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!
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.