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Intentional teaching: An academic's perspective

The purpose of this professional learning is for teachers to view and reflect on information from an academic’s perspective about intentional teaching.

Collette Tayler
University of

If I could make one significant change to early childhood practice right now it would be a rise and rise of intentional teaching in play-based situations. Children really need the modelling and the interaction with adults to build their thinking and understanding. Intentional teaching really does that. One of the curious things about focusing on intentional teaching and focusing on an education concept, if you go back to COAG (Council of Australian Governments) and what the intent was when the qualifications were raised across the services, the adult–child ratios were improved.

People have sometimes, I think, forgotten why that's happened. There's a lot of discussion about that costs more and so on, but the actual reason for it was to improve the ratios so that one had better opportunities for adult–child interaction. If you have staff who have more qualifications but are still working together with groups of children and leaving lots of children engaged on their own — there's some place for that child–child, I'm not suggesting that's a problem — but the intent and the learning outcomes and the messages from the researcher about raising adult–child interaction, that's the main message.

If we think about intentional teaching and the national quality standard, the standard is focused — quality area one is about educational program and practice. In that remit educational program and practice happens all day across all kinds of situations, whether you're indoors, you're outdoors, you're doing toileting routines, and intentional teaching is wrapped around all of those situations. So it's not something that only happens with a group at a [mat] time. That might be the planned more group-related activity, but all the spontaneous opportunities leave opportunities for intentional teaching.

If we look at intentional teaching and concept development, we're really asking planful, thoughtful, in advance, considered experiences and questions that teachers can build out children's understanding to deepen their thinking about something that you know they're going to be doing. In that sense it's planned, it's considered and it's effectively perhaps a little more adult-led. That's part of a play-based learning program. If you think about intentional teaching in a spontaneous situation — because it's also spontaneous — it's about being in the moment when a child is in some play activity or in some engagement with another child or a group, and mapping into that particular questions or concepts or prompts or particular language that expands their thinking, that deepens their understanding, or that clarifies something that they don't quite get.

One of the things that research really can tell us about working intentionally with young children is that it's very much about frequent, focused, intentional adult–child interactions. That's the core. It's not about that you cover this particular activity in a planful way, but rather that all of the interactions coming off the child's interests are shaped to be frequent adult–child focused in the sense of what the concept might be, what the question might be, and interactive; there is a back and a forth exchange. Children need a place in that talk. There must be a place for them. That's the heart of intentional teaching.

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