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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Preschoolers need you to explain, rehearse, and reinforce expectations

There are three key elements that teachers should include in the process of setting boundaries and expectations for young children...

Explain, Rehearse, and Reinforce

These are not my words but the words of K. R. Victor. According to Victor (2001):
"Once you have created the plan you must teach it to your students.
When teaching the plan, keep in mind three things: Explain, rehearse, and reinforce.
Explain, simply put, means to create a lesson plan that teaches the rules" (p.25).

Victor's words reflect my own views of guiding young children to meet expectations only I have used a little bit different terminology. Let's take a minute to look at Victor's ideas...

Helping children understand expectations should be a part of the planning process in the early childhood classroom. Young children need boundaries and guidelines that are age appropriate, reasonable, flexible, and understandable. Guidelines and boundaries are based on teacher expectations as well. In order for children to understand teacher expectations, the teacher needs to include time for teaching expectations in the planning process.

Even for the youngest preschooler, there can be an assumption that the child should already know better. For example, when a preschooler throws a napkin on the floor rather than in the trash, an adult might think that this child just doesn't care or isn't a good listener. Instead throwing the napkin in the trash needs to be looked as an expectation to be learned.

It is important to get into the practice of explaining expectations. Children need to be taught what is expected in simple, meaningful, and understandible terms. Just as we plan our lessons to teach the ABC's or 123"s, we need to devise a plan for teaching expectations rather than just assuming the children should get the idea.

For example: I once had a group of children who would not lay on their cot without kicking their feet in the air. This got to be something that was funny to them and going around cot to cot was simply not effective. As soon as I got one set of feet out of the air, another set of feet popped up. It was like playing the gopher game!

So I decided to plan a lesson on laying down on the cot.  My assistant and I took out a kid's cot and while my assistant gave me simple directions, I layed down on the cot and put my feet down. When my assistant would turn away - I dramatically kicked my feet up in the air. All the children laughed and then my assistant turned around and acted all surprised. She then explained to me why it was very important to keep my feet down and told me how she would be so proud of me if I could remember this rule.  So when she turned her back again, I  snuggled in with a blanket and bear and went to sleep. My assistant turned around again and gave me huge props for being such a big helper and good listener.  The children loved this little play:)

After explaining an expectation to the child, the next step in the process is to rehearse the expectation. The child or children must then practice what was just explained.

For example: The teacher explains how to throw a napkin in the trash; then demonstrates how to throw a napkin in the trash; then lets the child take a turn throwing the napkin in the trash.  This allow the teacher to evaluate the child's understanding of the expectation.

In the cot example above, my assistant and I had each of the children come and show us how to lay down on the cot all snuggly. We made a huge deal out of everyone as they eagerly showed us they understood the expectation.

Once an expectation has been explained and rehearsed, now the expectation can be reinforced. To reinforce an expectation, the teacher can...

Remind the child: "Don't forget to throw that napkin in the trash can!"
Redirect the child: "Should we put the napkin in the trash can or just leave it on the floor?"
Praise the child: "I noticed you threw the napkin in the trash can all by yourself! That was awesome!"

In the cot example, we carried our message into naptime through a positive and praiseworthy approach. The children found it more appealing to show us how they could keep those legs down. We reinforced the positive results by stating over and over, "you look so peaceful and cuddly on your cot" or "I am so proud of how you remember exactly what to do."

Back to Planning
When you see that an expectation is just not being met then this is sign to start back at the planning stage.

Perhaps time has gone by and the expectation has not been reinforced effectively or perhaps the child just wasn't developmentally ready to grasp the expectation. It could be that the expectation was simply not age appropriate. Regardless of the reason, when a child is not demonstrating an understanding of an expectation, then it is time to start the process all over again: Explain, Rehearse, Reinforce!

Victor, K. R. (2001) Identifying effective behavior management in the early childhood classroom. B.R.E. Practical Bible College.


Centers and Circle Time said...

Okay this article should be printed and handed out in all teacher handbooks. I think most new teachers just assume the kids will do whatever they're asked to do. And most experienced teacher just forget the concept until they're worn out each day and having to figure out why.

I once had a class that took forever to clean up after Center Time. I sat them down and explained why and how we should clean up our classroom. After a couple of weeks with very little results, I went back to the planning stage. I took almost everything out of our Centers and left them the bare minimum. Once I the room was almost naked I realized most of the new items that entered our class didn't have a proper home. I had failed to label/picture where the item is SUPPOSED to go. Once I went back, re-labeled the shelves, walls, etc. I then explained again the how and why of cleaning our class. This time my "talk" was more successful. Because our class was almost naked, clean up was quick and easy. Over the next few weeks, I'd slowly introduce some of our old plaything back, introducing the new home each time. By the end of the year our classroom was full again but still quick and easy to clean since everything had a place:)

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

LOL - I think you should have written this in you blog:) I love it! I always use this method to introduce the children to clean up. We take one area at a time, explain it, then take turns practicing putting things away. The kids have fun showing me that they know where something goes.

Teacher Tom said...

They say to new surgeons that you learn a new technique by "watching one, doing one, then teaching one." I see a little bit of that here!

I always try to keep in mind that the goal is for the children to become experts in the classroom and part of that is mastering expectations.

Another thoughtful post, Deborah.

Regency Kindergarten said...

glad you wrote this post, I really like the part : Remind the child, redirect the child, and praise the child. Sometimes I didn't realize I miss out the Redirect step.
Great post

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I love that Tom - Are children mastering Skills and becoming experts in the classroom? These are perspectives to hang onto the next time a teacher sees an expectation is not being met.

Danny - Redirecting gives children a second chance to try again with a teachers support:) I love that you pointed out remind, redirect, and praise.

Noah said...

Deborah - this is a great post - could you recommend some activities that would promote developing prosocial sharing and negotiation skills? (I'm using you as research in my social emotional project!)
If you want you can contact me through my blog. Thanks! Hope you're having a good Easter weekend!

Ayn Colsh said...

I love this post! It is so important that we clearly define what we expect. Our friends will work hard to live up to what we want from them, but we just have to show them how. I posted this on Teach Preschool comments too:
I’ve seen classes where the children don’t have clear expectations and it compounds behavior problems. I’ve found that after explaining the expectations a few times, my friends will remind others and I don’t have to do it as often, plus the friends like to play the “teacher” role !

Launa Hall said...

I love the idea of little skits put on by the adults in the room, to both give a visual demonstration and to add a little humor. That sounds fun and effective. Thanks for the tips!

Karen said...

So true! I've seen teachers who stayed frustrated with their class because they didn't understand this.

Linda Setlik Horner said...

This is just what I needed to read today. My aide and I have been shaking our heads lately trying to figure out how to get the kids to understand the rules. It's like we suddenly have all new kids and the year is almost over!
I'm tired of going home completely exhausted. I'm definitely going to have to do some re vamping of things here.

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