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Providing Feedback with Nonverbal Preschoolers

16 Aug 2019 by Guest Blogger

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.”

When I had a child with selective mutism in my classroom, the key was to act casual and not bring attention to the fact that she didn't talk much. It was important to pick up on her nonverbal cues and make her feel comfortable and supported. We needed to provide her with opportunities for input in a way that didn't call attention to her selective mutism. 

I had the pleasure of having this wonderful student in my classroom for two years. I am happy to report that by the end of the first year she would talk to me constantly when we were alone out on the playground. By the end of the second year, she would speak out loud in complete sentences in the classroom in front of her peers. I mention this for two reasons. First, it’s proof that progress and good outcomes are possible for less verbal children. And second, it’s a reminder that there are no quick fixes. It takes time and patience and ongoing, high-quality interactions to help a less verbal student develop to her full potential.

So what kinds of feedback interactions can a teacher offer to support a less verbal child, like my student, in reaching that potential?

First let’s consider the many possible reasons a child might have for being nonverbal. He or she might:

    • Have a speech or language disorder
    • Be new to the classroom experience
    • Speak English as a second language
    • Be anxious or shy

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But no matter the reason a child is less verbal, you can still engage with that child just as you do with all of your students. Quality of Feedback is about teachers helping students expand their learning and understanding, as well as encouraging continued participation. Teachers can provide high-quality feedback in response to what a child is doing, just as much as what a child is saying.

Next, let’s examine the Quality of Feedback indicators:

    • Scaffolding
    • Feedback loops
    • Prompting thought process
    • Providing information 
    • Encouragement and affirmation

So what might Quality of Feedback look like with a nonverbal child? 

Here is one example of an interaction:
A child is playing with teddy bear manipulatives. The teacher notices that she has stacked them according to color.

Teacher: Sandy, I see you are sorting together all the same colors. The red, the green, the yellow, the blue. [the teacher points to each color as she says it]
Teacher: Can you show me which color you like best?
Sandy: [points to the red group]
Teacher: Oh, I see you like the color red the best. I like red too. Remember yesterday we made playdough and we made it red?
Sandy: [nods]
Teacher: Let’s count how many red teddy bears there are. Can you help?
[Teacher and Sandy point to each one as they count up to six. As the teacher says each number, Sandy repeats it quietly.]
Teacher: There are six red teddy bears. Which group has more? The red or the blue?
Sandy: [points at the blue group]
Teacher: You are right, there are more blue ones! Can we count those too?
[Together they count ten blue bears.]
Teacher: Sandy, ten is more than six. I like counting with you. So what do we know about bears?
Sandy: [picks up a bear and makes a growling sound.]
Teacher: [picks another up and growls too]
Teacher: You're right. Real bears do growl. And they live in the forest.
Sandy: [Gets up and goes to the library and brings back a book they read the day before.]
Teacher: Oh, you are right, that is a book about bears. We read it yesterday at storytime after we ate our snack.
Sandy: Oranges.
Teacher: We did have oranges, they were cut up into segments.
Sandy: [nods]
Teacher: Should we read the bear book together?
Sandy: [nods]

They read the book together, which provides more opportunities for Quality Feedback.

This type of interaction hits all the Quality of Feedback indicators. It provides the student with feedback that expands learning and encourages ongoing participation, while adding the language component that all students need. This kind of complex engagement is essential in exposing a less verbal child to the quality classroom experience that all students deserve. 

Keep in mind that interactions like these may include indicators for more than one dimension, and that having rich, complex interactions with a student (all students!) will help your scores in several areas. Of course, it’s not all about getting a high score. But high scores equal classroom environments where students have the best outcomes!

And my husband wondered why I so often had a hoarse throat when I got home from work … I had 16 students, and I loved talking and engaging with them all!

For more information on selective mutism, visit https://childmind.org/guide/teachers-guide-to-selective-mutism/

Untitled design (30)-7Jennifer Haessly, M.A.Ed. is a Program Coordinator and trainer for the Consortium for Early Learning Services in Riverside County, California. She has worked in the Early Childhood Education field for over 25 years. She has a passion for working with young children. She lives on a farm with her husband, dogs, horses, goats, pigs, and sheep, because “animals teach children about empathy and responsibility.” You can find our website at http://consortiumels.org/

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