Participants distinguish the types of talk that make demands upon children (they have to respond), practice cuing children instead of directing them, fill the children’s experience with information and unusual vocabulary, and demonstrate informative ways of speaking to young children. Finally, in a Project of Understanding they convey guides for talking this way to audiences that care: other teachers, parents, or the community.
Each of the 6 investigations invites the participants to closely observe an aspect of their experience with young children, as parents, caregivers, or teachers. Now that they have experience with investigations and realize the benefit that accrues, the energy level increases. They are eager to attend the weekly discussion group to share their thoughts and listen to the thoughts of others.
1. Teacher Statements
Assignment: After completing a sorting task to discriminate five kinds of teacher statements, three of which are demanding and two are non-demanding, participants are assigned the task of collecting 50 statements by adults to children. They take the list and code each statement using codes for the five kinds.
Reflection: After comparing lists of statements and checking each other’s coding, the participants count the number of each kind of statement, double that number to find a percentage. The results of all the percentage profiles are posted for all to see and discussed. Participants share their thoughts about the more extreme figures, those adults who have 45% or more in one category, and relate that to their apparent relationships with children.
Assignment: The task is to count the number of times a participant issues a direction to children for two days. Then count the number of questions for two days. They count all the time they are with children or at least 3 hours, whichever is less.
Reflection: Participants share their numbers and describe the effects on the children and themselves. Then the Guide leads them in compiling their thoughts. One group said this. I was a lot bossier than I thought. There are times when giving directions is necessary. Counting really made me aware; I stopped and thought before I said anything. I ask a lot of questions that don’t need to be asked; they just pop out. I sure notice how other adults are talking to children everywhere I go.
3. Descriptive Cues
Assignment: The discussion centers around the Descriptive Cue Sequence, a way to cue children to do something very lightly, then a bit more heavily, then more heavily before giving a direction. They receive a handout and a wall chart to post in convenient places. The task is to count the number of times one starts at the top of the sequence.
Reflection: After a time sharing their experience in trying an alternative to directions, the Guide records the answers to these questions. “If you were a child, how would you like to be treated?” “If we want to help children assume more of the responsibility for undertaking the tasks fo the community, what guides can we create for ourselves?” One group’s thoughts about the first: I would want my teachers to assume that I wanted to do the right thing, and that I am trying to do the right thing. I would not like to be rushed. I would like to be invited to do things. One group’s response to the second: Work as a team with other adults. Self-monitor to maintain awareness. Set up the schedule so there is enough time for children to get it together without hurrying.
Assignment: Participants distinguish three types of informative talk: subjective talk, descriptions, and expansions. The task is to collect 10 examples of each kind of talk on a worksheet, ‘Information Record’, that the Guide provides.
Reflection: After sharing together, the Guide compiles the group’s answer to these questions. “What did you notice about talking informatively?” “What can you say about changing habits of talking?” One group’s response. Changes occur subtly over time. Repetition is required. Once you are aware of it, it is different. Slow down. Live in the present moment. Forgive yourself and recheck again.
Assignment: The task is to check on one’s ability incorporate informative talk into the daily routine. It begins by taking a baseline count of each direction and each informative statement in a 20 minute period for two days. This becomes the baseline. Then participants set a goal to achieve by the end of the next two weeks. Participants bring a third check to the next session and continue counting into the following week (a fourth count) to see if the goal is achieved.
Reflection: Participants share as usual their experiences with the counts. The Guide records the answer to the question, “What did you notice?” This list is the center of the work in this module. One group said these things. If we are really teachers, our goal has to be to give less directions and provide more information. We need to bring co-workers aboard to help them understand and accept what we are trying to advance. I notice the more I practice and get better at this, the more my co-teacher is doing informative talk, too. I can see in the children’s faces a happiness when I talk informatively. Children pick up and beging to use a richer vocabulary. I see children bring informative talk into their conflicts with others; for example, instead of “Give me that back!” I hear “I was using that.”
6. Complex Vocabulary
Assignment: Participants have an opportunity to generate together less used, richer vocabulary for some aspect of the classroom day, easel painting or hand washing, for example. Together they generate a list of less used nouns, verbs, descriptors, and parts. For example, tempera, overpaint, animated, ferrule. The assignment is to write out a 3×5 cue card for three activities in their day listing less used nouns, verbs, descriptors and parts for that activity. Then they try using them with children.
Reflection: The participants share their data from the fourth count of directions and informative statements and their experience with the enriched vocabulary cards. One group made these observations. We have a great effect on their language. Children are thrilled by having new words they can bring into their vocabulary. It’s easy to get into a rut; the children hear the same old words all the time. It may be necessary to keep repeating the new ones; learners are different. Keep doing it. It’s fun.
Performance of Understanding
7. Project of Understanding
Assignment: Devise a way to show that you can talk informatively to enhance children’s lives. This module challenges you to show change in yourself. Participants receive many alternative ideas for doing this and can receive individual help for devising novel projects.
8. Expression of Understanding
Assignment: Your task is to communicate the deep significance of the work you have done on talking informatively.You have investigated informative rather than directive talk, provided enriched vocabulary, and shared your experience with others. Who you are now is the possibility of being a rich, informative, language model as well as being less demanding and more open adult who enables children to assume more responsibility for themselves and each other. You can use any expressive medium to convey, in your unique way, your understanding of how this benefits each and every child.
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