This post is from authors Amy Laura Dombro, Judy Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson.
We’ve been very excited about readers’ responses to our book, Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning, published in 2011. Shortly after the book came out, we received emails through our website from early childhood program directors, teachers, and others wanting to use Powerful Interactions in book groups. They asked us to post study group questions on our website. We organized the questions around the three steps of Powerful Interactions: Be Present, Connect, and Extend Learning. Members of study groups have told us that they read sections of the book at each group meeting and then use the questions to guide discussion and sharing.
A Strengths-Based Approach
In our book we talk about the value of “instant replay.” Although this process is not actually “instant,” the purpose of this term is to convey that using photos and video lets you focus on your actions and words to reflect on your interactions in greater detail. We encourage study groups to come prepared to try this practice during their meetings. It is so much easier to notice the little details of what you say and do when you can actually look at them carefully with colleagues.
We emphasize using a strengths-based approach when talking about photos and videos. Focusing on strengths allows teachers to become more consciously competent about what they do well. In addition, when group members work together, they notice strategies that others do well that they haven’t ever tried before. Sometimes people ask: “What about talking about what you didn’t do well?” The fact is that we perform many actions without knowing that we’re doing them. Focusing on strengths is more motivating than looking at deficits. Moreover, it models what we believe about working with children. Focus on strengths and build upon them! Here’s how “I notice” statements work:
• “I notice that the teacher is smiling. Her warm and friendly expression helps the child feel safe and secure.”
• “I notice that the teacher is at the same eye level as the child. This promotes respect.”
• “I notice that the teacher and the child are both laughing. Shared or ‘mirrored’ affect or emotion strengthens the relationship between them.”
Mirror Talk and Using Rich Vocabulary Instead of Quizzing
We’ve also encouraged study groups to practice two Extend Learning strategies—Mirror Talk and Use Rich Vocabulary—by talking about photographs in the book Powerful Interactions or about photographs they have taken in their own classrooms.
Study group members look at photos that depict children and teachers together in the classroom and discuss how the teachers in the photos could use mirror talk (commenting on what the child is doing) in a way that incorporates rich vocabulary.
Example 1: Study group members look at a photo of a teacher sitting beside a child who is painting. They discuss Mirror Talk a teacher in a similar situation could try such as: “I see you are using your paintbrush to make long, wavy strokes.” (The first part of the sentence is the mirror talk. ‘The words, “Long wavy strokes” are the rich vocabulary).
Example 2: Study group members look at another photo in which a teacher sits beside a child building with magnetic tiles. They discuss Mirror Talk a teacher in a similar situation could try such as: "You have put together four triangles of different colors to create a square.” (Here “You have put together” is the mirror talk, and the word “create” “triangles” and “square” are the rich vocabulary.)
Many teachers say that they are quick to jump to quiz questions (questions that have one short answer, such as “What color is this?” or “How many bears do you have?”) when talking with children instead of using Mirror Talk. Some say that “Mirror Talk” is a hard habit to form. Others joke that asking quiz questions is a hard habit to break!
Reflecting on Videos
One study group decided to use videos as a major part of their work. During an initial session together, they watched video clips of children playing alone. They discussed what they might have to think, say, and do to be present and connect with each of these children if they were to join them.
- If they paused to observe for a moment before joining the child, what might they be thinking and feeling based on what they saw the child doing?
- What were some different ways they might join a child and connect?
o Sitting at eye level
o Smiling and saying hi
o Greeting the child by name
After a few sessions, they began experimenting with being videotaped and videotaping each other. Using a strengths-based approach, they analyzed the videos, looking for the three steps of Powerful Interactions. They also considered other strategies that could have been used. At the close of the study group, each member wrote a personal commitment statement about the strategy they would work on during the next month.
Study Groups in Action
The Professional Development Institute at City University of New York (CUNY) organized a four-session study group series for directors and providers from sites around New York City. We created a guide for them to use that includes four key ideas from the book. Each section of the guide has discussion questions, a small group activity for reflection, and then a suggestion to bring back to their setting for practice.
The staff at The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis read the book together as the basis of discussion about how to facilitate responsive and extraordinary interactions among the families who visit.
Another colleague, Marilyn Brink at NatureStart Program in Chicago (a program of the Chicago Zoological Society) has incorporated Powerful Interactions in her organization’s work. She recently shared with us that she will be teaching a week-long course at the zoo and using Powerful Interactions as the “perfect resource for supporting their ‘Talking With Young Children’ component.”
The leader of one Connecticut study group asked another teacher in the group why Powerful Interactions are important to her. She replied, “Powerful Interactions are a catalyst for creating a great learning environment.”
We’d love to hear from you about how you’ve used the book. Have you formed a study group to discuss Powerful Interactions? How did it go? How are Powerful Interactions important for you?