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Children Actively Construct Their Own Learning

Children selectively attend to aspects of their environment: searching, seeing, remembering, correcting, checking, problem-solving: cognitive strategies which are in place long before school but which continue on into the tasks of school. The role of teachers is not to pour information into children's minds, nor is it to leave children to independently discover everything for themselves, but to actively find ways of supporting the learning which is going on all of the time.

For the child who is slow to adjust to learning in school, who doesn't know what to say when the teacher asks, and who does not find the tasks of school familiar, the teacher will need to establish a good working relationship. What simple tasks can this child do? How can the early reading behaviour of linking the meaning of a picture with the possible text meaning be established? What letters in the child's name does he know and can copy legibly? Which numbers does he know and can associate with simple objects in the room? What are the special things this child likes and can talk about... to the teacher, to another child, or even to a simple hand puppet in the classroom? Can this child sing? Play games? Can you find an older child who knows less than his peers, to spend some time to help the slower, younger child? In this way both children will learn new skills.

An important Russian psychologist: Lev Vygotsky said that, what children can do today in the company of someone else who can do a task well, tomorrow they can do by themselves. The teacher is the mentor, the support, the one who explains, in terms and with demonstrations, what she has figured out the child needs to know. This calls for careful listening and observation on behalf of the teacher.

Journal activity: Observing children's abilities

Use this three-column activity to guide yourself in the observation of children's abilities.

Draw three columns on one page of your journal. In the first column write down the names of all the children in your class. Over the course of the next week, write down next to each name, one thing that you have observed that they can do well. Put a check mark in the third column when you find a way of telling each child, individually, what they can do!

student's name Observation of ability
student 1    
student 2    

You might use sentences such as, "I like the way you _____," or "I notice that now you can _______." Be sure to use the child's name. Think about how engaging in this activity affects the way you teach. Do you observe any differences in the way that students respond in class?

If you have an interesting response, discuss your experience with other teachers in your school, or share your experience with our online community.

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Last revised July, 2001
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