Promoting Cognitive Development: Children and Teachers as Collaborators
Children are natural explorers. During their formative years, they are highly impressionable and receptive to different forms of learning. Not only does the development of the brain take place during this period but also the foundations of cognitive, physical and socio-emotional skills are laid. These developmental skills are honed over a long period of time through children’s ability to observe and connect with the world around them. Hence, the surrounding environment plays a vital role in shaping their personhood.
Traditional model of communication
The teaching-learning process in most schools involves teaching a uniform and common pedagogy with a focus on imparting information and instruction to a group of learners in a classroom. Most of us have grown up with the credence that our teachers know more than we do. However, this line of thinking has its own merits and demerits. When we talk of its merits, we acknowledge the vital role of teachers in facilitating cognitive development in children. On the other hand, the demerits lie in creating a passive learning environment in which children accept whatever is taught to them.
As a point of departure, this article attempts to chart out alternative modes of engagement that are not essentially teacher-led. The alternative methods stress on children’s verbal initiatives and underscore the importance of two-way communication between children and teachers.
How can conversations be triggered?
From a cognitive point of view, exploratory talks such as ‘Thinking Together’ are effective methods to promote meaningful reasoning and participation. Unlike planned teaching scenarios where teachers try to structure communicative exchanges in accordance with predefined formats, exploratory talks empower children to interact with their teachers and peers in an unrestricted manner. A child not only answers their peers but also actively participates by sharing new ideas and reflections. They get to verbally express their opinion on a topic and are not chastised by the teacher for giving wrong responses. In fact, such discussions encourage children to think, speak and make their involvement more meaningful.
Questioning helps discover a child’s knowledge and understanding. Based on their answers, a teacher builds the scaffold for further learning. Keeping the significance of questioning in mind, it becomes important for a teacher to understand which questions engage children more.
As opposed to a situation where the child’s answer is controlled by the teacher’s questions and/or their evaluative comments, open-ended interactions value children’s inputs and initiatives more. The teacher-student relationship thus becomes less controlled and creates more space for collaboration.
Questioning also helps children’s ability to actively process information. When a teacher asks questions of a closed kind, i.e. questions with predetermined answers, it doesn’t allow much scope for higher-order thinking in children. In contrast to this, when children are asked questions that require in-depth comprehension, it encourages active participation, elaborated utterances and higher involvement with the characters’ behaviour and feelings.
Narration, whether real or fictional, can be an effective method of stimulating a child’s imagination. Narrations following the viewing of a short film, a book reading, or even oral storytelling offer multiple possibilities of increasing a child’s engagement and enhancing their vocabulary and comprehension ability. The goal is to create a shared space wherein children can discover and explore, and also share their knowledge with their classmates. In the process, children become more active interlocutors than just passive learners. Furthermore, narrations help children build the logical order of their stories, which in turn, enhances their cognitive engagement.
Creating conditions for children’s participation requires an open commitment to respecting children’s opinion. Such an attitude paves the way for democratic dialogues in which children and adults get to bridge their divide and meet as communicational partners. Embedded in this is the potential of reciprocal sharing and realising children’s right to participation.