Interacting with Children in the Environment
Of course, the teacher’s role does not end with the classroom design. As children use the environment, you will need to be available to support their learning. You will do this in a variety of ways including observing, scaffolding learning, supporting peer interactions, acknowledging them as learners, assisting them to follow rules, keeping them safe, and documenting their learning.
Observation is critical in helping you to determine children’s interests, development, dispositions, and need for support. The information gained assists you in building relationships with children, choosing relevant materials and activities, and evaluating how classroom spaces are used. Close observation will also assist you in determining your immediate role. Is it to observe children’s play, to scaffold learning for an individual child or small group, to become a play partner, or to roam the room providing needed assistance?
Scaffolding or Supporting Children’s Learning
We can scaffold children’s learning in a variety of ways including modeling, asking open-ended questions, providing new language, presenting additional information, offering additional materials, and through being a play partner. However, when we scaffold children’s learning, we must always be careful not to inadvertently interrupt or redirect their play (Sluss, 2005). We will examine each of these forms of scaffolding individually.
There are many situations where children can be assisted in learning through a more competent model. For example, you might model the use of a tool (spoon, hammer), technique (stacking two blocks, using a slip to join two pieces of clay), social skill (modeling a gentle touch to a toddler, using conflict resolution steps with a preschool child), physical skill (hopping, yoga position), or cognitive skills (using one-to-one correspondence, tagging items as you count them).
Asking Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions encourage multi-word responses that have more than one correct answer. Open-ended questions invite conversation, require thinking and problem solving, and ask children to share ideas, theories, thoughts, emotions, and reasoning (Kostelnik, Whiren, Soderman, & Gregory, 2009). In contrast, closed-ended questions often ask the child to recall factual information, answer a yes or no question, or state a preference. The child typically answers the closed question in one or a few words. The below table provides examples of both types of questions.
Closed Questions Open Questions What shape is this? What are the ways that circles and ovals are the same or different? What color is the bird? Why do you think the bird is brown? Should we skip or hop across the room? What are other ways that we can move across the room? Is this a moth or butterfly? How are the butterfly and the moth the same? How are they different? Will the salt affect the ice? What are ways that we can make the ice melt faster? Can you make applesauce from apples? What are other things that we could make with the apples?
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