One Sunflower

whiff – to move with or as if with a puff of air

on October 7, 2009



Two days ago, I sat around a table watching as one of my colleagues was being interviewed by David Matteson about the lesson she had just finished with her kindergarteners.  This was a lesson where narrating pictures with story language was modeled.   Much of our work with young children consists of demonstrations of actions and skills we seek to develop in our students.  David calls these types of lessons, “to” types of lessons – we’re giving the lesson to them.  He went on to describe two other kinds of interactions, one where we support children as they try out new learning and another where they do it totally on their own.  These lessons he labels  “with” and “by,”  meaning with support and by themselves.  I, and a few others at the table, heard the word “with” as “whiff.” 

Sounds nice doesn’t it – the whispered word we give to the student that is trying to speak an English word for the first time, or the low voiced encouragement we offer when they are trying something really hard.  “With” as in Whiff :to move with or as if with a puff of air – according to Websters.    I think it is easiest to do the “to” type of teaching.  Especially in early childhood when everything is new and the children sometimes lack confidence and ability, it is very natural to lead my students  from one activity to the next,  modeling and coaching them through all kinds of lessons – social interactions, painting pictures, doing puzzles and creating story.  When students are capable, it is also easy for me to sit back and enjoy watching them do it – all by themselves

It is most difficult to discriminate when and how to do the “whiffing” kind of scaffolding. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve whispered words to my non-verbal English language learner and wondering how I will know when he is ready to attempt to roll these new phonics off his tongue.  Will I remember to nod and giggle with my youngest 3-year-old as she babbles gayly in Spanish with her doll in the corner and also manage to smile and catch her eye at circle time when she  usually has her head down every time I look at her.  I need to continue creating sentences with rich vocabulary in my story telling so that squirrely little guy, whose britches fell off him last year when he was 3, can knock my socks off and repeat the whole thing! 

It’s my new mantra this year – to, with, by – but I think I’ll keep the “whiff” imagery in my mind.


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