What is the Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised?

The Gesell Developmental Observation-revised (GDO-R) is a comprehensive, observational assessment that can assist parents, educators, and other professionals in understanding characteristics of child behavior in relation to typical growth patterns. Gesell assessments have been used as standard measures for child growth and development for over 85 years! Unlike tools that assess I.Q. or academic skills, the GDO-R measures language, cognitive development, fine and gross motor development, social-emotional and adaptive development, and some basic academic skills. The GDO-R assists educators and other trained professionals in the observation of the child’s development most associated with learning and educational growth. A trained examiner conducts this standardized procedure by observing and recording a child’s behavioral responses and comparing them with age related norms. In addition to direct responses to the various tasks, the examiner also considers the child’s processes, organization, method, overt behaviors, and verbalization, in order to determine his or her overall developmental stage, relative to his or her chronological age.

What does Developmental Age really mean?

Certain behaviors, language, and intellectual abilities are typically characteristic of and associated with a specific chronological age. A child’s developmental age will indicate where a child is socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually on this path of development, as compared to typical behaviors and characteristics of that age. It is important to understand that faster is not necessarily “better” and slower is not bad. The simple fact is that children develop at different rates. The younger the child, the more variance there is in development. In addition, many children do not experience even or consistent growth across the various areas of development (social, emotional, physical, and intellectual). Few children, in fact, exhibit behavior that is entirely characteristic of any one developmental age. Some behaviors may be ahead of and some behind those known to be typical of an age. For example, a child’s language skills may reflect an older developmental age while his or her motor or social skills may be younger. Each child is unique, bringing his or her own individual and special differences to the growth process.

What is Developmental Age?

Developmental Age (DA) is an interpreted score based on in-depth, systematic observation of the child during the GDO-R assessment. It is determined by a trained examiner using accepted developmental patterns of behavior, language, and cognitive process associated with chronological age. Thus, a child’s Developmental Age reveals how far along a child is on the path of development (physically, cognitively, and socially), irrespective of their chronological age. Many children do not experience consistent growth across the various areas of development, and few children exhibit behaviors that are entirely characteristic of any one Developmental Age. For example, a 4-year-old child may exhibit behaviors and cognitive responses more like a typical 3½-year-old, which can be completely normal. Similarly, a child’s language skills may reflect an older Developmental Age, while his or her motor or social skills may be more characteristic of a younger age. A Developmental Age provides a unique profile for each child, and provides more information about what a child is capable of in various domains of development so that teachers can customize appropriate curricula for each child.

Why does the Gesell Institute require training to assess children using the GDO-R?

We believe that a child is “more than a score.” Dr. Gesell himself said, “The examiner who is truly imbued with a developmental point of view is keenly sensitive to the past history of the child, and looks upon the… examination, not as a series of proving tests, but as a device or stage for evoking the ways in which this particular child characteristically meets life situations.”

Our in-depth, 3 day training workshops provide examiners with comprehensive information about child development and how to understand a child’s behavior in multiple contexts (home, school, assessment etc.). Workshop participants observe live demonstrations and gain hands-on practice administering and scoring tasks and determining a Developmental Age.

Will the GDO-R give me a numerical score?

It is important for any test examiner to be able to interpret a child’s assessment results in a meaningful way, as well as how it relates to some established criterion and/or the relation to his or her peers. Numerical scores can help teachers determine how a child performs compared to other students and can provide a way to aggregate children’s performance within or across groups of children. Each child will receive a numerical score on each GDO-R task based on his or her performance of the items that comprise the task.

To aid in the interpretation of the task scores, each task will have a benchmark that reflects the performance that can be expected of a child in each age band. In addition to the task score and benchmark, the technical data supporting the GDO-R—based on a large, diverse, national sample of children—provides the percentage of children meeting the benchmark for each developmental task (cubes, copy forms, completing a drawing of a person, etc.) and the p-values for each item in each age band. The technical data provides information that aids in comparing an individual child’s performance to a sample of same-age peers.

If the Gesell Early Screener (GES) is easier and shorter, why would I use the GDO-R?

The screener provides a quick, first look at children ages 3 to 6 year-olds. It can be completed in approximately 15-20 minutes and provides a broad picture of where the child is compared to other children of the same age. It can flag areas of concern or need for a more in depth assessment of a child. The GDO-R, for ages 2½ to 9, is a comprehensive observational assessment of the child, and when combined with information from the accompanying Teacher and Parent Questionnaires, provides a multidimensional assessment system. The GDO-R provides in-depth information about the child and includes scoring and interpretation for a Developmental Age.

Ideally, the Gesell Screener and GDO-R are used together in an early childhood setting. All children entering preschool or Kindergarten can be screened first using the Gesell Screener for a quick indicator of skills and behaviors, and then later given the complete GDO-R in order for the teacher to fully understand the child’s development and to plan appropriate curriculum.

How can I be sure that the 2010 data sample is representative of the children in my school?

Understanding a child’s developmental profile is an important step in understanding how to customize appropriate early school curricula and experiences. Demographic data collected from the 2008-2010 GDO Study approximates the US Census distribution at a national level. A sample of public, private, urban, and suburban schools, including 55 sites spanning 23 US states participated in the study collecting child and family data for over 1,300 children ages 3-6. The Technical Report from the GDO Study includes additional details regarding sampling procedures and all related statistical analyses.

I teach/study developmental theory but I'm not that familiar with Dr. Arnold Gesell. Why is Gesell theory important?

Arnold Gesell, PhD, MD was a pioneer in child development, beginning his groundbreaking work in the early 20th century. He developed a set of norms illustrating sequential and predictable patterns of growth and development, used as the basis of the Gesell Developmental Observation. Dr. Gesell was the first director of the Yale University Clinic now known as the Yale Child Study Center, as well as the nation’s first school psychologist. He was also a founding member of the National Association for Nursing and Education, now known as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Working at Yale from 1911 to 1948, Gesell used innovative methods of observation and cinematography to delineate the process of the ages and stages of normative development. Gesell was the first to recognize these stages, which have since become well established in modern day pediatrics and psychology. Gesell sought to document the process of growth for the whole child, believing, as we do today, that “a child is more than a score.” Additional details about Gesell’s maturational theory are provided in the updated GDO-R Examiner’s Manual, along with how this theory ties into the work of other well-known theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky.

Why is it important to understand that all children are individuals?

No two children are alike. Even those of the same age in the same family differ remarkably from one another, each experiencing growth and development in a unique way, at an individualized pace. Many important factors contribute to a child’s individuality including his or her developmental pace, heredity, temperament, intelligence, health, as well as cultural and environmental influences. These all affect the way he or she grows and learns. When parents, teachers, and others view and respect each child as an individual with unique abilities, competencies and needs, they can better support healthy growth & development.

What is the Developmental Point of View?

The developmental point of view requires that we view children as individuals and as whole beings. The physical, social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of development depend on and support each other and should advance in concert, that is, one aspect of development should not be pushed ahead of others. The developmental point of view appreciates that readiness for any task has its roots in the biological makeup of the child, in combination with environmental influences. Since we cannot produce, speed up, or ignore readiness, we are required to understand and respect developmental ages and stages, which indicate where a child is on a developmental spectrum now, not where we think he or she should be. This is not to say that we cannot or should not formulate expectations for behavior or performance, but rather that these expectations are based on a sound understanding of what is developmentally appropriate for the various ages and stages of growth.

Why is it important to understand Developmental Age?

While all children typically grow through patterned and predictable stages of development, each child progresses through these developmental stages at his or her own rate. Through systematic observation, an individual child’s behaviors and performance can be correlated to normative patterns that have been established for each developmental age.

Determining a child’s developmental age or stage can provide valuable information for parents, educators, and other adults who interact with or act on behalf of children, allowing them to not only view the child as an individual, but also to understand the distinguishing characteristics, abilities, and needs associated with various developmental stages. As such, expectations at home, in school, and in the community can be adjusted accordingly.

What can I do to speed up or enhance my child’s development?

Your role and responsibility in your child’s growth and development is very important. First realize, however, that developmental growth and learning, while not automatic, is a natural process that proceeds at different rates in different children. Certain developmental skills are typically achieved within a range of ages but not according to a rigid schedule or timetable. A child may be anywhere within that range. A child should not be pushed to develop more quickly – development is a fluid process that cannot be rushed. Experiences can enhance development, but cannot speed up a child’s rate of growth. Regardless, you can and should engage your child in a large variety of enriching and meaningful experiences that enable him or her to grow more fully in skill and confidence, within his or her own developmental stage. Positive early experiences are critical for brain development, helping to prepare a child for better learning at later ages.

What is developmental observation or assessment, and why is it important?

Developmental assessment is used to determine whether a child has reached developmental milestones and can accomplish the major associated tasks. Individual children’s responses are matched with normative patterns of behavior for each age. The responses yield a description of the child’s Developmental Age in contrast to chronological age.

An important aspect of developmental observation or assessment is that it can highlight areas of concern, and administered over time, can monitor consistency among developmental domains. When developmental assessment reveals signs of difficulty, re-screening should follow after a short interval. Persistent signs of difficulty indicate the need for a referral for diagnostic assessment.

Understanding children in light of their developmental age can help to adjust expectations, inform curricula, design spaces, and establish practices that are developmentally appropriate and supportive of the natural unfolding of the growth and development process.

For more information regarding the role of assessment or screening order Gesell’s Guide for Parents and Teachers: Understanding the Relationship Between Families and Schools booklet from our online bookstore.

What is a 'Developmental Approach' in the classroom?

The aim of education is, or should be, to promote the total development of each child. Language, social-emotional, physical, and cognitive growth and development must all be major considerations in the classroom. Educators who understand whole-child development know the importance of classroom programs that seek a balance between active, child-initiated learning and teacher-directed instruction. The success of this approach rests on the ability to bring to the classroom an understanding of child behavior, developmental learning theory, and a flexible curriculum through the following principles,

• All children, especially young children, learn best in environments arranged with
attention to individual levels of developmental growth.

• Children are individuals, who grow through developmental stages in their own unique way and at their own pace. The ability to observe and understand these differences is essential to successful classroom planning.

• Evaluation of children’s growth should be gathered from a variety of sources and methods, including parents and guardians, classroom observation, portfolios, developmental assessment, and other appropriate records.

• Teachers need to be close observers of children’s readiness for new levels of content, skills, and activities. A clear understanding of given activities and their relationship to a child’s present level of development is extremely important.

• Classrooms with a developmental approach should be structured with trust in children’s natural abilities. This encourages self-learning through active participation and interaction with teachers, classmates, and classroom materials.

Why is developmental observation important for schools?

A picture of where children are in their individualized growth through the developmental stages, gained through systematic observation, informs teachers of the uniqueness of each student in the classroom and, collectively, of their diverse abilities and needs. Ideally, this information is used to help design curriculum and to adjust curricular expectations, so that all children can feel secure and successful in school. For more information regarding the role of assessment or screening, you can order Gesell’s Guide for Parents and Teachers: Understanding the Relationship Between Families and Schools from our online bookstore.

What about preschool?

Preschools, educational stimulation, and other environmental factors can support and enhance development and foster curiosity, but they cannot hurry or change the overall development of any child, nor can they speed up a child’s unique rate of growth and development. A quality preschool provides the experiences and opportunities that are appropriate for that age and stage of development, but these experiences do not set a timetable for development.

Research does show that a quality preschool experience can better prepare our youngest learners to meet the curricular expectations of kindergarten. All children have the right to and deserve the opportunity for quality early childhood educational experiences, and there is a move toward universal access to preschool in many states. Parents able to send their children to preschool should consider programs that have been designed to support the development of the whole child, encourage the child’s love of learning, and to respect individual differences among children.

When is a child ready for Kindergarten?

Much has been written about school readiness. Although experts cannot agree on an exact definition of school readiness, most agree that all schools should be ready for all children who are age eligible to start kindergarten. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that it is the child who most often has to be “ready” for school rather than the other way around.

Typically, a child must be five years old, or close to five years to begin Kindergarten. However, not all 5-year-olds are developmentally ready for the rigors of an increasingly academic and demanding Kindergarten curriculum. A child may already know the ABC’s or be able to count to 100, but a child also needs to be ready physically, socially, and emotionally, and exhibit behaviors that will support school success. Depending on the expectations of the individual Kindergarten setting, a regular education child may need to be able to sit for long periods of time quietly, take care of personal needs independently, understand and respect rules and limits, and work without a lot of adult supervision.

Many children of the same chronological age may differ remarkably from one another in their rates of growth and development. These differences are often not compatible with Kindergarten programs that have rigid curriculum standards designed to meet prescribed criteria for academic performance rather than to meet the individual needs of the child. Parents should be encouraged to talk to teachers and administrators at their child’s school to better understand the school’s expectations and whether or not the environment is most appropriate – and ready – to meet the needs of their child.

Not all children are ready for the same experiences at the same time. As such, parents may want to consider not only the particular curricular expectations of the Kindergarten, but also signs of the child’s developmental readiness for that particular program. Discuss this with teachers or administrators at your child’s school, and think about the following questions. Please ask yourself: Can my child…… 

• Comfortably be away from me for an entire day?

• Express ideas and feelings to adults other than immediate family?

• Accept minor disappointments or limits without tears?

• Listen to, and follow, directions?

• Take turns, and/or wait for his/her turn, patiently?

• Work independently without constant adult supervision?

• Find ways to resolve conflicts and solve problems with peers independently?

• Make simple decisions given a few choices of play activities? 

• Take care of personal belongings and toileting needs independently?

• Retell familiar stories, nursery rhymes, or songs?

For more information regarding school readiness, you order a copy of our booklet Ready or Not: is My Child Ready for Kindergarten and Ready for Kindergarten DVD from our online bookstore.

Should a child repeat a grade?

Research has shown that retention after Grade 1 results in no significant academic gains for children. What this tells us is that retaining a child due to concerns over academic failure later in the school career will not usually produce the desired results of “catching up” and succeeding in school. On the other hand, children who are not developmentally on the same level as their chronological peers may benefit by an extra year of preschool, Kindergarten, or first grade; depending on the circumstances, the individual child and school environment.

While we do not suggest that waiting a year before entering Kindergarten or retaining a child in any grade is the best solution for all children, and we recognize that this simply is not an option for many families, particularly those without access to quality preschool settings, it may be a viable option for some children and in some schools. In certain cases, waiting a year may “level out the playing field” so that development can catch up with chronological age, or age and development can catch up with the school’s expectations.

It is important to understand that parents should be fully involved in the decision of whether or not to retain a child, and have every right to be involved in that decision. Academic differences in the classroom can be accommodated in school much more easily than wide differences in developmental stage, but both can be addressed in the ideal setting with ideal resources and supports. If you are concerned about a recommendation to retain your child, talk to your child’s teachers, express your concerns, and know that you are your child’s first – and best – advocate.

What constitutes a positive learning environment for children?

A positive learning environment respects the child and the child’s level of development. Some characteristics of a positive learning environment include greeting the children when they arrive, addressing children by name, and extending invitations for children to interact with the teacher. Children are spoken to politely and listened to attentively when they are speaking. Children are invited to elaborate on what they are saying and allowed long enough time for them to gather their thoughts. This is important to help children feel invested in the learning process. Taking advantage of spontaneous opportunities to converse with children is rewarding for both students and teachers!

At the very least, children in any classroom with a fixed curriculum should be understood and treated as individuals. The delivery of the curriculum should be tailored to meet their unique and differing needs. Accordingly, school programs should not treat all children as ready for the same thing at the same time.

Recognition of differences in rates of growth among children who are the same chronological age should be used to help plan and guide school structure and curricula.

For more information regarding the role of assessment or screening, order Gesell’s Guide for Parents and Teachers: Understanding the Relationship Between Families and Schools from our online bookstore.