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


Katrina Bevan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katrina Bevan said...

Great insightful thought provoking it!!! (3rd year ECE teacher in training)

ako said...

Thank you Katrina :) good luck with exams!

Anonymous said...

Just come across this almost by accident. Great to see male ece workers.... Still preciously few.
Good points about intent I know I struggle with this daily, trying to balance liberty with rich learning experience. I think that we need to be absolutely clear what we want to achieve. I'm also a male working in South Australia in a preschool. I'd be interested to hear more about how your 'introductions' to the tools and resources went.
Keep up the good work

ako said...

Hey I just found you in the spam folder so apologies for a late reply!

Our daily hui continue - once per day for the 2/3 yr olds and twice for the 4yr old. We are now following a loose programme that skirts about the edges of the older children's project work - linking in with Reggio stuff here. We have found that we are needing to cycle thought the different resources/tools constantly to reinforce learning and take further steps towards mastery - they are young of course and focus times can be limited. Maintaining a group can be difficult at this age and we have just decided to keep it fairly fluid and not stress about those not keen to participate - it's a challenge to get certain children interested in some activities!

Overall it's been a good experience - it's definitely given some children the skills and confidence to try out new experiences and get creative :)

try it out yourself!