Interacting with Children in the Environment (page 4)
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?
Using Rich, Descriptive Language and New Vocabulary
As you interact with children, you can insert descriptive language and introduce children to new vocabulary. Each center and each activity have unique vocabulary associated with them. For example, when the teacher at Discovery Bay Childcare changed the dramatic play center to a garage, the children learned many new words including mechanic, automobile, carburetor, dial, gear, and engine. When the teacher later changed the area to a hospital, there was a new set of vocabulary: immunization, x-ray, anesthesiologist, and physician.
Children begin school with a vast difference in the number of words in their vocabulary. For example, in one study the total number of words children heard before the age of 4 was 13 million for children who were from low-income homes versus 45 million for children from the highest economic group (Hart & Risley, 1995). This has a profound effect on the children’s later success in schooling. However, as an early childhood teacher you have the opportunity to help change this statistic by exposing children to rich, descriptive language in the way that they learn best, in an authentic context.
Encouraging Language by Using Parallel Talk, and Expanding and Extending Speech
You can use parallel talk with young children to describe what the child is doing or what you are doing. For example, “Oh, you are laying your baby down so it can go to sleep.” “You are stacking two blocks.” “I am going to get a clean diaper for you now.” To increase the child’s vocabulary you might also expand the child’s sentence. For example, the child says, “Baby sleep,” and you might say, “Yes, you are rocking your baby to sleep.” When extending the child’s speech you add additional information and model appropriate grammar, sentence structure, and pronunciation. For example, when a child says, “I have a truck,” you might respond, “Yes; you have a shiny, red, dump truck.”
Presenting Additional Information and Enhancing Children’s Background Knowledge
When the teacher has background information about a topic, she can naturally introduce information during interactions with children. For example, Tom has a butterfly and moth in his classroom. Garmai and Amberly are looking at them. Tom mentions that the butterfly is called a monarch and that it can fly over 2000 miles. He tells Amberly that this is how far she flies when she visits her grandmother. Amberly says, “But I am in a big plane, and the butterfly is flying with just its own wings. It must get really tired.”
Assisting Children to Carefully Observe and Reflect Upon Their Learning
Teachers assist children to observe and reflect in many ways. Tom says to Garmai and Amberly, “Look at the butterfly’s and moth’s antennas.” The children carefully observe through magnifying glasses, noting that the butterfly has a round club at the end of its antenna while the moth does not. Tom lets them know that this is one way that you can tell moths and butterflies apart. Later Tom asks the children if they would like to draw the butterfly and moth, providing the children a way to demonstrate and reflect upon what they learned.
Offering Additional Materials
Children may need additional materials to move to the next step in a project or to think or create in new ways. Julio is building a play guitar at the woodworking center and wants to make the guitar strings. Anne, his teacher, provides some fishing line for him. Jonathon and Saleena are building a multi-level block structure. The teacher provides a pulley, allowing the children to build an elevator in their building. Teachers can also ask the children what materials they think would help them to complete their project.
Being a Play Partner
The younger the child, the more time the adult will spend as the child’s play partner. In most cases, you will want to follow the child’s lead, engaging in give and take actions and communication (Post & Hohmann, 2000). Azura, a teacher in a toddler classroom, sits with Lisa and Torrence pretending to eat lunch. Lisa pretends to pour Azura and Torrence milk. Azura says “thank you”; Torrence then also says “thank you.”
Supporting Peer Interactions
As a teacher, you may need to assist children to solve conflicts they are unable to resolve themselves, to interpret and provide words for children’s actions, and to help children enter play. Children who are successful in play entry often begin as onlookers watching the other children play. This allows them to understand the play, the roles, and the plot. They often begin entry by playing next to the group, engaging in a parallel activity. Teachers can assist children to enter play by scaffolding, modeling, giving children desirable props, suggesting roles, or entering the play with the child.
We acknowledge learners when we show a sincere interest in what they are doing, document and display their work, and use encouraging language. Encouraging statements reflect the child’s effort, provide very specific information, encourage the child’s judgment on his work rather than your own, and often lead to further interaction. Encouragement can boost children’s self-confidence, persistence, and acceptance of their own and other’s efforts (Gartrell, 2007).
In contrast, praise tends to be more generic, focusing on the completed product, and on the adult’s judgment about the product. Praise may lead children to feel “conditional acceptance” (Gartrell, 2007, p. 254). Instead of developing intrinsic or internal satisfaction with what one has done, frequent praise can make children dependent on external acknowledgement, making them think they are only worthwhile when someone else states they are. For example, a Head Start teacher, Tanya, shared with me her rude awakening to the dangers of praise. Each day, when Laurie entered the classroom Tanya told her how pretty she looked. When Laurie went to kindergarten, she came home and told her mother “I’m ugly.” Her mother was stunned and asked Laurie why she thought so. Laurie said, “Mrs. Taylor never tells me I’m pretty, so she must think I’m ugly.” Laurie had become conditioned to praise and without it, she did not feel worthwhile. It is important to acknowledge learners, but to be cautious with praise. The below table provides examples of praise and encouragement.
Praise Encouragement Good job. This is the first time you've completed the entire puzzle. I bet you feel proud. I like the way you cleaned up. You are working very hard putting away all the blocks. Great artwork. I see that you put a lot of detail in your picture, like adding all the branches on the tree. That must have taken a long time.
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