Teaching C hallenge
Boys are unable to express their emotions appropriately.
Strategy: Implementing a guidance plan to support boys’ communication skills.
The team devised a guidance plan comprising “The Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution” and a “Feelings Chart.” The purpose of the guidance plan was to support educators’ use of certain methods with a group of 3-year-old boys with delayed speech. Educators aimed to encourage appropriate behavior among the boys through positive communications during play. By following the guidance plan, educators became more responsive to the boys’ needs while being less controlling. A problem-solving approach to behavior management enabled educators to communicate more effectively, and resulted in a less stressful classroom. When boys showed more interest and engagement in their play, their behavior improved.
Pointing to relevant images on the feelings chart during circle time gave the boys a way to express their emotions. Educators changed their behavior management role from disciplinarian to facilitator of play. Most educators realized that developmental knowledge of 3-year-olds’s feelings at a given moment was critical to their effective behavior management. Other educators resisted new guidance strategies, and required more time to gain professional knowledge in order to implement developmentally-appropriate practices.
The C ontext
This action research took place over one complete semester in a classroom for 3-year olds enrolled at a daycare center in a small city. Full daycare was provided to children of all abilities, including those with exceptional learning needs. In a classroom with a lead educator and an assistant educator, ten of the 16 children were boys. The New York State Common Core Standards in use at the time were used in the setting to guide the curriculum and learning outcomes.
During the first team meeting, educators identified their teaching challenge as managing the difficult behavior of a group of 10 three-year-old boys. To gather data to investigate the teaching challenge further, the candidate video recorded the boys during free-play. During the second week’s team meeting, educators watched the videotape. The following paragraphs are a record of the comments educators made while watching the footage. The narrative includes a description of the teaching challenge and reveals educators’ own beliefs about the boys’ behavior problems.
For various reasons, the boys’ delayed speech contributed toward difficult behavior. Many boys spoke at a two-year-old developmental level. One boy was an English language learner. As a result, communication problems arose between the boys and educators. Boys, unable to fully understand what was said to them, could not express themselves clearly either. Delayed speech development meant the boys tended to express their feelings and needs physically by hitting and kicking others.
The boys were highly physical which made it hard for educators to maintain their interest in activities. Rather than use classroom play centers in the ways that educators intended, the boys ran between centers, used materials for unorthodox purposes, and played highly physical games like “Spiderman.” In a small classroom, the boys created a commotion, as they touched each other, and wrestled on top of each other. As they ran on a gravel path, when they were allowed to go outside, accidents occurred.
Boys’ under-developed social skills also contributed to the teaching challenge. They often played in parallel, i.e., in proximity to one another, but not interactively in social play. Disputes over toys were common because boys did not share toys. This was exacerbated further because there were not enough toys or materials available. The boys were limited in their ability to make play choices.
Team V alues
Educators did not want to stereotype or label the boys because of their delayed language, poor concentration, and under developed social skills. However, educators judged that many of the boys were developmentally delayed, and immature for their age. By comparison, 3-year-old girls were perceived to be more mature and were positive role models to the boys. The lack of girls in the class seemed to impact boys’ behavior by the absence of their positive influence. Educators wondered how to improve their behavior management skills. They said they needed help in creating smoother transitions and routines in the classroom that would help improve boys’ behavior. The adult to child ratio of 1:7 increased the likelihood that educators would spend a lot of time “putting out fires” in the classroom. Rather than directing and correcting boys’ difficult behavior, educators wondered how they could support appropriate behavior. Educators thought that the boys’ difficult behavior needed to be “ironed out now,” to help them make a successful transition to the next class when they would be 4-year-olds.
The educators thought the boys needed more time to play to support their development. Knowing how to create appropriate play provision and behavioral expectations for boys who were developmentally delayed was difficult. Educators wondered about using signing in the classroom to improve their communication with the boys. Questions arose about whether existing materials were appropriate and interesting to the boys. During outdoor play, educators noticed how boys enjoyed watching jet-trails in the sky. However, educators needed help in knowing how to use this experience to create learning activities that engaged boys’ interests.
Aims of the Action Research
The aims of this action research were to: (1) improve educators’ interactions with 3-year-old boys; (2) create a guidance plan that would help educators develop beneficial interactions with them; (3) provide the teacher candidate with consistent opportunities that connect the theory of developmentally-appropriate interactions with boys, taught to them in college classes, with educators’ practice in Practicum; and (4) improve the teacher candidate’s opportunities to plan and implement lesson plans in ways that demonstrated NAEYC Standards (2009).
Alignment wi th NAEYC S tandards
In NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs (2009) interactions with children are required to be grounded in a child development knowledge base, one that is deeply linked to a sympathetic understanding of each young child (Elkin, 1994). In Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning, teacher candidates are required to demonstrate an understanding of each child’s characteristics and needs and provide for their physical, cognitive, social, emotional, language, aesthetic, play, learning processes, and motivation. Teacher candidates are required to demonstrate an understanding of the multiple influences on the development and learning of each child, including their cultural and linguistic relationships with adults and peers, economics, health, disabilities, individual development, learning styles, play, technology, and family and community characteristics. Teacher candidates are required to demonstrate, using developmental knowledge, healthy, respectful, supportive, and challenging learning environments for each child. They are expected to do this by recognizing them as feeling, thinking individuals whose abilities, family contexts, home cultures, and languages are to be affirmed. Each child must have opportunities to learn through play, spontaneous activity, and guided investigations.
The Baseline A ssessment
Using the educators’ description of the teaching challenge, the team created a checklist of 11 difficult behaviors to form a baseline assessment of their teaching challenge. A 20-minute video was recorded of the ten boys during story time, outdoor play, and free indoor play. While watching the video, educators used the checklist to count the frequency with which each difficult behavior occurred. The checklist was used as a consistent assessment tool throughout the action research.
|Child is not interested in activity||8|
|Child has under developed speech||3|
|Child does not listen||2|
|Child shows physical frustration||3|
|Child plays in parallel||5|
|Child shows anti-social behavior||0|
|Child does not share||0|
|Child makes erratic transitions||0|
|Child has insufficient materials||1|
|Educators direct boys||8|
|Educators have developmentally inappropriate expectations||3|
|Table 6.1: Baseline assessment of the teaching challenge|
Thirty-three examples of boys’ behavior were recorded on the video and analyzed. All eight examples of boys not being interested were observed during story time, when boys sat on a rug, listened to a CD about farm animals, sang along with the CD, made animal noises, and moved like the appropriate farm animal. It was difficult to maintain boys’ interest in the activity when they were expected to sit and listen to the CD. The frequency of boys not being interested in activity correlated to educators directing their play.
Some boys did not speak in complete sentences. On three occasions, boys gave partial instructions to each other about what to do with trucks, and where to put them during clean-up time. Three examples of physical frustration were evident as boys climbed onto an off-limits climbing frame and, when in play, they threw stones. Five examples of boys’ parallel play were seen outdoors as they drove trucks in the gravel and then assembled a railway track. No examples were observed of boys’ anti-social behavior, not sharing materials, or erratic transitions. As boys played with bricks, there was one example of insufficient bricks being made available. On eight occasions, educators directed boys’ behavior with the aim of maintaining their interest in their activities. During these times, educators directed where boys should or should not be, e.g., “You can’t go under the structure. It is not safe.” Educators responded to boys by asking questions, e.g., “Who is throwing stones? What shape is the track? What color is that?” There were three examples of when educators restricted where boys could move to and also restricted the range of play materials they could use.
Team Reflection of the Baseline A ssessment
The team reflected that although the video showed chaotic incidents, like a child crashing into another with a truck; a second child taking a toy from another; a third child hitting another, the video did not show the “overwhelming” problems educators faced maintaining to make boys’ interest in activities. Although no evidence was recorded that showed all categories of difficult behaviors, the video revealed that educators spent considerable time lecturing, directing, and correcting boys’ behavior in a bid to improve it and to maintain their interests.
The team believed the boys needed a structured routine to improve their interest in activities. The team also noticed the boys’ difficult behavior was not exclusively about their lack of interest in activities, but was, more often, an expression of negative emotions. Based on this new insight, educators re-conceptualized the teaching challenge from improving boys’ difficult behavior to increasing opportunities for boys to appropriately express their negative emotions. Educators already knew that, because of their under-developed language skills, boys used their bodies to express negative feelings. Educators realized the boys’ difficulty in maintaining interest in activities was often connected to them not having the words or social skills to express emotions appropriately. Educators expressed frustration that a policy did not exist in the setting to address this concern. The lack of a policy resulted in educators “winging it,” which they said explained their uncoordinated, reactive, and inappropriate responses to the boys’ learning and development needs.
Se lected Literature
Assisted by the librarian, the teacher candidate selected three articles for the team to read. The articles were related to helping boys to express emotion appropriately:
(1) Fox, L., and Harper Lentini, R. November (2006). Teaching boys a vocabulary for emotions. Beyond the Journal – Young Children. naeyc.org
(2). Fox, L., and Harper Lentini, R. November (2006). “You got it!” teaching social and emotional skills. Beyond the Journal – Young Children.naeyc.org
(3) King, M. & Gartrell D., (July 2003) Building an encouraging classroom with boys in mind. Young Children Vol 58 No.4.
(4) Gartrell, D. (2002) Replacing Time-out. Part Two – Using guidance to maintain an encouraging classroom. Young Children Vol 57 No.2.
The team chose three strategies, two articles, Teaching Boys a Vocabulary for Emotions, and Replacing TimeOut, because both articles closely matched their teaching challenge. The team used the articles to write their own policy for supporting boys’ emotions. The chosen strategies were: (i) The Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution (ii) the Guidance Talk and; (iii) a feelings chart.
The Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution
The Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution (See figure 6.2) consisted of five steps for educators to follow when approaching and supporting a child in a situation of conflict. The steps were:
- Cool down – the educator calms all individuals, including him or herself, and sets the scene for the remediation process.
- Identify the problem – the boys, with help from the educator, put the problem into words and agree on what it is.
- Brainstorm solutions – the boys, with help from the educator, are given a chance to solve their own problems. Educators get down to their level, act as a role model for appropriate behavior, and use an encouraging voice.
- Go for it – boys and educators decide on one solution and try it. The educator shows respect for child autonomy and gives compliments in support of ideas.
- Follow up – the educator encourages, monitors, and guides the boys as they try out the solution. A guidance talk with the boys may be part of this step.
Following the use of the Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution, and adapted from Gartrell (2002), educators carry out the guidance talk privately with a child to avoid embarrassment. This consists of talking with a child and not at a child. The purpose is to teach the child that they can respond differently in conflict situations, and to provide the child with alternatives. During the guidance talk the educator will:
- Discuss what happened during the conflict and convey to the child why the behavior was mistaken. For example, it is appropriate to feel frustrated when the glue bottle top comes off, but it is not appropriate to throw the glue bottle and hit someone.
- Help the child understand how others may have felt. A goal is to build empathy in the child.
- Brainstorm with the child alternative acceptable behaviors to use the next time, e.g., “Next time you can say, don’t do that – it makes me angry.”
- Ask how the child can help the other child feel better. This is different from forcing an apology. Neither boys nor educators benefit when they are forced to apologize before conflicts are resolved. When boys participate in reconciliation, they are usually more able to make amends. Boys often come up with their own ideas for getting back together.
The Feelings Chart
The team agreed that a “feelings chart” could be introduced to the boys at circle time. The chart was designed to help the boys explore a range of emotions, identify related facial expressions, learn appropriate vocabulary, and connect those words to their own feelings. Boys were thought to know the vocabulary for the extreme emotions of happy and sad, but they did not yet know the words for a range of other emotions in between.
Writing the Guidance P lan
As the team started to write their guidance plan, some educators had difficulty in understanding the concept of “guidance” to help the boys express emotions appropriately (Gartrell, 2007, p.24). Their earlier practices were commonly based on reprimand and prevented some educators from understanding how to use guidance to help the boys. Changing the understanding of some educators about how to support boys’ emotions did not happen easily. The implementation of the guidance plan strategy was delayed. Some educators said it was “second nature” for them to use reprimand and directional strategies.
These educators did not initially understand that behavior management methods had to be based on child development principles so 3-year-olds would understand them. (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009) This was particularly important when some of the boys appeared to be developmentally delayed. One boy’s comment illustrated this child development principle through his pre-operational understanding. He asked, “If the thinking chair is not here today, does it mean that no-one will be bad?” The guidance plan had to be simple to enable educators to implement it consistently, and for them to be confident that it would improve the teaching challenge.
Implementation of the Strategy: Stage 1 – Writing the Guidance P lan
The team based their guidance plan on Gartrell’s (2007) philosophy. The philosophy stated that preschool boys don’t misbehave; instead they have “mistaken behavior.” In other words, boys are learning social skills to participate in group activities and to interact with one another. Their learning isn’t always perfect, and they need guidance in learning social skills. Gartrell contended that boys need to learn appropriate behavior with the same gentle instruction that we use to teach new words. With this in mind, the team wrote the following guidance plan:
|The Guidance Plan |
When guiding boys’ behavior, educators plan to take the following steps:
|Table 6.2: The Guidance Plan|
A video was recorded that showed educators using steps 1 – 6 of the guidance plan; step 7 of the Feelings Chart; and the impact these strategies had. The team developed a second checklist in which the negative teaching challenges in the first checklist were reversed into positive guidance plan outcomes. The team used this list to analyze the tape by counting the frequency of boys’ appropriate expressions of emotion.
|Guidance plan outcomes||Frequencies|
|Interested in activity||6|
|Communicates with others||6|
|Listens to others||5|
|Expresses feelings appropriately||7|
|Shares with others||4|
|Accesses materials appropriately||3|
|Responds to guidance||4|
|Table 6.3: Checklist used to analyze impact of the guidance plan strategy|
Team reflection after video is viewed:
- Is the strategy working? How?
- Is the original teaching challenge being improved upon? How?
- Is children’s learning improving? How?
- Is your understanding of your teaching changing? How?
- Is your teaching changing? How?
Video Recording Analysis
While using the guidance plan strategies with four boys playing with a circular train track and toys, 52 frequencies of guidance plan outcomes in 11 categories were observed. The educator facilitated the boys’ interest, as she sat close to them and supported their play with the train track. The educator helped boys communicate over a problem concerning sharing the train track and not pushing Jake’s train off. The educator asked the boys questions about what happened when Jake’s train was pushed off. She gave the boys time to explain the problem from their own perspectives. Jake said, “On my train track—he pushed on my track.” When the educator created a climate in which boys were given opportunities to talk, other boys were able to listen, although they did not always respond. The educator commented that Charlie was not ready to talk yet.
The educator provided many opportunities and extended time for the boys to express their feelings about the train track problem. She asked, “How did that make you feel? We don’t throw toys because someone could get hurt.” The boys used words that were on the feelings chart, e.g., sad, and phrases that included, “I don’t like that.” For the most part the boys socialized appropriately and were not physically abusive to each other.
Boys’ positive feelings and behavior were further supported when they were able to choose materials for themselves and perform actions. When boys were able to access and perform actions on toys, smoother transitions in play resulted. Some boys hoarded trains in front of them, but as long as there were sufficient toys for each boy, a problem did not develop.
The educator used guidance to help boys think about problems concerning sharing toys. She asked each boy in turn how he felt, and provided him with possible strategies he could use to help the matter, e.g., “You could say, ‘please don’t take my toy now, but when I am done, you can play with it.’” Problem-solving was effective when the educator encouraged the boys to be empathetic and consider how their action affected others.
Team’s Reflective Meeting
Team discussion suggested the guidance plan was working. Kinder and more positive interactions occurred between educators and boys in the classroom. Boys were more able to express themselves by asking or indicating before they did things. Educators praised them as a form of positive reinforcement.
The original teaching challenge was being improved upon through successful implementation of a guidance plan that was found to be dependent upon educators’ communication skills with boys. Educators’ use of language had to be clear and specific in order to draw out boys’ ideas about behavior problems and offer suitable solutions that could be used.
When educators consistently used the guidance plan, children’s learning improved. When educators communicated with boys in ways that built empathy and modeled respect, children were more responsive. Circle time was recognized as effective to consistently model the use of the guidance plan to all the boys. Open-ended questions were helpful, e.g., “What’s the problem? What can we do to sort it out?” Educators recognized they had to acknowledge boys’ feelings in ways that helped them to problem-solve. Educators realized that they had to be aware of the possible causes of behavior problems, such as home lives and cultures. They needed to have an understanding of typical child development for 2- and 3-year-olds and be aware of the implication of boys’ immaturity, and the need to use developmentally-appropriate responses.
Some educators, however, found it difficult to implement the Five Finger Method of Conflict Resolution. They said they needed more time and practice to feel comfortable using it. Changing practice was a process that took more time than was recognized. Bringing the guidance plan down to the boy’s level of understanding was a challenge. This finding indicated that educators’ own communication skills, and the use of appropriate vocabulary, were critical to successful implementation. The team used role-play during team meetings to give them practice and confidence in using it.
Understanding educators’ concerns about using the guidance plan was important in supporting their professional development. Some educators asked questions about when and how they should intervene during problematic behavior. Others said they found talking to, and interacting with, highly physical boys difficult. Educators did not believe that guidance worked without reprimanding boys to point out their mistakes. Some educators preferred to use distraction as a way to prevent behavioral problems. They thought that boys screamed for attention, and expected to be punished when they behaved badly.
Educators’ changing approach regarding behavior management was a process that would take time to become embedded in their professional practice. (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009) One educator remarked that the change was radical saying, “I’m lost for words—this is a whole different take for us.” Up to this time, some educators appear to have used personal rather than professional knowledge to manage children’s behavior. Parents noticed that guidance, rather than “time out,” was being used in the setting. Some parents talked to educators about the changes and said they no longer used a “time-out” chair at home.” The impact of new guidance behavior management practices in the classroom was spreading into children’s homes.
The video was used to record the effectiveness of the feelings chart, the frequency of boys using feeling words, and boys’ awareness of their impact on other boys in the classroom.
|Feeling Chart Outcomes||Frequencies|
|Interested in activity||10|
|Communicates with others||6|
|Listens to others||4|
|Shares with others||2|
|Accesses materials appropriately||8|
|Responds to guidance||6|
|Table: 6.4: Video analysis of the impact of the feelings chart on children’s behavior|
Video Recording Description
During circle time, when an educator used the feeling chart as a game, boys demonstrated 51 positive behaviors in 11 categories. The boys were very interested in the activity that invited them to say how they felt, and select a face on the chart that matched their feelings. Boys’ interest in the activity was maintained, especially when they manipulated pegs, and placed them on the appropriate face of the feelings chart. Boys communicated appropriately as they listened to the educator, and to each other, talk about their feelings. Each boy had a peg of his own and this resulted in the activity being successfully implemented. The boys socialized appropriately and crowded around the chart to see where others had put their pegs. To avoid waiting, some boys who had placed their pegs earlier, went to the bookshelf to look at books and waited until all the boys had placed their pegs on the feelings chart. The educator summarized how many boys had said they were mad, proud, scared and happy. She also reminded the boys that, if their feelings changed, they could come and change where they placed their pegs.
There was only one example of when boys, with the educator’s help, used the feelings chart to solve problems. This was when one boy’s feet got stepped on while placing pegs on the chart. This incident suggested that, at this beginning stage, boys used the feelings chart to express their own feelings, rather than to explore the feelings of others.
Team’s Reflective Meeting
Educators’ responses to the implementation of the feelings chart were positive. They reported that “it’s working because the pictures help the boys use more words in their play.”
Reading about the feelings chart in the journal helped educators understand how it supported boys’ thinking and explained why it worked. As a result, many aspects of the original teaching challenge were improved. Educators reported how the classroom felt calmer and less hectic. Educators were less controlling and fewer rules were imposed to keep order. Boys were given more freedom to make choices in their play and to act on materials than before. However, one educator still believed that it was important to have rules to maintain a safe classroom environment.
The team reported that working with the feelings chart made them more aware of boys’ learning needs. One journal article had indicated the need for boys to have fine and gross-motor movement throughout the curriculum. This led to team discussion about the daily schedule and whether blocks of time were used to create the best physical play opportunities. The problem of having to share the gross-motor room meant that half-hour blocks of time were not as effective as previously thought. Educators realized it was important to organize time, so boys had enough time to make choices about materials and decide how they would use them. Some educators voiced concern that too many boys in centers at one time made it necessary to rotate the boys between centers with timers and rules.
Reflecting on the use of the guidance plan, educators said they now found it better not to use “time out” and, instead, preferred to help boys solve their own problems. Using problem-solving strategies helped boys make more decisions themselves, and say, “I’m ready to go back in and play. I’m ready to talk now.” Educators commented that using the guidance plan had made it necessary for them to “program their own brains, too.”
Although some educators continued to grapple with changed practice, and needed more time to make adjustments, most educators’ values about behavior management changed significantly. They changed from believing that gender and maturity determined child behavior, to understanding how multiple factors affected each child’s individual development. Reading journal articles equipped educators with a deeper knowledge of child development in 3-year-olds. The guidance plan supported educators’ teaching actions in ways aligned with the development of 3-year-olds. Most educators realized that their professional knowledge, and not their personal knowledge, was key to them effectively supporting children’s behavioral needs. These involved educators responding to the boys’ current emotional, language, and social development (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The impact of educators’ improved practice was copied by some parents at home. More consistent behavioral norms were created for children when the same improved practices were used both in the preschool and at home.
The director was regularly involved throughout the action research semester. She played a critical role in supporting educators to consistently implement the guidance plan. She reported how other educators in other classrooms were copying the guidance plan. She wanted all educators in the preschool to read Gartrell’s (2003) book, The Power of Guidance, to ensure they used the same strategy to manage the behavior of young boys in their classrooms. The director was instrumental in spreading the guidance plan strategy across the preschool and promoting consistent practice concerning behavior management among all educators.
Evidence suggested that NAEYC Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning was increasingly met over the semester. Regarding Standard 1a: knowing and understanding the developmental and learning needs of each boy in the class, educators improved their developmentally-appropriate provision for boys’ social, physical, language, and emotional needs, and increasingly understood the multiple influences on each boys’ individual development and learning. Requirements for Standard 1b were increasingly met as educators appreciated the importance of forming close relationships with the boys, and supporting friendship between them.
Educators’ improved understanding of the implementation of the guidance plan, created healthier and more respectful learning opportunities for boys during free-play and circle times especially. Improved learning opportunities for boys were particularly supportive of Standard 1c and of candidates’ teaching during Practicum. The impact of the action research enabled the teacher candidate to successfully implement four activities required in Practicum that were specifically planned to support and challenge each boys’ learning and development. This level of professional action was only possible in a classroom in which NAEYC Standards (2009) were aligned with college teaching and was supportive of boys’ all round developmental and learning needs.
The aims of the action research were largely met. The guidance plan helped most educators develop beneficial interactions with boys, although some educators showed some resistance to changed practice. Communication skills among educators and boys were improved and boys’ engagement in play was sustained. The teacher candidate was provided with regular opportunities during Practicum that made connections between NAEYC standards, taught in college classes, and educators’ practice in Practicum. The teacher candidate enjoyed improved opportunities to design and implement lesson plan assignments aligned with NAEYC Standards (2009).