Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Intentional Teacher... (with a nod to Emmi Pikler)

I've being wanting to return to the subject of the teacher-learner relationship for a while now. After a long process of critiquing the learning principles of Emmi Pikler and it's constructivist positioning of the teacher - especially in relation to the acquisition of content knowledge - I departed for the shores of Vygotsky's socio-constructivism.

I didn't abandon everything of course - I've happily gutted Pikler's principles and took the best with me: image of the child as a competent learner, respect to allow them to lead their learning, play as the vehicle for learning, as well as an understanding that it remains best practice for infant care and education - but not for older children. Yet in embracing socio-constructivism and it's more active role for the teacher with strategies such as co-construction, guided participation etc,  I felt that things had changed to the point where I was unsure of where I was at and what I was doing with my teaching... I need a framework.

I want my tamariki to learn through play and I want them to be in charge. I trust them to know what they want and that they can achieve their goals in their own time and way. Yet I realise the limitations of the free-play environment, that there is a danger of achieving no more than a reproduction of knowledge with learning limited to peers funds of knowledge. Deep, complex and sustained learning within curriculum areas such as science, mathematics, music, language and art is now recognised as not occurring in the free-play environment.

So I'm going to teach them, but in ways that are not interruptions to their learning journeys.

I come back to the idea of the intersubjective learning space where fundamental questions that arise during play/discovery create the opportunity to co-construct new knowledge.... "will the brown grass become green again?" .... "Are butterfly's boys or girls?" Real questions from my centre that gave us opportunity to hypothesise, conduct research, and formulate theories. New ideas and concepts were introduced that was way beyond the funds of knowledge 'pool' of their peers...  "children learn from more knowledgeable peers and adults" (Te Whariki).

Yet this type of teaching 'in response' leaves a lot to chance.

Intentional Teaching is a strategy explored by Anne Epstein who defines it as directed, designed interactions between children and teachers in which teachers purposefully challenge, scaffold, and extend children's skills.

Another path of inspiration comes from the philosophies of Reggio Emilia and their concept of the '100 languages with which children make meaning of the world. If we consider that creative expression is a response to living and a form of communication, then we must ask ourselves how young children come to acquire the foundation skills they require to utilise these skills.

I realise that all this sails pretty close to the wind for many teachers!

My reason for introducing a programme of intentional teaching to very young children (2yrs+) was to instill an ethos of respect and reverence towards each other and the learning environment through the introduction of specific content knowledge. I've explored content knowledge fully in an older post (link is in the side panel), but briefly, it refers to the vocabulary, concepts and skills in an area of learning.

The quote that sealed it for me: because young children are often encountering these learning spaces for the first time "they need teachers to set the foundation for later learning and success" (Epstein, 2007).

Nothing random, not a 'project', but a deliberate teaching lesson. Every day for half an hour I led the toddler cohort through and introduction to equipment and the rules that come with their usage. Hammers and saws, staplers, glue, paint, trowels and rakes, glue-guns, dye... tools that require a level of mastery before they can become tools of expression and creativity.

There are more layers going on here. The periods of intentional teaching around using new equipment also serves as an introduction to a new way of learning for the children. In the context our my centre it's a transitional process towards a more Reggio Emilia inspired framework of learning where there is a higher level of teacher engagement (using many strategies) than what these children have experienced coming from a pure Pikler-inspired infant curriculum.


I'll have another 'pause in the theory' post and discuss how it all pans out once we have completed a few cycles.

Now go teach (with respect of course).

The best book to buy? The Intentional Teacher by Anne S. Epstein 2007

Friday, May 24, 2013

Parental discources that make you puke...

We have a Dad who likes to hang out at our centre a lot. He's here most days either before or after his (brief) working day. Brilliant is the correct response - involved Dads are a rare breed - but not this guy.

I'm not sure if he's primarily here for his child or the fact that there's good coffee and a bunch of cool women working here, but whatever his reason, he's really fucking with the kids.

The problem is his own hang-ups. Thanks to Dad we have boys not wanting to play with the dolls and handbags, boys who don't want to "cry like a girl", but instead want to "smash your face in" and other such sexist macho bullshit.

What can I do? I really hate difficult conversations... how can I approach him with these concerns of mine?

Everyday we teachers experience the lived worlds of our children. Their 'funds of knowledge' draws primarily from the world of their parents. They are a reproduction of Mum and/or Dads words, actions and all the underpinning values that generate them.

And there are some really fucked-up people out there.

Will four years of being with me - the pro-feminist, anti-war, anti-Hollywood, animal loving, queer supporting, politician hating punk - be enough?

Our future depends on it.