"What is contingent responding?" one of our affiliate trainers asked me recently. In case you didn't know, contingent responding is one of the behavioral markers for the frequent conversation indicator in the Language Modeling CLASS dimension. We know this is a question that many have asked, so we thought that it would be a good question to address today.
Webster’s Dictionary defines contingent as something “dependent on or conditioned by something else.” For example, a contract for the purchase of a house may be contingent upon the outcomes of the inspection. If the house has a leaky roof, the contract may become null and void.
So what does this have with conversations teachers have with children? It’s actually quite simple.
A teacher who responds contingently to a child follows the child’s conversational lead. What the teacher says is dependent upon what the child says. The Pre-K CLASS Manual describes contingent responding by noting, “The conversation is engaging for students because the teacher actively listens, contributes relevant responses, and asked related questions” (pg. 79).
Let's take a look at one conversation between a teacher and a child:
Child: “I helped Daddy cook dinner last night.”
Teacher: “ That’s nice. Do you want to know what we are having for lunch today?”
Child: “ I guess so.”
Teacher: “ We are having tacos, corn, and salad. You like tacos, don’t you?”
While we see a brief back-and-forth exchange (a part of frequent conversation), we do not see contingent responding because the teacher does not build on the child’s statement about helping his dad cook dinner. In essence, the conversation becomes null and void because the child has no interest in what they are having for lunch. He wanted to talk about helping his dad cook dinner and the teacher ignored his interest.
Let’s look at a second example:
Child: “I helped Daddy cook dinner last night.”
Teacher: “ You did? That’s great! What did you have?”
Child: “We had spaghetti.”
Teacher: “ Spaghetti. That’s one of your favorites! What did you do to help Daddy?”
Child: “First I helped put the flour and salt in a bowl and then stirred them together with some egg.”
Teacher: “Wow! You made homemade noodles.”
Child: ”Yep. It was fun. I got to squish the dough around with my hands and then I helped Daddy roll the dough flat.”
Teacher: “Oh. You kneaded the dough – that’s the cooking word for squishing dough around. What happened after you and daddy rolled it flat?”
Child: (excitedly) “Daddy got out the machine and he let me turn the handle while the machine cut the dough into noodles!”
Teacher: “That sounds like a lot of fun. I bet your dinner was extra special. I’m so glad you got to do that. I can’t wait to hear what else you and daddy cook for dinner!”
In this example, not only do we see the back-and-forth exchanges that are the hallmark of frequent conversations, but we also see true contingent responding. Each one of the teacher’s responses to the child builds upon what the child said.
Contingent responding is important because it lets the child know that he or she is a valued conversational partner. A child who feels like a valued conversational partner is more likely to both initiate conversations with others, as well as respond to other people’s conversational bids, which will only lead to greater exposure to language.
Contingent responding is one of the three behavioral markers for Language Modeling. As a reminder, each of the behavioral markers is meant to illustrate the types of interactions that an observer might see related to each indicator. An observer may not see all of the behavioral markers for an indicator and that’s perfectly okay. However, if you were curious to know what contingent responding looks like, now you do!
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
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