad is a fireman. Another might say they want to be a fireman to help people.
Her students love the real-world experience.
“With a textbook, you don’t exactly get to see what you’re learning,” said psychology major Danielle Whitmarsh. “Having the ability to see children at different ages react to different situations and learn that way is a lot more enjoyable.”
Added her classmate Stacy Prince, “What we’ve been learning in class, I saw played out today. The research we’ve learned, it played right out. Also, I have girls, so I got to work with boys, and that opened a whole new world.”