In an earlier article for Child Research Net, one of us (Cherrington, 2018) outlined that a key shift in the revised early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017), in New Zealand was an increased emphasis on intentional teaching with practitioners being expected to "facilitate children's learning and development through thoughtful and intentional pedagogy" (Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 59). This emphasis parallels increased attention being paid to intentional teaching in a number of other countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In this article we explore what intentional teaching might involve before focusing on how teachers might intentionally support the development of social-emotional competence in young children as an exemplar of intentional teaching.
Epstein is credited with coining the term "intentional teaching", describing it as always "thinking about what we are doing and how it will foster children's development and produce real and lasting learning" (2007, p.10). Intentional teachers are thoughtful and deliberate in how they plan for young children's learning, including how they engage in pedagogical framing (i.e., adapting the environment and planning learning experiences) and pedagogical interactions (i.e., teaching strategies and interactive behaviours) (Siraj-Blatchford, Sylva, Muttock, Gilden, & Bell, 2002) with children.
Engaging in intentional teaching does not, however, require that teachers will be didactic and directive or that they will control or limit children's play. Rather, intentional teachers plan for and facilitate a mix of teacher-initiated, child-initiated and peer-mediated learning experiences in the context of play and everyday activities and routines (Snyder et al., 2017). This mix of support will look different for each child depending on their learning needs and interests and, as Hedges and Cooper (2016) argue, teachers need to understand the funds of knowledge that children bring with them in order to engage in ways that support and enhance children's learning agendas. The role of the adult in extending children's learning is essential (McLaughlin & Cherrington, 2018). This includes an active role and engagement "in sustained collective play" (Fleer, 2015, p, 1811) and inside children's imaginary play. Thus, intentional teaching is complex and requires teachers with in-depth knowledge of each child and a repertoire of teaching strategies that they can draw on, both when planning learning experiences and in-the-moment during their interactions with children.
In the next section we consider how teachers can intentionally support children's developing social-emotional competence, making links to the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki and offering examples of the kinds of pedagogical practices that can be effective when teaching infants, toddlers and young children.
Social-emotional development is foundational to early learning and is embedded within early learning curricula around the world. Unequivocal research evidence has shown that supporting children's social-emotional competence is essential for immediate and long-term positive outcomes (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). While there is no singular definition of social-emotional competence, there are generally agreed upon areas for children's social-emotional learning. This includes the ability to form friendships and engage with adults and peers in pro-social ways; understand and express emotions including the ability to regulate emotions, exert self-control, resolve peer conflicts, and show empathy for others (McLaughlin, Aspden, & Clarke, 2017). When children are socially-emotionally competent they have a positive sense of self and can be resilient in challenging situations. Social-emotional competence is embedded in the context of family, community, and culture; such that children respond to the social and cultural expectations of the context.
Despite widespread recognition of the importance of social-emotional competence, early childhood teachers may need more support to understand and use effective strategies to teach key social-emotional skills in intentional and appropriate ways (Rosenthall & Gatt, 2010). One of the most important messages for teachers and adults in young children's lives is that social-emotional competence is something that children learn over time with guidance, opportunities to practice and the intentional teaching of key skills (McLaughlin et al., 2017).
In New Zealand, teachers are encouraged to focus on social-emotional competence through key areas of learning spread throughout the curriculum. For example, the Contribution strand has two learning outcomes associated with forming friendships and engaging in positive social interactions with others. The Wellbeing strand has a specific learning outcome focused on understanding, expressing, and regulating emotions, stated as: "Over time and with guidance and encouragement, children become increasingly capable of managing themselves and expressing their feelings and needs" (Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 24). A particularly notable feature of the framing of the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki is the recognition of children's evolving capabilities over time - as infants, toddlers, and young children.
Children's social-emotional skills develop rapidly from birth through school entry and teachers and adults can actively and intentionally support the development of these skills throughout the early years (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Social-emotional support starts in the context of relationships with key caregivers when there are moments of physical affection and emotional warmth in which the adult responds to the child in ways that supports feelings of safety, security and trust (Ho & Funk, 2018). In relation to the competency of children experiencing, regulating and expressing their emotions we can think about how teachers might use and adjust intentional teaching supports over time.
For example, as an infant displays different emotions - such as crying, smiling, or moving her legs and arms with excitement - the adult responds with matched affect and language related to those feelings. This begins to lay the foundation for emotional awareness. For toddlers, teachers can start to introduce or demonstrate new emotions, describe their own emotions or comment on emotions in others. As adults use rich emotional language, toddlers may repeat or imitate emotion words and expressions used by familiar adults before starting to communicate their own. As children get older, teachers can support children to learn about new emotions they might experience including, for example, using books, games, puppets or pictures to support children to recognise and appropriately express a range of emotions. Older children may begin to help comfort younger children, particularly when teachers positively comment on these situations and encourage a positive and supportive emotional climate in the setting.
The brief example offered above, provides a snapshot of the ways in which teachers can foster and promote social-emotional competence through, firstly, having a clear understanding of key social-emotional skills and dispositions and, secondly, through engaging in intentional teaching, guidance, and support for children to practice and use these skills in everyday situations. Given the importance of young children developing social-emotional competencies in the early years, there is clearly a need for teachers to engage in intentional social-emotional teaching to optimise such learning and development. By intentionally using a mix of adult-initiated, child-initiated and peer mediated learning experiences, teachers are able to individualise social-emotional learning opportunities for each child, thus supporting their increasing capabilities in relation to Te Whāriki's learning outcomes.
- Cherrington, S. (2018). Te Whāriki 2017: a refreshed early childhood curriculum for New Zealand. Child Research Net, https://www.childresearch.net/projects/ecec/2018_02.html
- Epstein, A. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children's learning. Washington D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Fleer, M. 2015. Pedagogical positioning in play - Teachers being inside and outside of children's imaginary play. Early Child Development and Care, 185 (11-12), 1801-1814.
- Hedges, H. & Cooper, M. (2016). Inquiring minds: Theorizing children's interests. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 48(3), 303-322, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2015.110971
- Ho, J., & Funk, S. (2018). Promoting young children's social and emotional health. Young Children, 73, 73-79.
- McLaughlin, T., Aspden, K, & Clarke, L. (2017). How do teachers support children's social emotional competence: Strategies for teachers. Early Childhood Folio, 21, 21-27.
- McLaughlin, T., & Cherrington, S. (2018). Creating a rich curriculum through intentional teaching. Early Childhood Folio, 22, 33-38.
- Ministry of Education. (2017). Te Whāriki. He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Rosenthal, M. K., & Gatt, L. (2010). Learning to live together: Training early childhood educators to promote socio-emotional competence of toddlers and pre-school children. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18, 373-390.
- Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Muttock, S., Gilden, R., & Bell, D. (2002). Researching effective pedagogy in the early years. Research Report No. 356, Department for Education and Skills. London: HMSO.
- Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. A. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighbourhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- Snyder, P. and the Embedded Instruction for Early Project. (2017). Tools for teachers embedded instruction Series [Workbook and Practice Guides]. Unpublished professional development series. College of Education, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Contents for this article are based on two prior publications on intentional teaching (McLaughlin & Cherrington 2018) and social-emotional competence (McLaughlin, Aspden, & Clarke, 2017) published in New Zealand.