Leading and Caring for Children

Topic Changes

The first analysis tool examines the flow of topics — looking at continuity, whether each contribution is linked or not to the previous one and the length of exchanges on the same topic.

This isn’t an exact science, but close enough to be useful. The best way to learn this is to try it out.

Teresa

Mother is in the process of feeding a solid food lunch to her seven-month-old daughter, Teresa, who is in a high chair with a tray alongside a table in the kitchen. The tray holds the bowl of food and a small, plastic teddy bear.

  1. Teresa: (bangs the bear on the tray surface while looking directly at her mother’s eyes) Aaaaahhhhh!
  2. Mother: (smiles at Teresa and spoons a bite into her mouth)
  3. Teresa: Mmmmm… (sounds made while eating the mouthful)
  4. Teresa: (puts the bear in her mouth)
  5. Mother: Are you finished eating?
  6. Teresa: (looks at her mother and continues to mouth the bear)
  7. Mother: (removes bear from Teresa’s mouth and says in a silly voice) Don’t eat the bear!
  8. Teresa: (looks down at the bowl of food)
  9. Mother: (glances down at the bowl, too)
  10. Mother: Here’s more food.
  11. Teresa: (looks at her mother)
  12. Mother: (puts food in Teresa’s mouth)
  13. Teresa: (in a high shrill voice) Whuh whuh (bangs the bear)
  14. Mother: Oh, you like that. (smiles) You’re having a good time.

Three

Draw a line between the statements where the topic changes, dividing the fourteen into topic blocks. You can print out Teresa PDF to actually draw lines. Printing may be worth doing, since we are going to use this again. It’s important for you to actually make the decision yourself before you scroll down for the answers at the bottom of this web page.
Label the topic block with the name of the topic.
Circle the name of the person who started each topic. Circle 1. Teresa to start.
Count the number of topics Teresa began and the number Mother began.

Four

Do the same for this conversation between Ricky and his mom. Ricky PDF Printing is good, because we will use this and Paul later, too.

Ricky

Ricky is just three years and two months old. He is with his mother at the Laundromat. Mother is loading the dryer with wet clothes.

  1. Ricky: Let me put some in.
  2. Ricky: I want to put them in.
  3. Mother: Oh, give up.
  4. Ricky: I want to.
  5. Mother: Go sit down.
  6. Ricky: Let me do it!
  7. Mother I told you no.
  8. Ricky: (runs down the length of the Laundromat)
  9. Mother: (holds up coins) Look here.
  10. Mother: Come back and put them in.
  11. Ricky: (comes back and gets the coins) It won’t go in.
  12. Mother: Here. Watch.
  13. Ricky: Oh, like this. (the machine starts)
  14. Ricky: Why does it go round and round like that?
  15. Mother: Because it does.
  16. Ricky: But why?
  17. Mother: Oh, I don’t know.
  18. Mother: Come sit down.
  19. Ricky: I’m going outside.
  20. Mother: No, you stay here and keep still.
  21. Ricky: (sits down but starts sliding away down the bench)
  22. Mother: Come back and sit here.
  23. Ricky: (runs off)
  24. Mother: (grabs Ricky and carries him back)
  25. Mother: (hands a children’s magazine to Ricky and picks up one for herself)
  26. Ricky: (turns the pages and points to a picture) What’s that?
  27. Mother: My feet hurt.
  28. Ricky: What’s that?
  29. Mother: Stop kicking your feet.

Five

Do the same for this conversation between Paul and his mom. Paul PDF

Paul

The same Laundromat. Paul, who has just turned three, stands with his mother as she loads the dryer with wet clothes.

  1. Mother: Hold the door for me, will you?
  2. Paul: (holds the dryer door open) Oooh—it’s warm.
  3. Mother: Too hot to hold?
  4. Paul: Not too hot on this part.
  5. Mother: (dumps the clothes into the dryer) Empty all the wet clothes inside.
  6. Paul: That’s a lot, isn’t it?
  7. Paul: We have to put money in, right?
  8. Mother: Four quarters, I think.
  9. Mother: Can you reach that high to put them in?
  10. Paul: I’ve put one in.
  11. Paul: It’s going around fast now.
  12. Paul: If I put in more will it go faster?
  13. Mother: Not faster, it will spin longer.
  14. Paul: How longer?
  15. Mother: We will have to wait longer for it to stop.
  16. Paul: Why does it go around?
  17. Mother: Well, the clothes are tumbling and the water runs out the holes.
  18. Paul: I can’t see any holes.
  19. Mother: Look up at the top.
  20. Mother: When the clothes fall down you can just see them.
  21. Paul: I can just see them!
  22. Paul: And the water goes out through them?
  23. Mother: Well, some of it does, I think.
  24. Mother: But it gets hot, too.
  25. Mother: Feel the door.
  26. Paul: It’s hot.
  27. Paul: Does that make them dry?
  28. Mother: You know what happens when we put wet things in front of the fire.
  29. Paul: My coat went all steaming, didn’t it?
  30. Mother: You did get all wet that time.
  31. Mother: And that’s how the clothes get dry in the dryer, too.
  32. Mother: Now we have to find somewhere to sit and wait.
  33. Paul: (runs off down the Laundromat)
  34. Mother: I think you might be in the way down there.
  35. Paul: (chooses a magazine and brings it to his mother)

Joan

Before we leave the topic of topics, I’d like to invite you to look for topic changes in this conversation between Joan and her mother about an upcoming appointment with the speech pathologist.

  1. Mother: Joan, you’ve got to go and see another lady on Tuesday.
  2. Joan: What lady?
  3. Mother: Another lady wants to hear you.
  4. Joan: What lady?
  5. Mother: The lady at the clinic wants to hear you speak on Tuesday.
  6. Joan: Is that where Anne goes?
  7. Mother: No, where you got your ears tested. She’s going to teach you how to say your words properly. She is going to say them and you’ve got to say them back to her.
  8. Joan: I don’t know all the words.
  9. Mother: Yeah, but she’s going to teach them to you.
  10. Joan: What’s her name?
  11. Mother: Miss Jenkins.
  12. Joan: And that’s where I got my ears tested?
  13. Mother: Where you got your ears tested.
  14. Joan: That’s where I’m going.
  15. Mother: Mmmmmm.

I don’t see any reason to say the topic changed at all. Each statement seems to me to be attentive to the one before it. Like a train on a curvy track, all the cars remain linked.



Topic Analysis

If you don’t agree with my answers, it is not a problem. Please feel free to mark it your own way. There may be alternative ways to divide the topics, but when the final counts and analysis is in, the results will be reasonably close to the same. This is not an exact science. If one of us were a participant, we might know a bit better.

Three

  1. Teresa: (bangs the bear on the tray surface while looking directly at her mother’s eyes) Aaaaahhhhh! TOPIC: feed me more
  2. Mother: (smiles at Teresa and spoons a bite into her mouth)
  3. Teresa: Mmmmm… (sounds made while eating the mouthful)

  4. Teresa: (puts the bear in her mouth) TOPIC: bear mouth

  5. Mother: Are you finished eating?
  6. Teresa: (looks at her mother and continues to mouth the bear)
  7. Mother: (removes bear from Teresa’s mouth and says in a silly voice) Don’t eat the bear!

  8. Teresa: (looks down at the bowl of food) TOPIC: more food please

  9. Mother: (glances down at the bowl, too)
  10. Mother: Here’s more food.
  11. Teresa: (looks at her mother)
  12. Mother: (puts food in Teresa’s mouth)
  13. Teresa: (in a high shrill voice) Whuh whuh (bangs the bear)
  14. Mother: Oh, you like that. (smiles) You’re having a good time.

Teresa 3 topics raised and each are followed with multiple exchanges; Mother 0 topics raised


Four

  1. Ricky: Let me put some in. TOPIC: permission to help
  2. Ricky: I want to put them in.
  3. Mother: Oh, give up.
  4. Ricky: I want to.

  5. Mother: Go sit down. TOPIC: control


  6. Ricky: Let me do it! TOPIC: permission to help

  7. Mother: I told you no.

  8. Ricky: (runs down the length of the Laundromat) TOPIC: running away


  9. Mother: (holds up coins) Look here. TOPIC: coins

  10. Mother: Come back and put them in.
  11. Ricky: (comes back and gets the coins) It won’t go in.
  12. Mother: Here. Watch.
  13. Ricky: Oh, like this. (the machine starts)

  14. Ricky: Why does it go round and round like that? TOPIC: way the machine works

  15. Mother: Because it does.
  16. Ricky: But why?
  17. Mother: Oh, I don’t know.

  18. Mother: Come sit down. TOPIC: control

  19. Ricky: I’m going outside.
  20. Mother: No, you stay here and keep still.
  21. Ricky: (sits down but starts sliding away down the bench)
  22. Mother: Come back and sit here.
  23. Ricky: (runs off)
  24. Mother: (grabs Ricky and carries him back)

  25. Mother: (hands a children’s magazine to Ricky and picks up one for herself)  TOPIC: control


  26. Ricky: (turns the pages and points to a picture) What’s that?  TOPIC: picture


  27. Mother: My feet hurt.  TOPIC: her feet


  28. Ricky: What’s that?  TOPIC: picture


  29. Mother: Stop kicking your feet.  TOPIC: his feet

Ricky 6 topics raised and none are followed; Mother 6 topics raised, coins and control have multiple exchanges


Five

  1. Mother: Hold the door for me, will you? TOPIC: assistance

  2. Paul: (holds the dryer door open) Oooh—it’s warm. TOPIC: hot door

  3. Mother: Too hot to hold?
  4. Paul: Not too hot on this part.

  5. Mother: (dumps the clothes into the dryer) Empty all the wet clothes inside. TOPIC: clothes

  6. Paul: That’s a lot, isn’t it?

  7. Paul: We have to put money in, right? TOPIC: coins

  8. Mother: Four quarters, I think.
  9. Mother: Can you reach that high to put them in?
  10. Paul: I’ve put one in.

  11. Paul: It’s going around fast now. TOPIC: dryer action

  12. Paul: If I put in more will it go faster?
  13. Mother: Not faster, it will spin longer.
  14. Paul: How longer?
  15. Mother: We will have to wait longer for it to stop.
  16. Paul: Why does it go around?
  17. Mother: Well, the clothes are tumbling and the water runs out the holes.
  18. Paul: I can’t see any holes.
  19. Mother: Look up at the top.
  20. Mother: When the clothes fall down you can just see them.
  21. Paul: I can just see them!
  22. Paul: And the water goes out through them?
  23. Mother: Well, some of it does, I think.
  24. Mother: But it gets hot, too.
  25. Mother: Feel the door.
  26. Paul: It’s hot.
  27. Paul: Does that make them dry?
  28. Mother: You know what happens when we put wet things in front of the fire.
  29. Paul: My coat went all steaming, didn’t it?
  30. Mother: You did get all wet that time.
  31. Mother: And that’s how the clothes get dry in the dryer, too.

  32. Mother: Now we have to find somewhere to sit and wait. TOPIC: waiting


  33. Paul: (runs off down the Laundromat) TOPIC: running off

  34. Mother: I think you might be in the way down there.

  35. Paul: (chooses a magazine and brings it to his mother) TOPIC: magazine

Paul 5 topics raised, hot door, coins, and dryer operation have multiple exchanges, Mother 3 topics raised, no development

Reflection

How children are raised has a lot to do with how they act, how they learn, and who they will be. My parents had different experiences, and how I was raised has been one of the obstacles I have had to overcome as an early childhood educator. The way that I have learned to communicate with children is not the way I was spoken to. It’s hard to break habits, but this has guided me onto the path I will continue to follow. To anyone who is undertaking this work I would say be prepared for a life-changing experience. This will break down your conversation to the furthest extent possible, and then you will learn how to just be and respond naturally — the conversations will just flow. —Kechelle Jackson

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