I could sit for hours watching a group of young children play. And I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so as an observer in toddler and pre-K classrooms around the country. The freedom with which children explore and use materials, test and experiment, and practice new strategies is fascinating and educational to watch.
Many pre-K teachers adhere to the theory that free-choice or center time should be a time for children to be in control. They see center time as a time for students choose what they play with, how they manipulate the materials, and when to stop. These educators believe that children’s decisions and independence should be respected, so it’s their job to be present only as a support when needed.
But, there's another common theory. Other teachers believe that they should and must be present to facilitate, scaffold, and teach as children play. These two differing viewpoints raise a great question:
After spending nearly 30 years working with young children, I question why there needs to be an “or” at all. I believe that we should replace it with an “and.” After all, both the observer and the facilitator functions serve important purposes.
Let’s imagine a child who is working with Play-Doh in your classroom. You can gather a lot of informal assessment notes by observing. After all, there are many internal functions going on in that student’s brain as she presses, rolls, forms, and cuts the dough. She may be comparing it to her mother’s manipulation of dough as she makes pupas, or she may be processing the texture of the medium.
While watching her play, you might use parallel talk, “I notice that you are using a rolling pin to flatten your dough.” Or, you could make an observation, “Those look like the doughnuts we ate for breakfast yesterday.” Maybe you wonder out loud, “I wonder if that’s how your Tia makes her tortillas.”
Whichever strategy you choose, your audible observations can enhance what the child is learning while she works independently.
This simple sentence is an age-old language facilitation strategy. It can open many doors for the child working with Play-Doh.
You can follow up that statement by encouraging comparisons, “Does it feel anything like the shaving cream we worked with last week?” Or instead you can ask her to make connections to the real world, “Is that how you saw a pizza maker make crust?” Maybe you integrate it with a recent activity, “How is Play-Doh like the cookie dough we baked with last week?” You can use that as a vocabulary stimulator, “It can be flattened like a pancake or manipulated into a ball.”
You can also use it at beginning of a conversation, “What are you trying to make with that? How do you plan to do that? What else might you use to make sure it looks like ________?”
These are just a few of the ways teachers develop new learning opportunities for young children during their independent play.
Yes, we can learn a great deal by watching them play, but they can also learn a lot when we join in.
Let’s not make it a chicken or the egg question. Let’s do both.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.