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Intentional Teacher

Dr. Ann S. Epstein

HighScope Press Release

Contact: Carrie Hernandez
Director, Sales and Marketing
734.485.2000, Ext. 255
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For Immediate Release

What Is an Intentional Teacher?

Ypsilanti, MI, February 19, 2007 — The best way to teach preschool children is hotly debated today — in schools, among teachers and parents, in the press, and among policymakers as well as politicians. Since 2001 and the passage of No Child Left Behind, this debate has pitted two sides against each other: those who support child-initiated learning (where children choose their own learning activities and carry them out in their own ways) versus those who support adult-directed instruction (where learning activities are planned and controlled by the teacher). 

Ann S. Epstein, Director of Early Childhood at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, advocates for an intermediate stance, in which both young children and teachers have active roles in the learning process. According to Dr. Epstein, "an effective early childhood program combines both child-guided and adult-guided educational experiences." Children have significant, active roles in adult-guided experiences, and adults play intentional roles in child-guided experiences, taking advantage of both planned and unexpected learning opportunities.

This is what Dr. Epstein calls intentional teaching, the focus of her two new books, The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children's Learning (National Association for the Education of Young Children 2007) and Essentials of Active Learning in Preschool: Getting to Know the HighScope Curriculum (HighScope Educational Research Foundation 2007).

"To be intentional," explains Dr. Epstein, "is to act purposefully, with a goal in mind and a plan for accomplishing it…intentional teaching is not an accident." Intentional teachers use their knowledge, judgment, and expertise to organize learning experiences for children. And, "when an unexpected situation arises, as it always does," notes Dr. Epstein, "intentional teachers recognize a teaching opportunity and are able to take advantage of it."

Take, for example, preschool teacher Peter, who is observing Tony and Salima, two of his students, sitting on the floor and playing with the acorns the class collected outside. As Salima divides the acorns between them, putting hers in a long row and Tony's in a pile, Tony becomes frustrated because he thinks Salima has more acorns than he has. Peter, as an intentional teacher, wonders out loud how the children could find out whether they have the same number of acorns. Tony suggests counting them in the two arrangements, and as Peter observes, asks thoughtful questions, and adds supportive comments, the children discover together that they do indeed have the same number of acorns regardless of how they are arranged.

Dr. Epstein provides vignettes such as this as well as concrete ideas and specific teaching strategies for interacting intentionally with children in key subject areas — literacy, mathematics and scientific reasoning, social development and social studies, physical movement, and visual art —- in The Intentional Teacher, which Sue Bredekamp, Director of Research for the Council for Professional Recognition, hails as "one of the best early childhood books that I have ever read."

Dr. Epstein continues to develop the intentional teaching approach in Essentials of Active Learning in Preschool, which presents an in-depth, easy-to-read overview of the HighScope Preschool Curriculum for early childhood educators and students preparing to enter the field. In this guide, Dr. Epstein shows how teachers use the principles of intentional teaching in every component of an active learning preschool program, including planning the classroom environment and daily routine; carrying out supportive adult-child interactions; providing learning activities in important content areas, such as literacy, mathematics, social skills, and creative arts; and assessing children's progress.

The HighScope Educational Research Foundation, an independent nonprofit research, development, training, and public advocacy organization located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was founded in 1970 by Dr. David P. Weikart. The Foundation's principal goals are to promote the learning and development of children worldwide from infancy through adolescence and to support and train educators and parents as they help children learn. In a HighScope program, students learn through active involvement with people, materials, events, and ideas.


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