Clayton Early Learning

Teacher-Child Interactions: The ticket to effective teaching?

Rebecca Soden

Picture your favorite teacher as a young child.  What was it about this person that connected you to them and makes you remember them today?

I’m going to guess that you didn’t list anything about the teacher’s level of education, ongoing professional development that she received or the literacy curriculum that she used in her classroom.  While these surely shaped her teaching, what you likely remember are the more subtle, moment-to-moment interactions and conversations that she had with you.  It was the way these interactions made you think and feel that have kept them in your memory for so long.

After years of trying to figure out what qualities of a teacher have the most impact on student learning, researchers (like those working at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning) are discovering that if we want to improve children’s academic and social development, we need to focus on how teachers use their daily interactions to instruct and relate with each child in their classroom.  Great teachers create play environments that engage, motivate and stretch children into becoming ‘thinkers’ and ‘learners’.  Identifying, naming and describing these interactions has helped teachers become more effective (which is good for kids) and feel more satisfied in their jobs (which is good for all of us).

Consider Miss Helen and Miss Angel.  Miss Helen is a preschool teacher.  She is implementing the “best” evidence-based curriculum (one that has been shown to lead to significant changes in children’s ability to read).  She is always prepared with the activities and the students all know what to do.  However, she teaches the curriculum without shared joy, mutual respect, sensitivity or encouragement.  She doesn’t incorporate the student’s ideas and interests into her lessons or involve the children in planning and leading activities.

At the preschool down the street, Miss Angel doesn’t use a specific literacy curriculum, but she asks ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions of the children to build their analysis and reasoning skills.  She brainstorms with them, connects ideas and relates new information to things the children already know and understand.  Miss Angel asks the children to explain their thinking.  She extends their language and uses a variety of new words.  She points out the sounds of letters and plays with rhymes and songs throughout the day.  There is enthusiasm and laughter as the children explore lots of hands-on and interesting materials.

The above scenarios demonstrate what we are discovering about the nuances of effective teaching.  It is a teacher’s facilitation of learning – not simply the curriculum – that most impacts children’s development. At Clayton Educare, we are embarking on a journey to better understand how we can improve our interactions with children.  We are using an evaluation and quality improvement tool called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS Pre K) to measure, reflect on and refine our teacher-child interactions.  We hope to share our story with you as we go.  Please let us know if you are on this path.  We would love to learn and grow together!

Rebecca Soden

About Rebecca Soden

Rebecca Soden, Vice President for Clayton Early Learning, has 18 years of experience implementing programs for children birth to five and their families, including Early Head Start, Head Start and two multi-site Early Reading First initiatives. She provides vision and oversight to the Research, Evaluation and Professional Development services offered through Clayton. She is responsible for the creation and implementation of a continuous improvement model for using data to effectively plan and monitor early childhood programs. Her work has a special focus on supporting evidence-based programming, including caregiver-child interactions, language and literacy development, and the innovative use of technology with young children. Rebecca strives to develop communities of practice in an effort to discover what researchers and teachers can learn from each other. She serves on the Prenatal to Age 3 Subcommittee of the Colorado Early Childhood Leadership Commission. She has a Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and a Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Equity P-20 from the University of Colorado – Denver.
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  1. I coach teachers, using the CLASS as a way to reflect on practice. The teachers I work with, in general, find focusing on teacher interactions with children very refreshing because they are aspects of their classroom they have complete control over. They also report that the CLASS gives them specific strategies to help impact their teaching. Additionally, as a coach, I enjoy the amount of research that I can explain to the teachers the CLASS has been used in that gives quite a lot of evidence that it really looks at the things that matter the most in teaching.

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