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!
Across the nation, teachers learning about CLASS are asked to narrate their actions and sportscast their children’s experiences in order to support and encourage healthy language development. Hearing this, many teachers may wonder, “Will people think I’m crazy if I start talking to myself in the classroom?”
The answer is no. Self- and parallel talk are beneficial strategies for teachers to engage in because they strengthen language rich environments and enhance vocabulary development, all while supporting effective relationship building between teachers and children.
I’m often asked how teachers can improve the quality of their interactions around Instructional Support. That’s good! What’s not “good” is that we can’t just focus on one thing. We should consider how ALL the CLASS dimensions need to be in place in order to really provide effective interactions for Instructional Support.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.