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Consider: Reflect on the articles in this week’s Required Resources, ‘The Nature of Teacher Talk during Small Group Activities’ and ‘Stepping Back to Listen to Jeff: Conversations wit



Reflect on the articles in this week's Required Resources, "The Nature of Teacher Talk during Small Group Activities" and "Stepping Back to Listen to Jeff: Conversations with a 2-Year-Old” (see attachments). In each, the authors offer guidelines for facilitating affirming communication with children. Re-read the articles and identify three important principles you gleaned to guide you in fostering positive communication between you and the children with whom you work or may work with in the future.

Now, think about the media segment demonstration which features Lisa Kolbeck engaging two very quiet young children in conversation as they play (see attachment). How well does Ms. Kolbeck exemplify these principles in her communication and interaction with the children in the media segment? It may be helpful to replay the media segment with these principles in mind and take note of specific comments that she makes or behavior that she engages in while she converses with the children. What additional kinds of interactions, communications, and sensitivities does she exhibit that help to draw children out and show respect for them as individuals?

Next, consider the article "Communicating with Babies" (see attachment) which discusses ways in which to appropriately communicate with infants. As you know, children of different ages communicate in different ways. Caring adults communicate in ways that relate to the age and interests of the child. Do the three guiding principles you identified earlier in this assignment hold up when working with infants as well? How so? If not, why not?

Finally, think about your own experiences in talking with and listening to young children. What additional insights might you have for facilitating affirming communication from your professional and/or personal perspective? What methods have you used to enhance positive communication with children to help them develop confidence, feelings of self-worth, and positive, respectful relationships with others? How do you know that these methods have been effective?


  • A brief      summary of the three guiding principles that you believe are most      essential to facilitating affirming communication with young children. Be      sure to support your comments with specific references to the Required      Resources.
  • An      evaluation of the ways in which these principles are exemplified by the      teacher, Lisa Kolbeck in the video program titled, “Strategies for Working      With Diverse Children: Communicating With Young Children.”
  • An      explanation of how these principles apply to communicating with infants.
  • Insights      with regard to your own professional and/or personal experiences as they      relate to communicating effectively with young children and ways you      believe you have benefited from this learning experience.

The Natu during SmgJI Activities Julie Rainer Dangei and Tonia Renee Durden

How many wings does the bumblebee have?

How does a bumble- bee fly?

What does this remind you of?

The first question, posed by a preschool teacher during a small group activity, asks

children to remember information or count the number of wings on an insect. There is only one correct answer. The other two questions require more imaginative thinking. Question two asks the children to explain or demonstrate how a bumble- bee flies. To answer question three,

Julie Rainer Dangel. PhD, is associate professor of early childhood at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where she coordinates the doctoral program and teaches courses on critical issues in the field. She has taught kindergarten and directed national child care centers, [email protected],edu Tonia Renee Durden, PhD, is an early childhood education Extension speciaiist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she leads trainings for early care providers and coordinates statewide programs for young children and their famiiies, [email protected]


children must compare an object to something else in their experience, looking for similarities. They have to think beyond the current activity.

What do you think is the teacher's purpose in asking these questions? Which ones might the preschoolers find most cognitively challenging? Which of the questions encourage conversation? Does it matter who initiates the question or controls the conversation?

This article examines teacher talk and its elements—kinds of language, functions of language, promoting children's thinking, and power—during small group activities with 2- and 3-year-olds. After observing and video- taping activities in two early childhood classrooms, we are convinced that teachers can promote children's think- ing and encourage their participation in authentic conversations (Durden & Rainer Dangel 2008). We examine how two teachers (in toddler and preschool classrooms) talk to children and facili- tate small group activities to encour- age children's thinking.

The power of teacher talk

Teacher talk is a powerful classroom tool. Studies document the impor- tance of teacher language in children's development (Kontos & Wilcox-Herzog 1997). in early literacy development (Genishi 1988; Roskos & Neuman 1993; Smith & Dickinson 1994; Girolametto &Weitzman 2002), in children's per- ceptions of self and others (Colwell & Lindsey 2003), and in facilitating play (Wilcox-Herzog & Kontos 1998; Kontos 1999). Sociocultural theories suggest the power of language to con- vey and construct meaning. Because language has cultural and psychologi-

As teachers we need to question our lan- guage in terms of the context it provides for children's thinking.

7 4 Young C/ir/dren* January 2010

cai functions—communicating and thinking (Mercer 1995)—teachers' words and the way they use them create meaning for children as well as for themselves. Johnson (2004) and Barratt-Pugh (1997) remind us that it is important to consider the actual words we say to children; "It is not only the songs, rhymes, and books that present a particular view of the world, but the very language we use" (Barratt-Pugh 1997, 87).

The literature also provides prac- tical suggestions on how to talk to young children and offers basic guide- lines for conversations with children (Mooney 2005), common purposes or functions of language (Kumpulainen & Wray 2002; Mooney 2005), and activi- ties for developing children's language (Massey 2005; Sharp 2005). Mooney (2005), for example, suggests getting down to children's level, using simple words and short sentences, and remembering the importance of body language and tone of voice. She also identifies four specific functions or purposes of teacher language: provid- ing direction or instruction, correcting or redirecting behavior, developing concepts or skills, and discussing classroom or famiiy life. Sharp (2005) recommends activities such as songs, poetry, and role play to help children access the language of school. These suggestions are helpful, but as teach- ers we also need to question our language in terms of the context it provides for children's thinking.

The teachers

Mr. Max, who teaches 2-year-olds, is calm, reserved, and a good listener. Mrs. Mollie, who teaches 3-year-olds, is energetic and talkative. It is spring, and both classrooms are full of flow- ers, seedlings, insects, colorful eggs, and baby chicks. Mrs. Mollie and her children are making "ants on a log" snacks, decorating yogurt cups as flower vases, and planting grass seeds in milk cartons. Every day Mrs. Moilie brings items from her home to

share with the children—for example, celery, tall grass, or fresh flowers. In Mr. Max's class, children are sculpting with ciay, drawing with wax pencils, decorating Mother's Day cards, and playing with plastic insects and a bal- ance scale.

Mrs. Mollie and Mr. Max bring dif- ferent styles of teaching and interact- ing with children to their respective classrooms. However, both recognize the importance of offering small group activities tbat model descriptive lan- guage, make connections to children's homes and families, allow the children to initiate conversations, and challenge them to think beyond the moment.

Both teachers value small group activities as ideal opportunities to talk with and listen to children. They inten- tionally plan activities that encourage not only conversation but also think- ing. They set up conditions and activi- ties that give children concrete experiences and require their participation.

Small group activities

There are materials for the children to investi- gate, and often a child or the teacher goes to find new materials, as ideas call for them.

tional manner. Both teachers welcome children who are not participating in the small group activity to join the conversation; they are not considered interruptions. There are materials for the children to investigate, and often a child or the teacher goes to find new materials, as ideas call for them. The activities themselves are open- ended—that is, while teachers might

The activities in both classrooms have four characteristics. They are (1) flexible, (2) voluntary for chil- dren, and (3) open- ended, and (4) they offer materials for the children to explore.

Typically, in their classrooms, Mrs. Mollie and Mr. Max invite three to five children to join in an informal, small group activity. The children are free to leave at any time. The teachers begin the conversation, and the children initiate and interject ideas, all in a relaxed, conversa-

Young Children *Jaruary 2010 7S

guide children on how to use some materials (such as glue), tbere are no prescribed products.

Teachers' language

Mrs. Mollie and Mr. Max consider the kinds of language they use. their purpose in using the language, issues of power, and language that promotes children's thinking. We will discuss each of these points in the following sections; even though they are pre- sented separately for emphasis, they are intertwined and should be consid- ered holistically.

Kinds of language

The types of questions and state- ments teachers use with children céui have an effect on children's thinking (Fowell & Lawton 1992; Massey 2005). Most of the language used by Mrs. Moilie and Mr. Max are in the form of questions and statements. Rarely do tbey command children to do some- thing. Their language is encouraging,

extending, descriptive, and relevant to children's lives.

Language that extends chil- dren's language. Mr. Max repeats and extends children's questions and statements, not only correcting words and grammar but also expanding their vocabulary and extending tbeir ideas, as recommended by Cazden (1972) in her early work on expan- sion and extension in language that is interesting and personally meaning- ful to children. Here is an example of an exchange between Mr. Max and a 2-year-old child about weighing plastic insects on a balance scale.

Teacher: How did you make it bal- ance like that?

Child: I maked it balance with one down and one up.

Teacher: Oh, I see. You made it even. How can you make the other side go down?

Child: Oh, oh, look. Teacher: That must have been a

heavy insect. Maybe that one was heavier.

Child: That one [side] have two.

Mrs. Mollie also uses descriptive language and provides specific word- ing (avoiding nonspecific words such as that and there, when possible). She thinks aloud and describes her actions as sbe completes tbem. For example, while assisting children with an art project, she says,

"OK, let me wipe this spill up. I should put the water in something else…. I'll put a paper towel under the cup so if the water spills, it will spill on the paper towel."

Language that encourages chil- dren through specific feedback. In addition to extending children's talk, teacher talk is encouraging and lets children know that their teacher values their efforts and accomplish- ments. Mr. Max uses both questions and statements to provide feedback and encourage children in their efforts. His comments range from task specific to general encouragement. For example, he may comment to a small group that he has noticed them working hard, or he may speak with an individual child about her selec- tion of colors. Here are some exam- ples observed during small group activities.

"Wow, Angie, you have spent a long time working on a big project!"

"That's so colorful! It really stands out on that purple paper."

"Whoa! You guys chose a lot of coi- ors to work with."

Rather than simpiy saying "Good job," Mr Max gives children feedback that is specific and focused on the process involved.

Teacher talk is encour- aging and lets children know that their teacher values their efforts and accomplishments.

76 Young Children* January 2010

Language that makes connec- tions to children's lives. Mrs. Moitié incorporates many references to school activities and the children's homes and families in her conversa- tions. For example, as the group fin- ishes making vases, she mentions the dandelions the children had collected on the playground:

"You can take this vase to your home, and il your mommy has some dandelions in your yard, like the ones on the playground, you can ask your mom if you can pick them for the vase."

(Note that this is also an example of how words can carry assumptions—in this case, that the children have yards and that there might be dandelions in the yards. In analyzing their lan- guage, teachers should evaluate their assumptions and underlying purposes or functions.)

Functions of teachers* language

Preschool teachers use language to communicate with children for multiple purposes. Mr Max and Mrs. Mollie use language for seven primary functions:

1. encouraging participation

2. responding to children's needs and ideas

3. managing the class or providing a necessary instruction

4. fostering children's language

5. conveying ideas

6. assessing children's knowledge

7. promoting children's thinking

It wouldn't be unusual to hear Mr. Max managing small group activities by saying, "Ronald, there is only room for four people to roll the playdough at one time. When one of the chil- dren is finished, you can have a turn with playdough too." In Mrs. MoUie's classroom, the primary functions or purposes of her talk are to encourage participation, foster children's lan- guage, and convey ideas. Questions to

promote children's thinking are also evident (for example, "What do these remind you of?"), but she asks few formal questions to assess children's knowledge (such as, "How many eggs are there?"). Here, Mrs. Mollie asks a child to compare and think beyond the immediate focus on celery:

Teacher: What other vegetable makes a crunch when you bite it?

Child; Carrots.

Teacher Carrots do make a crunch. How do you eat carrots?

Child: With my teeth.

Teacher: You know what? That's why you need strong teetfi to bite

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Young Cfi/Wren* January 2010 77

into fruits and vegetables. If you didn't have strong teeth, how could you bite that celery, or an apple, or a carrot?

Promoting children's thinking

Children s thinking, like talking, may go unnoticed. Teachers have to carefully organize time, space, and materials to encourage children to think (Hubbard 1998). We believe

Challenging talk builds on what children say and moves

beyond the immediate conversational context.

teacher talk that challenges children to use and build their cognitive skills is one of the most important functions of language. Challenging talk builds on wbat children say and moves beyond

Questions to Guide Reflection on Language Use with Young Children

Small Group Activities

Are activities flexible to accommodate children's ideas? Are they conversa- tional?

Are activities and materials open- ended, so children can make choices about what to do and what to use to carry out their plans?

Do activities invite children to explore or use interesting or authentic materials?

Do children choose whether to partici- pate and when to leave the activity?

What kinds of thinking do the activities encourage?

Kinds of Language

Does my language help children make connections to their lives, their

homes, their families?

Does my feedback motivate children to think more deeply? To share their ideas?

Do my comments and questions help children expand their vocabulary? Extend their ideas?

Do I "think out loud"?

Functions of Language

What is the intended purpose of my comment or question?

Am I purposefully trying to challenge children's thinking? Assess their thinking? Encourage their lan-

guage? Convey ideas? Guide their behavior?

Does my conversation build on chil- dren's interests?

Is there a balance of these func- tions of language—encouraging participation, responding to chil- dren's needs and ideas, managing the class or providing a necessary instruction, fostering children's lan- guage, conveying ideas, assessing, and promoting children's thinking?

Promoting Children's Thinking

What kinds of language do I use to challenge children's thinking?

What opportunities do I provide to expand children's thinking?

Do I encourage children to think beyond one-word responses?

Do I encourage children to make connections, make comparisons, ofïeran opinion, or imagine?


Who controls what is said and done during small group activities?

Is there a balance of teacher and child talk?

Does my language show respect for children's ideas?

Does my language allow children to initiate ideas and share equally in conversation?

the immediate conversational context (Smith & Dickinson 1994; Nekovei & Ermis 2006). Instead of asking, "Does it fly?" or "What did you make?" for example, ask "How does it fly?" or "What was your favorite part of mak- ing this?"

Questions that promote children's thinking require children to think beyond one-word responses to make connections, compare, and hypoth- esize. Using Tizard and colleagues' (1982) categories of questions, here are examples of cognitive challenges we heard during Mrs. Mollie's and Mr. Max's small group activities:

Label—What is this called?

Describe—What do these look like to you?

Explain—How does it work? Connect to prior knowledge—What

do these remind you of?

Compare—What other vegetable is like tbis one?

Hypothesize—^What do you think this is?

Imagine possibilities—Guess what happened when .

Offer an opinion—Why do you like this?

Evaluate—What do you like about tbis?

Power and teachers' language

Another important consideration in examining teacher-child conversations is the role of power (who decides who talks, when, and about what). Do the experience and the language encour- age children to initiate ideas and share regularly in the conversation? Who controls what is said and done? Is there a balance of teacher and child talk? Sharing power during conversa- tions and allowing children to initiate conversations maximizes children's voices (Hayes & Matusov 2005).

fconi'd on p. BO)

78 Young Children* January 2010

Both reciprocal and child-initiated conversa- tions take place in Mrs. Mollie and Mr. Max's classrooms. Consider this exchange from Mrs, Mollie's seed-planting activity:

Child: Mrs, Mollie, orange seeds grow.

Teacher What will they hecome?

Child: Bushes. Teacher Orange trees,

right? If you have an orange seed at your house, bring it and we'll plant it. Or an apple or watermelon seed.

Child: Mrs. Mollie, my mommy didn't buy any.

Teacher Well, maybe she will.

We noticed that when children initiated a conver- sation, they often began with complete thoughts (phrases or sentences), but when they responded to teachers, they often used single words. Children tend to actively par- ticipate in conversations that they initiate, that are relevant to them, and that invite reciprocal exchanges (Hayes & Matusov 2005).

In both classrooms, the small group activities included teacher- and child-

centered approaches. Kumpulainen and Wray (2002) distinguish teacher- centered activities, those in which children step into the teacher's way of thinking, from child- or peer- centered activities that are charac- terized by negotiation of meaning. From our observations, both types of approaches have some similar characteristics (such as informality

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and interesting materials), but the language varies according to whether the teacher's or children's influence is predominant. In most teacher-directed activities, teachers use closed-ended questions and declarative sentences, but child-oriented activities involve open-ended questions that provoke children's thinking and make connec- tions to real-life experiences.

We found that the approach influ- ences the function, the power, and the promotion of children's thinking. In both approaches, teachers respond to children's needs and model appro- priate language; however, in child- centered activities, teachers' language focuses more on encouraging partici- pation, extending language, and pro- moting thinking and less on managing instruction and conveying information (Durden & Rainer Dangei 2008). Child- centered activities promote more reciprocal and child-initiated conver- sations. In addition, the conversations tend to be more cognitively challeng- ing and authentic—an observation consistent with Cazden's work (1972).

80 Young Children* Jariuar^ 2010

Conclusions and recommendations

Our choice of words is important

(Johnson 2004). Consider the power of

a hurtful word or how words are used

in advertising to persuade us to buy

products. Words shape our attitudes,

feelings, and thoughts. Yet language is

such a part of our lives that we often

take it for granted. As educators, we

must continually ask ourselves how

we can use language for our ultimate

purpose: to support children's devel-

opment and learning.

Videotaping small group activities

can help teachers reflect on their

own use of language and the language

children use. "Questions to Guide

Reflection on Language Use with

Young Children" (p.78) also can help

teachers examine the language they

use when talking with children.

Teachers can improve the qual-

ity of early childhood education by

focusing on their language as well as

the conditions likely to produce effec-

tive interactions (Kontos & Wilcox-

Herzog 1997). During child-centered

small group activities, early child-

hood teachers can carefully attend to

language, including its purpose, its

power, and how it promotes children's



Barratt-Pugh, C. 1997. "Why d'you speak funny?" Supporting all children learning to talk and talking to learn. In Working witti the umler-.3's: Responding to children's needs, ed. L. Abbott & H. Moylett. Bristol, PA: Open University Press.

Cazden, C. 1972. Child language and education. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Colwell, M., & E. Lindsey. 2003. Teacher-child interactions and preschool children's per- ceptions of self and peers. Early Child Devel- opment and Care 173 (2-3): 249-58.

Durden, T., & J. Rainer Dangel. 2008. Teacher- involved conversations with young children during small group activity. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Devel- opment 2S ÇS): 235-50.

Koweli, N., & J. Lawton. 1992. Dependencies between questions and responses during small group instruction in two preschool programs. Early Childhood Research Quar- terly 1 (3): 415-39.

Gentshi, C. 1988. Young children's oral tanguage development. ED 301361. Urbana, IL: ERIC Document Reproduction Service.

Girolanietto, L., & E. Weitzman. 2002. Respon- siveness of child care providers in inter- action with toddlers and preschoolers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in 5C/IOO/.S 33: 268-81.

Hayes, R., & E. Matusov. 2005. Designing for dialogue in place of teacher talk and student silence. Culture & Psychology 11 (3): 339-57.

Hubbard, R.S. 1998. Creating a classroom where children can think. Young Children 53 (5): 26-31.

Johnson, P. 2004. Choice words. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Kontos, S. 1999. Preschool teachers' talk, roles and activities settings during free play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 14 (3): 363-82.

Kontos, S., & A.Wilcox-Herzog. 1997. Teachers' interactions with children: Why are they so important? Young Children 52 (2): 4-12.

Kumpuiainen. K., & D. Wray. 2002. Classroom interaction and social learning. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Massey, S. 2005. Teacher-child conversation in the preschool classroom. Early Childhood Education JournafM (4): 227-31.

Mercer, N. 1995. The guided construction of knowledge: Talk amongst teachers and learn- ers. Clevedon, Avon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Mooney, C. 2005. Use your words: How teacher talk helps children learn. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.

Nekovei, D., & S. Ermis. 2006. Creating class- rooms that promote rich vocabularies (or at-risk learners. Young Children 61 (5): 90-95.

Roskos, K., &S. Neuman. 1993. Descriptive observations of adults' facilitation of literacy in young children's play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 8: 77-97.

Sharp, E. 2005. Learning through talk in the early yean. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Smith, M.W., &D.K. Dickinson. 1994. Describ- ing oral language opportunities and environ- ments in Head Start and other preschool classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quar- terly 9 (3/4): 345-66.

Tizard, B., M. Hughes. G. Pinkerton, & H. Car- michael. 1982. Adults' cognitive demands at home and at nursery school. Journal of Child Psychological Psychiatry 23 (2): 105-16.

Wiicox-Herzog, A., & S. Kontos. 1998. The nature of teacher talk in early childhood classrooms and its relationship to children's play with objects and peers. Journal of Genetic Psychology 159 (1): 30-44.

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Candidates must possess doctoral degree in child development or a related field and

demonstrate commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry and integration of theory, research,

and practice. The successful candidate will have experience with young children 0-8,

including service delivery/practice and classroom teaching as well as university teaching

experience. Experience supervising early childhood development professionals and

developing programs for professionals working in early childhood fields is required.

Understanding classrooms and the role of large, urban community organizations in the

education and care of young children is necessary. Specific areas of expertise might be

teacher development/inquiry; reading, digital, science, or math literacy; curriculum

development; special education; inclusive classrooms; dual-language learners; child care

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90 Young Children • March 2009

1, 2, 3®

istening to children seems so simple. But when you’re fetching water to clean up the paint area, won- dering where the CD has disappeared to, and waving to a mother coming in the door, trying to listen to a child following behind you can become challenging. It is easy for listening to become just one more task that a busy teacher must tend to.

I spent several months in a child care center talking with and listening to young children as part of a research

project. This experience taught me lessons in how much children are telling

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