Energy for Learning: Build Bridges for Language and Learning
Attentive parents instinctively understand something significant about teaching: they focus on what their child can achieve with assistance (Rodgers & Rodgers, 2004, p.2). Think about how a mother might encourage her young child as they make cookies together. The parent would likely begin by demonstrating the process for the child, talking him through each step: “Let’s be sure we have all the ingredients: flour, shortening, sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla flavoring. And your favorite-chocolate chips! We need a big bowl to mix everything together. We have to measure the flour in this little cup. See how the measuring cups come in different sizes so we can measure different amounts? This cup is the size we need for the flour. We need to fill it three times and dump it out in the bowl. . . .” The parent shows the child each step, naming the tools and processes along the way, engaging the child interactively. The mom makes sure that the child can handle the tasks set out for him and that he knows exactly what he’s expected to do. For example, rather than simply telling the child that flour has to be measured by cups, the parent is likely to show the child how to do it, counting each cup as it’s filled. No doubt the child will be eager to try this on his own, and once the mom sees that the child understands the concept and can manage the process, she might ask the child to measure the sugar. When new tasks have to be addressed, such as cracking the eggs or operating the electric mixer, the parent is likely to take charge again, modeling and discussing the new process. As the child tries a task and experiences some success with it, the parent might release that task to the child to complete independently. On the other hand, a wise parent would avoid assigning tasks that might lead to problems. For example, a parent would be unlikely to expect that a child who has never operated an electric mixer could scrape the sides of the mixing bowl without getting the spatula dangerously entangled in
the beaters. But over time, as parent and child share several baking experiences, the child will probably perform more and more of the process as the mom steps back and entrusts the job to the child. While there are several elements of cookie-making that require adult supervision (accurate measuring, inclusion of all ingredients, protection in using the hot oven, clean-up), as various tasks are modeled for the child and gradually released to him, the child’s perception is I made cookies! In homes where there is active parent/child interaction, children are engaged in higher order cognitive and language skills from a very young age through the daily goal-directed activities that constitute family life (grocery shopping, folding laundry, getting dressed, etc.). “In such teaching, the tasks themselves, not communication or thinking skills per se, are the subjects of direct instruction” (Tharp & Gallimore, 1991). Parents assist the child not only with the task itself but also in talking about the task. “The parents listen carefully, make guesses about the meaning of the intended communication . . . and adjust their responses to assist the child’s efforts. . . . Through the instructional conversation, parents spur the child on and support the child’s understanding” (Rueda, Goldenberg, & Gallimore, 1992).