Do you want to be a primary grade teaching superstar?

A material girl, fer sure!

When you hear the word “superstar,” whose face pops into your mind?



Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan?








    Justin Bieber?

Would you like to be a superstar?

What about becoming a primary grade teaching superstar?  Now that’s more like it!  In this post we’ll tell you what it takes to attain primary grade teaching superstar status.

The road to primary grade teaching superstardom emerges from humble beginnings:  developmentally appropriate practice.  Around since the mid-1980s (ooh, like Madonna!), developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is an approach to working with young learners that takes the best and most current knowledge about child development and presents it to teachers in ways that enable them to apply that knowledge in their daily classroom practices.  DAP encourages caregivers and teachers to plan learning experiences that are challenging, achievable, and enjoyable for the children they teach.

We’re going to focus on three main elements of DAP and put you on the road to superstardom.  Let’s go!



Every young student comes to school to learn. But, for some, learning may happen much less frequently than their teachers realize. These students may…

  • Not have mastery of the foundational skills necessary to complete a task
  • Have already mastered the skills presented/developed by a task and therefore aren’t learning anything new
  • Not engage with a task because they don’t enjoy that type of activity, don’t have enough time to complete the task to their satisfaction, or have other academic/intellectual priorities
  • Not speak English well enough to understand the task and/or to complete the work independently
  • Have the necessary academic knowledge and skills but have not yet developed the self-regulation capabilities required to maintain focus for a long enough time span to complete the task
  • Be distracted by pressing social, emotional, or physical difficulties with origins outside of the classroom
Supporting student learning

Teachers support their students’ learning.


Teachers must get to know their students as learners—to be familiar with their students’ varied knowledge of academic content, their language skills, their work habits, how long they can sit still and pay attention, whether they work well with other students or fare better when working independently, the content areas they enjoy the most and which they dislike, and their lives outside of school—in order to teach each of them effectively. This knowledge helps teachers to support their individual students’ learning and development.




walking a path

Walking a path

Children’s development does not proceed in an orderly way. Teachers of students in grades TK-3 are likely to find a great deal of variation in the developmental levels displayed by among the students in their classrooms. Despite their similarity in age, one first grade student could be quite different from another first grade student.

In addition to the variation among the students in any given classroom, there is also developmental variation within each child. Every young student’s development proceeds at a different pace in each domain.

frustrated young learner

For example, my son Noah was advanced in the domains of cognitive development and language development but significantly delayed in the domain of physical development. This created problems when he was instructed to write a story: Noah could easily invent a thousand different stories, each one more delightful than the next. But the physical act of writing that story onto a piece of paper was practically impossible. Every young student shows different strengths and experiences different challenges.

For a classroom teacher, this can feel very complicated at times.  First, you must recognize that all the students are at different developmental levels.  And second, you must acknowledge that every individual student is at varied levels of capability in each developmental domain (physical, social-emotional, cognitive, language, etc.). But, in general, the variations within each student and among the students in your class are relatively small.  You are likely to have outliers—some children functioning far enough below grade level to need adaptations and modifications to lessons and other children who have already mastered the curriculum for your grade level and require extension or enrichment activities—but the bulk of your students should be able to manage the curriculum that’s appropriate for your grade level.






Teachers of young children must start by meeting their students where they are—academically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, physically—and then determine the activities, experiences, and instructional strategies that would best help each individual student move forward into more complex understandings and to strengthen their skills. This approach, sometimes known as Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), enables teachers to provide every student with a custom-tailored learning experience that is challenging, achievable, and interesting to her/him.


Teacher on the floor

To accommodate the realities of child development, learning activities and experiences must be elastic. In other words, they must be designed in ways that enable all students to engage with the concepts or skills being taught regardless of their individual location on the developmental continua, their personal interests, or their experiences at home or in their communities.


Open-ended activities that can be completed successfully in many different ways (e.g., building with blocks, easel painting), activities that are more about process than product (e.g., playing with clay, working at a sand or water table), and activities that involve collaborative interaction with classmates (e.g., socio-dramatic play in the “house corner,” free play outdoors) are examples of elastic learning contexts that honor all students’ current capabilities and support their development.

Developmentally appropriate practice is like a lens through which teachers look at their students and their classroom environment.  Teachers are looking to see that their young students are engaging with academic knowledge and skills in age-appropriate and individually appropriate ways and making acceptable progress through the curriculum.  It’s much easier to teach students in the primary grades using developmentally appropriate practices because DAP lessons target the students where they are and strategically build the skills they need to move forward.


Now that you’re clear about DAP, all that’s left is to get yourself a Mercedes, call Taylor Swift and tell her to get the squad ready, and BAM!  You’re a real primary grade teaching superstar!



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