Teaching Preschoolers Learning Strategies: The ‘What’ Meets the ‘How’



During group time in a preschool class, a teacher asks the children to “raise a nice quiet hand” in order to share an idea. What does a child need to know and To do to meet this demand? Children are invited to:

  • self-monitoring behavior;
  • think about and plan what to say;
  • use audio representation or visualization to retain response;
  • maintain directive attention; and
  • interact with and / or question others.

What appears to be a simple task can turn into frustration for the child and the teacher without awareness of these functions and norms of behavior.

It wouldn’t be surprising to walk into a preschool classroom and watch children learn numbers, colors, and shapes. It can be surprising, however, to meet preschoolers Learn about thinking– their own thinking. That is, preschoolers tend to be educated and exposed to declarative knowledge (What is a nice quiet hand?), but less procedural knowledge (How do I plan my answer or question before I speak? How do I control myself by raising my hand?). This example is simple, but highlights a larger problem: In early childhood, the emphasis is often on academic content, but this is not enough. Children should be able to attend and access instruction as well as apply and elaborate on information gathered from others. The strategies and underlying thought processes that enable children to engage in these behaviors are often known as approaches to learning, an essential foundation for children’s learning and development. Figure 1 illustrates a sample of these strategies, which apply at any grade level.

Figure 1. Three categories of learning strategy approaches

Source: Chamot, 2009; Bodrova & Leong, 2003

Combine developmental norms and sequences for preschool

To help teachers isolate and develop learning strategies, AppleTree Institute for Educational Innovation (“AppleTree”) has developed nine learning standards approaches (Figure 2) designed to be taught in both explicit and integrated ways.

Figure 2. Approaches to learning standards

Approaches to learning standards

These standards have been designed to be the backbone of educational practices and materials, while also providing a roadmap for the progression of typical development and suggested teaching. Standards and their more specific indicators become more and more complex as a teacher moves with a child or class, up and down and left to right (Figure 3). Using this structure, a teacher can identify where a child or group is in their mastery of learning strategies. The teacher can think: Where is this child in his learning? What did he already master? What should I target next during direct instruction and target play?

This isn’t a perfectly linear approach, as kids can master some slightly messy skills. However, the general framework works to show increasing difficulty and skill building in a way that informs teaching, functions as a pioneering professional learning tool, and offers a more nuanced approach than a traditional list of standards.

Figure 3. Organization of standards and indicators in progression

Organize standards and indicators in a progression

Figure 4 shows an example of progression which takes the generic structure of Figure 3 and specifies indicators of increasing complexity for one of the approaches of the “Peer Interactions” learning standards. Indicators can be explicit in small group and whole group instruction and integrated into organic, teachable moments as kids interact with each other in kid-led activities. For example, children can finish a song or silly cheering after a peer has had a good idea or has completed a “difficult” task (for example, completing a puzzle or jumping very far). A teacher can also use peer partnership so that a child who is skilled at writing or ringing the letter for “T” supports a child with emerging knowledge of the letter so that they can work and learn together to approach. the indicators at the “approach” and the levels “progressing” in the progression simultaneously. In this example, the learning standards approaches are incorporated into a literacy lesson.

Figure 4. Examples of Every Child Ready Approaches to Learning the Preschool Standard

Examples of Every Child Ready Approaches to Learning the Preschool Standard

Applying progression to materials

To bridge the gap between research and practice, professional learning and the development of educational materials are essential to the use of any progression. Figure 5 shows examples of pedagogical approaches that can be coupled with standards-based progression.

Figure 5. Pedagogical approaches

Pedagogical approaches

Note: The term rhythm guide can also be referred to as the program plan, scope and sequence or schedule of standards. These guides set out the subject expectations to be covered in each subject at each grade level, as well as when they should be taught and the number of days to spend in each subject.

Overall, there are a variety of complex and rich uses that can be made for the information presented above. However, if nothing else, Apple tree hope that the following message will be received by all who participate or implement: Children must know How? ‘Or’ What learn not only What to learn.

And after?

Considerable progress has been made in expanding what is known about preschool learning approaches and applying them in an age-appropriate and engaging way for very young learners. Moreover, this in-depth work in early childhood can and should be extended significantly to later classes, in an effort to better support both teachers and children.

The objectives of this work are multiple, including the promotion of preschool education as an early prevention measure and the hope of extending current learning progressions to support the learning continuum. While much has been accomplished, there is still work to be done. The existing literature on learning progressions needs to be combined with empirical evidence to create a validated and tested framework that educators can use to guide their teaching and scaffold children’s learning.

Tables and charts created by Adrienne gaither from the AppleTree Institute for Educational Innovation.



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