Kaleidoscope - Dr. Kimberly Gordon Biddle
Intentional Teaching: A middle ground in early childhood education
Posted January 5th 2014

Currently and throughout history there exist debates in early childhood education about the best method for teaching children. Most early childhood educators of today follow guidelines of developmental appropriateness provided by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). However, there are some (a few) who emphasize academic learning and school readiness, especially among private for profit and private non-profit early childhood education institutions. Moreover, some early childhood educators emphasize play and child-centered learning more than others who practice more teacher-centered education. To add to the debate, quite a number of states are adopting the common core standards for education of all children, even during the early childhood years. The common core standards emphasize academics and standards for children that some believe are not developmentally appropriate. On which side of the debates do you stand? Perhaps intentional teaching is a middle ground that can satisfy both sides.

What is intentional teaching? Intentional teaching is being purposeful and thoughtful in all decisions concerning educating young children. Intentional teaching is considering what materials to use, how to arrange the environment, and focusing on the end goals and objectives. Intentional teachers are sometimes child-centered and sometimes teacher-centered. In other words, intentional teachers do what is best for the child to teach the requisite skills, abilities, and knowledge and intentional teachers do not focus on just one philosophy or the other. Intentional teachers reflect on their teaching and are purposeful and thoughtful about everything, especially their goals and objectives for the children they teach. Indeed, the author of this blog post believes that intentional teaching is good for teachers at all levels of education from infant teachers to post-secondary teachers. All teachers should be flexible and create and use lessons and activities that are appropriate for the skill, ability, or knowledge being taught with consideration for the child’s developmental level. Sometimes it is best to be child-centered and to emphasize play, while at other times teacher-centered academic learning is best. Intentional teaching makes way for a middle ground.

Consider this: On what side of the debates do you stand? What do you think about intentional teaching’s potential as a strategy to satisfy both sides of the issue? When is it best to be child-centered and when is it best to be teacher-centered?

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Reply from Ceceilia posted on May 20th 2015
It seems that there is a lot going on, therefore I think that it is better to have a little bit of each emphasized. It would be like a balance of everything which is important. I kind of think that as a teacher, the teacher should also see what her or his class needs more of. Both play and learning is important.
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Reply from Amanda posted on May 25th 2014
I believe that having standards and guidelines for teachers of all ages is important. Because of standards, we know that a high school diploma means that I received a comparable education to some one else. However, at the classroom level an over emphasis on standards can be cumbersome. A balance must be struck between teaching standards and teaching style. Intentional teaching is necessary for all classrooms and many of the great teachers I had throughout my education taught intentionally. Regardless, the education of young children should center on the needs of the children and the teachers should reflect on their teaching practices to be the best teacher that he or she can be.
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Reply from Ma Vang posted on May 20th 2014
I agree with the idea of intentional teaching, the middle ground. Back in high school, in my physics class, my teacher never changed his way of teaching to the way the school wanted. He did not put the standard on the board so that we were aware what standards we were covering (it was required) he just taught us what he has always taught because it had better results than other ways of teaching. I learned a lot more in that class than I did in my biology class where every week we wrote down the standards, word or word, before learning the materials. Teachers who reflect on how their lessons went will not only help their students, but their teaching styles. They will learn and grow as a teacher as well.
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Reply from Kim Lumbang posted on May 20th 2014
I think that culture plays a role in this debate. Both child-centered and teacher-centered approaches for guiding young children can be appropriate and effective. It was mentioned in a previous class of mine that there are some preschools in Japan that are more child-centered whereas preschools in the U.S. are more teacher-centered because of parental demands of wanting their children to be more advanced and ready for higher education. Japan focuses more on free play to allow their students to develop social skills and an appreciation for themselves as physical beings. Because American preschools are more culturally diverse, intentional teaching could satisfy the issue of deciding on which side of the spectrum to lean by keeping a balance between child-centered and teacher-centered learning and still keeping what is best for the children in mind.
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Reply from Abigail Pak posted on May 20th 2014
I think that having a mixture of all these methods would be the best. Having the emphasis on academic learning and school readiness, as a teacher, means that you are prepared and you are ready to teach your children what they need to know. For the children, it means that they are going to be learning what they need to learn and for the younger aged children, they will be preparing for grade school, which is good because then they will do what is to come ahead of time. However, all work and no play is not all correct. I still think that children should play and that the teachers should base there teaching methods on the children. This way, the children can get breaks in between learning and, with the child-centered learning, be able to relate to what is being taught to them. I believe intentional teaching is a very good method to try to combine these methods into one. Intentional teaching focuses on the teacher and the children. The teachers would be teaching the children what they should be learning and also teaching it based on the children. I believe that it is best to always be child-centered and teacher-centered. Like intentional teaching states, teachers should base their teaching methods according to the children and still reflect on their teaching and try to improve, which is both child-centered and teacher-centered.
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Reply from Brianne Moreno posted on May 18th 2014
I think that no one specific method is entirely correct for teaching children. I think that it takes a little bit of both methods to get children ready for the next grade-level. I think that too much on emphasis on academic learning and school readiness for too long will result in the children zoning out during lessons and lectures and they will not absorb as much as you want them too. On the other side, too much emphasis on play is not good because the kids will never want to sit in a classroom and learn things when it comes time to do so. Having a balanced amount of both play and academic learning will benefit the children more because when they are just wound up and zoning out from sitting too long, they can go take a break and play outside for a certain period of time and release all of their energy and come back ready to focus and learn. I think that teachers should choose a specific method based upon how their class that school year learns and how attentive they are during the school day. Every year classes change and require different needs to learn so I feel like the method of choice depends on how the class reacts to the lessons being taught at hand.
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Reply from Amberly Seelapasay posted on May 13th 2014
I believe in following guidelines of developmental appropriateness when planning and teaching children. As a teacher, I would need to be mindful of the children’s abilities and make sure that what I teach is appropriate for them. I would not want my children getting frustrated with the material and I would rather have them feel capable of solving problems and this is where I think careful planning is needed. I like the idea of having play and child-centered learning, but I can also see the value in a teacher-centered education. As a future teacher, it would be useful for me to see the strengths and weaknesses of methods for teaching children and use the most beneficial methods for the classroom that I have that school year. As we know, not all methods will be effective year after year with different groups of students and I think teachers need to have a good understanding of different methods so that they can use whatever method is best for their current classroom. I think intention teaching can be a potential strategy to satisfy both sides of the issue, but I do not like how the article makes it seem like teachers have to choose a certain method for teaching children. Different lessons might work better being child centered versus teacher centered and it is up to the teacher to be flexible and aware of what is best for teaching the lesson’s objectives. For example, if the teacher needs to give direct instructions about facts or concepts, the teacher-centered method is better than the child centered method. On the other hand, if the teacher wants children to work in groups or have projects be made based on students interests, then a child centered method might be better.
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Reply from Alina Slivinskaya posted on May 13th 2014
I believe that it depends on where you are and what culture you are part of. Teachers should adapt to whatever strategy is beneficial to the students in the classroom. Although, you need a standard and teachers should have a guideline, but they should be able to go around it if needed because each child learns differently and the standards may not apply evenly between all classes. Teachers should provide the children with skills they will need now and later on in their future, but it satisfies their intrinsic learning.
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Reply from Janessa posted on April 23rd 2014
Being a child development major tends to make you feel as if you should always side with what is best for the child. I personally love the idea of play when it comes to learning because I feel as if much can be learned through play, but I do understand the teacher based strategy. If i had to pick a side I would definitely side with child centered. On the other hand I do think intentional teaching has plenty of potential and could be a great middle ground for the two strategies. It sort of sounds like a mixture of scaffolding and John Dewey's theory because they both have the goal of purposeful teaching.
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Reply from Shae Wall posted on April 15th 2014
I feel that I would need more information to actually pick a side in this debate, but I am leaning towards intentional teaching. I do feel that children need to be involved in what they are learning about. Teachers need to adjust their curriculum to male sure that the students are actually understanding the assignments and not struggling. A lot of children struggle because the pace is set to fast. Teachers need to make goals that the student can relate to and want to achieve. Teachers can do many activities that can still relate to the curriculum, some may be more difficult or easy depending on the class. Children (and adults) learn in a variety of different ways, so I feel that it is important that they can learn in a way that makes sense to the child.
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Reply from Marisela Rivera posted on March 25th 2014
The environment of a classroom is often considered to be correlated to the development of the children within. It is logical being that what a child sees, or is able to act upon, will make up what they believe to be “their world”, especially in early childhood. Intentional teaching can arguably be beneficial for both the teacher and the child; however, I believe that the one that will benefit the most is the child. In classrooms where teachers use portfolio’s to track development, teachers have the ability to implement activities or rotate in toys that can help promote the development of certain skills. An example could be having an activity using scissors to promote the development of fine motor skills in two year olds. It is likely that the goals/objectives teachers have will be similar to the child needs.
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Reply from Olivia Briceno posted on March 4th 2014
I think that the common core state standards are a good tool for providing an understanding for the parents and student's of what they need to learn. I agree that intentional teaching can be a middle ground for this debate because this style of teachings takes into account more materials to use, and better arrangement of the environment for learning. Acknowledging that the teachers should be flexible is very important since children can be at different developmental levels. In this case, it would be best to use child-centered teaching since it emphasizes play and this type of teaching can support children with a lower cognitive level, whereas teacher-centered academic learning may work better for children at a normal or higher cognitive level.
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Reply from Francisco Arreola posted on March 3rd 2014
The technique in which people or in this case children learn best will always be under debate. As we all know learning is highly influenced by our environment, in most cases by the teacher. Therefore I believe that each teacher adopts their own method of teaching, one that of course meets the need of their students. At times teachers have to follow a curriculum and are expected to execute this curriculum using a particular method, by selecting a method that is tailored to the population they teach would of course have higher outcomes. I think that intentional teaching allows teachers to teach comfortably as they are able to have ultimate control on the learning of these children. It allows the teacher to shift their roles based on the goals and objectives they want to meet. When appropriate they can incorporate and pull from both perspectives to provide children with new skills, abilities, and knowledge. Child-centered in my opinion should be used to teach a child something while putting yourself at their level, where as the teacher-centered would be when attempting to teach and being that authority figure.
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Reply from Betsy Uda posted on February 23rd 2014
In any quality Early Childhood curriculum, there is a balance between adult and child driven activities. Educators should follow the lead and interest of the children in their care, and develop activities or intentional teaching moments that both interest the child and fulfill the teachers goal of the activity.
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Reply from Valeriya posted on February 20th 2014
Intentional teaching strategy is a well-rounded form of an educational technique. The teachers provide a lesson plan and allow leeway room for children to be playful as well. At the childcare I work at, the teachers are to follow a curriculum set by the school. At times it is difficult to do the curriculum every day because of a high ratio on the classroom, so some of the time instead of introducing a new lesson, the teacher compromises and allow the children to learn through play. Being child-centered is ideal, it is right, it makes sense because the focus is on the child and their particular learning style, and all teachers must find a way for that one child to learn. I do not think there is a right time to be child-centered and teacher-centered, because either way the child has to learn a piece of new information either way. It be either through play or introducing a structured curriculum to the children, which both would work well.
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Reply from Calysta posted on February 19th 2014
I'm curious to see how the common core standards change the education system. I've heard both sides for and against the new system, but since we haven't seen it in action just yet I will withhold any judgement until then. Intentional teaching is something I was unfamiliar with before reading this blog, and will be looking more into it. Most of the goals of intentional teaching are what should already be in place in all classrooms now. The goal of the teacher should always to do whats best for the child to teach the requisite skills, abilities,and knowledge, and to not focus on just one philosophy.
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Reply from Monica Ogaz posted on February 15th 2014
I stand more with intentional teaching because I believe each child's development is unique and that every child learns at their own pace. These NAEYC and California CORE Standards are not as useful as an educator would hope they would be. Balancing teacher and child centered learning I think would.be effective in a secondary school setting. On the other-hand child centered learning, in my perspective should occur more often during the first five years of development, and the teacher centered learning from kindergarten onward.
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Reply from carissa posted on February 14th 2014
I feel like I stand more in the middle of the debate. I do agree with the NAEYC's standards, but I also agree with some of the common core standards in California. I think that an international teaching is a way to satisfy both sides of the issue. It is best to be child-centered when teaching the material but teacher-centered when planning what to teach that day. I don't think I can easily side with just one. Im on the fence.
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Reply from Carly posted on February 11th 2014
I think balance is a good thing. As with most Child Development thoughts and theories, aspects of both sides of the debate are correct. Middle of the road always seems to make the most sense. I think intentional teaching is important. It’s important to figure out how the child you are working with learns, and zone in on that. We need to make sure we are educating children purposely. As another responder said, children are learning from us regardless of whether we are teaching them intentionally. Based on that thought, we should make sure to incorporate intentional teaching, so we can make sure they are learning the lessons we want them to learn. However, I there is something to be said for spontaneity. So again, a little of both is good.
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Reply from oscar brambila posted on February 8th 2014
I believe you need to adapt to which ever strategy is beneficial to the student. Every child is different, some children need a more hands-on approach and some are more independent. I like the intentional teacher strategy because it has the child's best interest in mind. I like that they teach different philosophies, i think that helps with different learning styles.Teacher-centered is important because it sets the class up for success by organizing the lessons for the day. Child-centered is important so children can take command of their own learning, interact with others and feel confident and independent while learning. I am in the middle, having a bit of both is the best solution.
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Reply from Amanda Huynh posted on February 7th 2014
The teaching method that schools utilize are different amongst cultures. Many East Asian children, for example, focus on key characteristic elements that will promote and maintain harmonious relationships with their social groups. Conversely, the American culture highly favors and encourages individual develoment of children. As such, it would appear that the American culture would emphasize more on child-centered teaching methods.  I believe that intentional teaching would also be the most effective method in urban American schools. Due to the diversity in cultures within America, there may be clashes in teaching methods in schools versus at home. I would assume that if schools were to take on only a teacher-centered method or a child-centered method, a child would experience increased inconsistency in their learning. This may ultimately affect their school success. Schools taking on intentional teaching methods would allow for a variety of activities for children to choose from. This will enable the school to more accurately pinpoint each child\\\'s learning techniques and develop teaching strategies that coincide with the teaching method utilized by parents. All in all, I believe that intentional teaching would allow for continual consistency in the child\\\'s learning in school environments and home environment.
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Reply from Irina Kalyuta posted on February 6th 2014
I feel like I\'m somewhere in the middle of this debate. I believe that teachers have to do whatever is needed of them to provide the best classroom environment and to teach in a way that every child would be satisfied and learn. I think that it is best to be teacher-centered when the teacher prepares for the class, but once inside the classroom, it needs to be more child-centered.
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Reply from Erin Hammer posted on February 1st 2014
Ideally, I wish that all children could be taught in a way that suits their own individual needs and follows their specific developmental progress. However, at this time it seems that teaching to a curriculum and school "preparedness" takes priority. I think intentional teaching is vital to a well-rounded education for a young child. Too many child care centers teach from a pre-approved curriculum that has little, to nothing to do with what the children are intrinsically interesting in. Which, like adults, is the best way to learn, when you are learning about what interests you, not what someone has decided you should be learning about. I think that it is possible to have a middle ground. Where teachers are providing the children with the skills they will need both in later life, and in school settings, but in a way that satisfies their natural curiosities and promotes intrinsic learning.
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Reply from Alexis Dixon posted on January 31st 2014
I think realistically, during this time, it is important for children to be taught in a way that gives them the tools they need for school readiness. For it seems that in order to achieve the highest honors academically, students must meet if not exceed the expectations institutions have for school readiness. However, I also believe that it is crucial that students be taught material and be given knowledge which is developmentally appropriate. This developmentally appropriate material will assist them in continuing on the path of learning advanced material as they mature developmentally. Intentional teaching seems to be an ideal balance between teacher-centered and child-centered academic learning. It is helpful that teachers reflect on their own role in children's lives as they make goals and objectives for children to obtain through learning. In addition, it is also, I believe, is necessary and beneficial that the instructor considers the students at all costs when determining activities that will help construct skills and knowledge among children.I think child-centered learning works best at all times during hands on activities, be it worksheets,coloring,puzzles,exploring their surroundings, and "make-believe play," to name a few. I think that teacher-centered learning is best when the children are learning new information, and need to be given instruction as to how to understand the information that is presented to them, so that they can carry out their child-centered learning efficiently and effectively.
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Reply from Kimberly Gordon Biddle posted on January 31st 2014
Alexis, this is a wonderful response and well-reasoned.
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Reply from Megan Laughlin posted on January 28th 2014
I feel that I stand more in the middle of the debate about common core standards. I agree with the NAEYC's standards, but I also agree with some of the common core standards in California specifically. I feel that an international teaching is a potential strategy to satisfy both sides of the issue because it, at least to me, seems like a middle ground. It is best to be child-centered when teaching the material but teacher-centered when planning what to teach that day.
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Reply from mary duncan posted on January 6th 2014
To the authors: In a scale numbered one through ten with the lowest mark being one, this article is a nine in my opinion. All interactions with children should be a learning experience whether in a classroom or at play. There should be a purpose and thoughtfulness when dealing with children. Their minds are like sponges and they learn whether we intentionally teach them or not. They are learning. Mary Ann Duncan ps: Thanks for stimulating my thought process.
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