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.
We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.