At a CLASS Group Coaching (MMCI) Training in Florida, an instructor told a story about finding a coconut on the beach with her granddaughter. She asked her, “How do you think we can open it up?” Before her grandchild could respond, her husband chimed in with exact instructions. She laughed because of course she had been trying to get her granddaughter problem solving—not her husband! It’s so easy and natural for us to jump in with an answer. As teachers, we have to remind ourselves why we stand back—to give children the opportunity to build those higher-order thinking skills that are so important to school and life success.
Too frequently we confuse providing information with promoting higher-order thinking. Providing information tells a child facts and knowledge about a subject. It’s not wrong—children do need to know their colors, shapes, and numbers—but it doesn’t challenge a child to do anything more than memorize, especially when those facts are isolated from anything the child is doing. To build thinking skills, children need to use that information to make sense of the world around them, or, even better, learn those facts within the context of exploring the world.
Appropriate opportunities to promote higher-order thinking include:
I’m always surprised by how children answer; they show me so much about how they see the world. For example, they might sort the foods into “yummy” “icky” and “weird” baskets or say that their tower is strong because they used the blue blocks. This provides plenty of opportunities for me to respond in ways that help them understand concepts a little better (“Why are blue blocks stronger? Could you make a strong tower with the red blocks, too? How?”). Just think, if I’d told them how to sort the food—they would have done so, and done fine, but neither of us would have learned anything about how to think. Now that I know they see food in those categories, I might ask them to subdivide their categories or challenge their choices (“Hmmmm. I see you put tomatoes in your “icky” basket, but I know you like pizza and spaghetti. Those are made with tomatoes. I wonder why you like those tomatoes and not these?”).
For me, it’s endlessly fascinating to see how children think and help them understand how to make sense of the world. Does this engage you in your work with children? I’d love to hear your stories!
It’s Dual Language Learner Celebration Week! Every year in the U.S., the amount of young children who live in a household where a language other than English is spoken has been steadily increasing. As of 2016, about one-third of children under age 8 – over 11 million children – are dual language learners (DLLs).
As an infant classroom teacher, you know that talking to babies is important. For instance, you tell the infants in your care what they are looking at (“You see the new block basket on the shelf!”). You label objects (“You have the red ball!”). And you describe events that take place in the classroom (“The tray just fell off the table! That scared you.”). These are all examples of talking with babies. Why, then, can it be so challenging to do this consistently in the classroom?
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.