DEAR MISS MATTERS:
I was chatting with one of my colleagues about the subtleties of Language Modeling the other day. She heard a teacher in a class she was observing say, “I think we should play with blocks,” and counted this as self-talk. Is this correct? We’d love your expert opinion.
I’m so glad you asked about this. Self- and parallel talk is one of the most misunderstood and overlooked set of interactions the CLASS tool measures! Never fret, though; this indicator is not in the least bit complicated.
Self- and parallel talk captures two forms of mapping or narration.
Self-talk is defined as the teacher narrating her own actions. Actions is the key word here. Self- and parallel talk must involve an observable action. “I think we should play with blocks” would not be considered self-talk because thinking is not an action the children can observe. “I’m writing our letter of the day on the board” or “I’m getting the blocks out” are examples of self-talk, however. In addition to being actionable, self- and parallel talk need to occur simultaneously with the action. In other words, as the teacher says, “I’m writing our letter of the day on the board,” she should be performing this action.
Parallel talk occurs when the teacher narrates the actions of the children and resembles sportscasting (Yes, Miss Matters watches sports from time to time). “Gloria is painting a tree” or “You are singing along with me” would both count as parallel talk. Just like self-talk, parallel talk is actionable and occurs at the same exact time as the action, not before or after.
Although self-and parallel talk can seem a bit awkward at first for adults—Can you imagine the looks your friends would give you if you constantly narrated all of your actions around them?—they are an absolutely essential piece of Language Modeling for young children. Self- and parallel talk help children link words with actions, which expands their vocabulary and propagates language development. As observers, it is our duty to recognize these interactions and code them appropriately.
It’s Dual Language Learner Celebration Week! Every year in the U.S., the amount of young children who live in a household where a language other than English is spoken has been steadily increasing. As of 2016, about one-third of children under age 8 – over 11 million children – are dual language learners (DLLs).
As an infant classroom teacher, you know that talking to babies is important. For instance, you tell the infants in your care what they are looking at (“You see the new block basket on the shelf!”). You label objects (“You have the red ball!”). And you describe events that take place in the classroom (“The tray just fell off the table! That scared you.”). These are all examples of talking with babies. Why, then, can it be so challenging to do this consistently in the classroom?
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.