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Flexibility Versus Structure: The Debate Continues

23 Apr 2015 by Emily Doyle

How can we expect teachers to prepare children for kindergarten when the CLASS dimension, Regard for Student Perspectives (RSP), contradicts some of the very behaviors they need to learn?

Last year, a center director posed this question to me. Specifically, she was referring to certain goals children in her pre-K program were expected to attain in preparation for kindergarten—goals like paying attention to adult-directed tasks for structured periods of time and listening to stories without interrupting. At first glance, with behavioral markers such as “shows flexibility,” “encourages student talk,” and “allows movement,” I could understand why she might assume RSP contradicts these pre-kindergarten goals; however, I felt compelled to challenge this assumption, and I did in this blog post.

Over time, I’ve realized that this challenge—finding the appropriate balance of flexibility and structure—is not limited to the classroom. As more of my family and friends begin having children of their own, I’ve witnessed many a debate on this very topic. I recently attended a party and spent some time with acquaintances that happen to be parents to a three-year-old. Once they learned I worked for Teachstone, a company focused on improving interactions with children, the conversation went something like this:

Wife: So, you know a lot about how adults are supposed to interact with children, right?

Me: I guess you could say that. I mean, I know a lot about CLASS, which measures teacher-child interactions, but ...

Wife: So I could explain a debate my husband and I are having about encouraging our child to each vegetables and you could tell us who is right?

Me: [nervously trying to wiggle out of the conversation]

Husband: Yeah! Wouldn’t you say that if our kid doesn’t like the broccoli we make for dinner, it would be perfectly acceptable to whip up some steamed carrots on the side? Isn’t it good to give kids choices? Wouldn’t it be bad to force her to eat something she finds disgusting?

Wife: Or, wouldn’t it be better to enforce a little more structure into dinnertime so she tries the broccoli and learns that we’re not her personal chefs?

Me: [slowly backing away] ... I think I just heard someone in the kitchen call my name ... bye!

So, what did I take away from this experience? First, even though I cleverly escaped this uncomfortable situation, I’ve realized that my response to these parents would have been very similar to what I would say to a teacher with a similar dilemma: When it comes to enforcing behavior management and giving children freedom, it is important to strike a balance—and that balance has to be something that works for your classroom (or dinner table!). Second, I began to contemplate, and recognize, the parallels between CLASS interactions and parent-child interactions.

With this in mind, I pose these questions to parents and teachers alike: How do you strike the balance between flexibility and structure with your children? And once and for all: carrots and broccoli or carrots or broccoli?


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