PART 2: Introducing intentional teaching


    In Part 2, we focus our learning on understanding the concept of intentional teaching, and ways in which being deliberate, thoughtful and purposeful in our teaching behaviours can support children’s development and learning. 

    In this part of the course, our aim is to:

    • Understand the features and purposes of intentional teaching

    This will involve:

    1. Reading about intentional teaching, its theoretical underpinning and arguments for the use of intentional teaching practices
    2. Watching a video in which Dr Sue Cherrington of Victoria University Wellington discusses intentional teaching
    3. Reflecting on intentional teaching in the context of your own personal teaching philosophy

    Revisit your learning so far

    What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Which one can make the biggest difference to teaching and learning?

    Formative assessment is assessment designed to inform learning and teaching in the immediate future.

    Summative assessment is a summary of a learner’s strengths and abilities at a given point of time.

    Formative assessment can make a more significant contribution to daily teaching and learning. 


    Read What is intentional teaching? and note the different ways in which intentional teaching hinges upon quality assessment practices. 

    What is intentional teaching?

    Learning and teaching in early childhood involve complex interactions between teachers, children, contexts and content. Intentional teaching approaches recognise that teachers have a large role to play in orchestrating these interactions in order to bring about learning for children.

    Intentional teaching involves constantly thinking about what you are doing as a teacher and how it will support or enable children’s development and learning. It requires an awareness of, and being deliberate, thoughtful, considered and purposeful in, your teaching behaviours. It means actively planning and acting with specific goals or outcomes for children’s learning in mind so that you can select the most appropriate ways to interact and extend children’s thinking and development. It involves being intentional across all decision-making areas including curriculum, relationships, and administrative responsibilities.

    Being intentional originates in your aspirations for children – knowing what valued learning you are aiming for children to achieve. It then requires that you be deliberate in your teaching to support or scaffold children towards those learning outcomes.

    Intentional teaching is a dynamic process of decision-making, involving both planned experiences and spontaneous responses to children’s emerging inquiries. Teaching actions and interactions must be constantly adjusted to adapt to children’s responses and current level of competence in ways that promote teachers’ aspirations and learning intentions.

    Intentional teachers need a range of pedagogical strategies, an understanding of how children learn, and knowledge of children’s individual learning capabilities and processes. Teachers also need to recognise children’s intentions and be in tune with their interests so that curriculum is co-constructed rather than teacher-determined. Co-construction involves more than just learning alongside and from children – it requires teachers to support children with deep-level conversations to critique understandings and develop a range of skills for inquiry and critical and creative thinking.

    Intentional teachers might:

    • sensitively observe children and intentionally plan to deepen, extend and sustain children’s interests through provocations, tools and resources, documentation and dialogue
    • organise and maintain the physical environment to ensure access to appropriate resources and optimal support for positive experiences
    • create specific challenges and plan interactions designed to extend children’s capabilities and higher-order thinking skills
    • participate in child-initiated play activities and develop complex imaginative role play narratives with children
    • model and demonstrate skills as well as providing specific direction or instruction

    However, developing a more intentional role should not be interpreted as requiring didactic techniques, nor should teachers neglect to focus on children’s learning and their interests in favour of teachers’ desired outcomes.

    How does intentional teaching fit with teaching theories and philosophies?

    Both developmental and constructivist approaches to early childhood curriculum emphasise teachers’ intentionality in providing an environment appropriate to the child’s current cognitive level that will facilitate learning and natural development. These approaches to early childhood education are often labelled ‘child-centred’ and are dominated by principles of freedom, children’s interests and learning through play. While not entirely incompatible with intentional teaching, these approaches position the teacher as facilitative, non-directive and reactive, focused mainly on establishing and maintaining the learning environment, which makes teachers and teaching less visible.

    Sociocultural theory emphasises children’s cognitive activity occurring through social interaction with more knowledgeable adults and peers who are directly engaged in and guide the process of the construction of new understandings through participation in shared activities, including play. These approaches re-position teachers from a non-directive role to include intentional teaching and active involvement in children’s play. While a constructivist or developmental perspective might emphasise children’s free play as a means of developing abilities, sociocultural theory considers that children’s interests, abilities, thinking, skills and knowledge, as expressed through child-initiated play, emerge as a result of stimulation by the people, places and things in their communities.

    When quality play-based learning is considered to involve social relationships, interactions, and modelling, intentional teaching can be balanced with child-centred and play-based environments in which children are perceived as intentional learners. Children need opportunities to initiate activities and develop their own interests, but teachers are not passive observers. Instead, teachers can consider teaching to be a legitimate part of their professional practice as they support children to explore and extend their interests and learning experiences.

    Why should I adopt intentional teaching?

    Early childhood teachers have over 1000 interactions with children during a day, many of which are spontaneous and unplanned. Being intentional can help teachers make the most of these interactions. International and local research finds that sustained, reflective interactions are important for promoting increased learning for young children. Children are found to be engaged in more complex cognitive activities and effective learning when they play with and have positive social interactions with teachers.

    Intentional teaching techniques such as scaffolding and extending children’s learning are found to contribute to greater learning and positive outcomes for children. A key characteristic of quality early childhood settings associated with higher outcomes for children in the UK is the prevalence of high quality social and learning exchanges between teachers and children. These exchanges involve sustained shared thinking, scaffolding, explaining, questioning, modelling and extending children’s ideas and activities, teachers’ active involvement in children’s play, and planning of challenging activities. In settings in which children’s achievement is lower, staff are found to spend most of their time monitoring and observing children’s play rather than interacting with children.

    Well-resourced free play is not always found to be a sufficient condition for learning: for example, research finds that opportunities for free exploration within a richly resourced environment do not lead to sustained and meaningful encounters that support learning. A ‘hands off’ or laissez-faire approach in relation to free play, which relies solely on children taking the lead in their own learning and places responsibility for learning progress on children, can result in missed teaching and learning opportunities.

    Watch a video

    In this video, Sue Cherrington talks about intentional teaching in principle and practice.

    What is intentional teaching? 

    So basically, intentional teaching is teachers or kaiako thinking about their practices, what they're doing with children in order to support children's wellbeing, their learning, their engagement. Being thoughtful, plan-ful, considerate of different kinds of options and doing things from a place of how can I further support, how can I strengthen what's happening for children? 

    What should teachers be intentional about?

    Pretty much everything to do with children's learning really. The sort of underlying thing I think they need to be thinking about is how can we as individual teachers and as teaching teams, how can we support children's wellbeing, their learning, their development. What is it that we can do that will strengthen that for children? 

    More specifically there are somethings that have been really highlighted by the Ministry of Education with the release of Te Whāriki 2017, where the Ministry had identified some areas where we perhaps weren't doing as well as we could. And those were things along the lines of better recognition and support for children in terms of their identity, language and culture, having strong relationships with parents in order to find out what parents’ aspirations were for their children and to weave those into the local curriculum, and really developing curriculum about what matters here in this place. So, a very localised curriculum. And so, I think those are really good places to think about how we can be intentional to start with. 

    For teachers wanting to be more intentional, where should they start?

    I think first and foremost it's about talking with each other. The more we talk together in our teams and we start to articulate what it is that we believe in and we value. What our inspirations for children are. And then widening that out once we've had a chance to think about those things. Winding it out so we make sure that we’re really connecting with all of our parents and whānau about what their aspirations are. There will be things that are in common and there will be things that may be quite different, and then we may have to work through how those things will contribute to our local curriculum. So, starting there.

    Being comfortable about, being really comfortable about actually leading learning at times. I think often teachers are unsure about what their role is, and feel like everything has to be in response to child-initiated learning. But there are lots of things that children learn that require us as the adults to be introducing ideas and concepts and interests and supporting children to engage. A typical one that’s in many centres is curriculum around sustainability. And you know, children don't know about those concepts until we introduce those to children, but they often are really, really engaging for them and really important in terms of their learning.

    Should teachers be intentional for both individual children and groups of children?

    Absolutely. So, taking for example the sustainability education example, as a team we would have some long-term goals that we would want to have around what our children learnt in our programme that would apply to all of the children. It doesn't mean we're going to make them all come and do it at the same time, but over the year for example we might have some long term goals about how we want to incorporate sustainability education widely into their programme, providing lots of opportunities for children to participate when they're interested over that year. But we also have individual children that we are really clear about that we use what we know about those children in order to be able to move and strengthen their learning going forward. So, we're not, we need to be thinking about how do we support progressions in children and children's learning. And we do that on an individual basis because what's going to work for one child is not necessarily going to work for the other child. And so, we know that teachers know their children really well and so it's often quite straightforward for them to be able to work in children’s zone of proximal development and be stretching their learning.

    Should teachers be recording their intentions for children?

    I think they should for two reasons. One, it makes it much more explicit within the team, so we build that shared understanding about what it is that we want children to be learning. What our intentions for children's learning are. But it also provides an opportunity to be able to connect with families, particularly having done their first step of actually engaging with parents about their aspirations for their children. To then have some kind of record, perhaps a wall display of, these are the things that we are hoping to achieve this year. These are our goals for this year for our children. You know, by the end of the year we hope we've done this, this and this. 

    Then for individual children, yes, as part of our planning. But I think alongside that we need to be really careful that we're not sticking slavishly to this. So that we create, we are taking the opportunities that will emerge through lots of informal episodes. We've done the thinking, we've had the talking, so we've got the ideas about what it is that we want to do in our heads that we can draw on when we're in those informal experiences as well as having more planned experience. 

    One of the things that are really important for teachers is that they don't just think about the environment and the experiences that they're going to provide but they think about their role in that process. What are they going to do? What teaching strategies might they use? What language might they use to support and encourage and extend the learning in that particular area? And once we've identified some of that, then we’ve got it there sort of tucked away ready to be able to use when we need it.


    Reflect on the following question, and write a personal response: 
    How does intentional teaching fit with your personal teaching philosophy?


    Here are the main ideas from Part 2:

    • Intentional teaching involves a deliberate, thoughtful, considered and purposeful approach to planning and implementing teaching behaviours. For example, intentional teaching behaviours might include active involvement in children’s play, asking questions, making suggestions or comments, initiating projects or investigations, or resourcing.
    • Intentional teaching is theoretically aligned with sociocultural perspectives on early childhood curriculum, in which children’s learning is seen to take place through participation and interaction with more knowledgeable adults and peers in shared activities. Intentional teaching is both compatible with and necessary to the practice of co-constructing curriculum with children.
    • Research indicates that well-resourced free play is not always sufficient for enabling learning, and that sustained and reflective interactions between teachers and children are needed to promote extended learning for young children.

    Further reading

    Find The Education Hub’s resource on intentional teaching here and read the additional sections on ‘How to teach intentionally’ which covers intentional practice in several aspects of ECE (curriculum, pedagogy, environments and interactions, and evaluation).

    Watch this webinar about the concept of sustained shared thinking as an intentional teaching practice.