Reflections on Strengths-Based Articulation: Part 2 Extending Children's Learning by Extending Our Learning

In our last blog posting we touched upon the idea that learning to use strengths-based articulation requires practice and for many of us – stretching our knowledge and ability to articulate how children develop and learn.

Conversations with colleagues have led us to want to talk more about what it means to stretch one's knowledge and ability to describe children's development and learning.  It's relatively simple to learn to use the template for strengths-based articulation: “I notice that you ____ . This helps children learn ______ “. However, there's much more to it. Many educators, including some of us who have been in the field for a long time and who are writing this blog about this strategy, are realizing the need to intentionally work on becoming more fluent in describing how a teacher’s words and actions influence a child’s development and learning.

Strengths-based articulation is emerging as an opportunity for all of us – teachers, coaches, directors, agency leaders, writers and others – to extend our learning and ability to articulate how children develop and learn and the specific actions teachers do to promote their learning.  We believe that this in turn will have very strong and positive ripples on extending children’s learning.  

A few years ago, a colleague with courage stood up at a meeting and asked, “If we, leaders and coaches, aren't able to quickly describe what children are learning… how can we help others learn?”  His comment and courage and openness to become a learner stays with us. 

In the spirit of being a learner, and to begin this conversation that we will continue over time, we offer a few tips to increase fluency that have been helpful to us and to colleagues:

·      Work with a learning partner(s). It really helps to look together. In addition to helping you focus on moments of effectiveness, talking to a partner about learning is easier than thinking alone!

·      Pick a focus. Create a plan and tools that you will give you the concepts and language you need.  Examples include:

o   Choose a weekly observing focus. You might decide to observe teaching practices related to math. As you visit classrooms, notice effective practices that you think have a math connection. Look at how materials are organized. Is there a pattern? Do children need to use one-to-one correspondence to put away materials? Are they sorting or matching? Clip a page related to math from the child outcomes assessment used in your program. Link teacher practices to math outcomes. "I notice you as you talked with children in the block area, you used words like rectangular prism, taller than, on top of and next to. Your choice of language increases children's mathematical vocabulary and geometrical thinking. Next week, choose a new focus. 

o   Make 'at a glance' tools to help you observe: outcomes from domains, practices from ECERS or CLASS, or the tools used in your program. Let these tools help you to focus. You'll find that you become much more fluent in both the program outcomes and the child outcomes.

 -  One of our personal favorites:  Keep Powerful Interactions: How to Connect to Extend Learning open to the Extend Learning section so you can easily refer to it to extend your vocabulary about extending learning,

·      Use this as an opportunity to remember that learning –no matter our age– usually happens in small steps and takes time. Recognize the small steps forward in your own learning – and that of others. 

© Dombro & Jablon 2015. Based on Jablon, J., Dombro, A., & Johnsen, S. (2014). Coaching with Powerful Interactions. Washington, D.C.: NAEYC.