Sunday, February 7, 2010

Children's Private Speech

Thanks to Deborah Stewart at Teach Preschool who shared the latest volume of NAEYC's "Teaching Young Children". With trepidation I read the article, "How Should Teachers Respond To Children's Private Speech" by Laura J. Colker and I found it quite thought provoking. It seems that many teachers try to stifle the private speech of their students. I don't. As I was reading, I began to question my practice in the classroom regarding private speech. Have I been doing something that was not DAP? That is the last thing I meant to do.

Not only do I not stifle it, I encourage and try to facilitate it. I've always felt that the private speech affords me a glance into how students are thinking about problem solving and creating. I've learned to gently insert myself without disrupting the flow and use those moments to hear what and how my students are thinking. Now halfway through the year, I can slip in and talk about the thoughts they are expressing with my "private speakers".

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have a really fantastic professor for several of my math in education courses, Dr. Linda Crawford. Math was not one of my favorite subjects, but she made me excited about teaching it. In all honesty, she was one of my tougher professors, but I certainly learned more from her than I ever thought I could. While I learned volumes from her about teaching students math, I learned so much more about thinking about how I go about the practice of teaching. One of the things she required was for us to reflect on our teaching. (At the time, I saw it as more of a "busy" assignment, but here I am today in the blogging world, doing just that!)

In all of her classes, she promoted talking with children to learn how they are thinking. Discovering how children problem solve can provide powerful insights to us. As I put this into practice, I saw this as a tool to help with language development, as well.

When children used private speech in my classroom, I viewed it not as a disruption, but as another opportunity. I have been facilitating private speech in my room for some time now. I learn alot about my students during these moments, and I've had the great pleasure to be present during more than a few of their own "Aha!" lightbulb moments. Those moments are the greatest gifts to a teacher and as I was reading, I cringed at the thought that I might have to rethink this practice. I must say I was relieved to reach the end of the article and discover this was a practice I did not need to abandon! Freedom of speech in Pre-K----AWESOME!


  1. Thanks for posting this Ayn. I couldn't get it to load for me before.

    I can't believe that a teacher would discourage this kind of talk. Listening and responding to this kind of speech is one of the best parts of teaching in my opinion. Heck, I talk to myself all the time at school, imitating the kids, I guess.

    I think it must be more that just adaptive in terms of learning self-regulation. Young children need adults to respond to them on a variety of levels in order to survive. I suspect that this has something to do with that as well. Not responding to it is just unnatural! =)

  2. Hi Ayn - I am not so sure everyone knows what private speech is exactly. Can you define it for me a bit? In what circumstances do you find your students using private speech?

  3. Oops...sorry. I got so excited by the article.
    Private speech is when a young child talks to himself (or no one else in particular), usually talking through what they are doing. With the students I have that do it, I see it a good bit with problem solving or creating. "This goes here" or "This doesn't fit" They sort of talk through the activity they are doing. "I'm using pink after this."
    I tend to see it a lot with Lego and block play, too. I probably see a bit more because I have been encouraging it and for some, it's become standard classroom behavior.

    I didn't really realize what had been happening,(it just seemed like such a natural interaction) until one day last year as my students were in my classroom with the afterschool teachers during my planning time. As I heard one little guy muttering to himself, I looked to grab my post it notes (always taking anecdotal notes), and one of the afterschool teachers started to admonish the student for not working quietly. I realized then that not everybody looked at this behavior like me.

    (Sorry, I got going again! Hope that clarifies a little!:)

  4. karen Nemeth, www.languagecastle.comFebruary 8, 2010 at 12:13 AM

    This is a great post - and great explanation. Here's a suggestion for teachers who have children who talk to themselves in their home languages. Carry a little digital voice recorder with you and record some of their self-talk, even if you don't understand it. This will give you a chance to play the tape for the parents or someone else who can translate for you so you have some examples of the child's language ability for his or her portfolio. And - you will get some real insight into the child's interests, development and concerns.

  5. Oh, my son does private speech all of the time. My daughter (only 17 months) babbles to herself while playing, too.
    But I go through the house with my own private speech. So I think I know how they got encouraged to do it. :-)


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