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.
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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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