It doesn’t matter how hard I work to set up activities, the kids just fly through the projects. They play with it for a few minutes, but then they’re off to the next thing. I just don’t know how to get them to really engage with the materials. I wish they would slow down so I could have a minute to teach them something.
This type of frustration is a common sentiment amongst toddler and preschool teachers. For all the time spent preparing materials and artfully arranging learning stations, children can move through interest areas at breakneck speeds, leaving a trail of the teacher’s treasures behind. Sure, children have short attention spans, but we know there are things out there that can really capture children’s attention. What are we missing?
We are always modeling behavior for children, and that also goes for how we show how deeply to investigate something. Do you take the time to intently examine and consider each item they hand to you in the day? Turnabout is fair play.
Let’s consider the wider context of young children’s lives. Our culture of immediate gratification is a constant reinforcement for the lack of self-control that is characteristic of the young brain. Convenience and time-saving are of great value to us in our busy lives. And boy, are they busy. Children are watching us adults rushing through our days, cramming as many tasks as possible into every hour. So many of us are making frequent comments about how we’re always rushed, tired, and stressed about how much there is to do. This frenzied energy is not exempt from our modeling – it may not be intentional, yet we are still setting the example for our students that this is the way people live.
Is it any wonder children are rushing through their classrooms, hurried to knock all the items off the to-do list and become a successful multi-tasker like their mama? It seems to me like they’re just paying attention.
Luckily enough, mindfulness is becoming trendier. People take time to practice being, not just doing. My guess is that it isn’t happening in front of children very often, but the mindset carries on. In the classroom, we clearly can’t sit down and model meditating for more than a few minutes, but there is another way we can slow our students down and encourage them to engage more with the materials we have so painstakingly prepped.
Asking thoughtful, open-ended questions is a great way to help students slow down and take their time with investigations. One of the best tools I have found to aid me in crafting meaningful questions is Blooms (Revised) Taxonomy, which defines six levels of educational learning objectives, increasing in complexity to guide students toward higher-level thinking skills. This model helps us as teachers to move beyond rote learning and regurgitation of information, and inspire our students to interact with the material in a more personally meaningful way. Encouraging deeper engagement will relax the pace of the investigation and allow the student to form a genuine relationship with the content.
Any investigation can be deeply enriched by the authentically curious question-asker. You may have experienced this in your own life. Being questioned invites reflection upon our experiences, leading us to take more meaning and memory from them. When we are asked to explain what we are experiencing, and how we feel about it, we form a relationship with the subject of our learning much more than we can when we’re only in our own heads about it. Putting words to it in the first place helps cement our understanding, but to be challenged to analyze the information we’re getting, or evaluate how it fits into our values requires us to connect to the experience in a way that is much harder to forget.
Each level of the Taxonomy presents a handy set of verbs you can use when asking your students these types of questions. It does take some practice to get comfortable asking questions that inspire higher-level thinking, rather than just quizzing kids about the color or quantity of the objects they hold. Yet through the approach of asking open-ended questions, you will find your students engaging more deeply in the activities you have so carefully arranged. Together you can create a classroom community that does not submit to the hectic pace of the world around us, but reflects the unique rhythm of your team of curious learners.
Anderson, Lorin W., and David R. Krathwohl, eds. 2001. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Young, Jon. Seeing Through Native Eyes Audiobook. 8Shields.org.