In this part of Module One, 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.
This week our aim is to:
This will involve:
You can also find suggested further reading on the topic of intentional teaching and an option to discuss intentional teaching practices in the online forum.
What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Which one can make the biggest difference to 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:
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
Sue Cherrington discusses intentional teaching
Reflect on the following question, and write a personal response:
How does intentional teaching fit with your personal teaching philosophy?
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.
What steps do you think you need to take to become more intentional in your teaching practices with children? Please join other course participants on the Module 1 online forum to discuss.
Here are the main ideas from this week’s learning to think about: