Next to a powerful and active learning environment, the way adults interact with children is a key to increase the well-being and involvement of learners.
Empathy or taking perspective is central to determining the quality of the interactions. To what extent does the adult include the experiences of the child in his interventions? More specifically, empathy is about taking into account the perspective of the other and figuring out, in an empathic way, ‘what is happening on the other side’. It encompasses the role taking capacity that allows us to get in touch with the other and to imagine how he/she is experiencing a particular situation. What we obtain from this advanced form of ‘empathy’ covers all dimensions:
- Affective empathy, these are feelings and emotional needs;
- Cognitive empathy, these are perceptions and cognition, thoughts and reasoning;
- Conative empathy, these are motives, intentions, dreams and desires.
In addition to the degree of empathy, we distinguish different types of interventions, linked to three dimensions. These are:
- Stimulating interventions are open impulses that engender involvement, such as: suggesting activities to children, inviting children to communicate, asking thought-provoking questions and giving rich information.
- Sensitivity is evidenced in responses that witness empathic understanding of the child.
- Giving autonomy means: respecting the children’s initiative, acknowledging their interests, giving them room for experimentation, letting them decide upon the way an activity is performed and letting them participate in the setting of rules.
Interventions can vary a lot, depending on the nature of activities or on the responses and initiatives of children. Nevertheless, we can discern individual patterns in the way adults intervene in a wide variety of situations. The notion of ‘style’ is used to grasp this pattern. Some adults are stronger in ‘sensitivity’, while others excel in ‘stimulating interventions’. However, this does not prevent the same person from being able to use different styles depending on the situation in which he /she is and /or on the persons with whom he/she interacts. So, style is not a fixed concept, but flexible and adaptable to the circumstances.
Measure Adult Style
The Centre for Experiential Education developed the Adult Style Observation Schedule (ASOS) to capture the adult style.
- Laevers, F., & Heylen, L. Involvement of Children and Teacher Style: Insights from an international study on Experiential Education. [Socrates publication]
- Pascal, C., & Bertam, T. (1999). The effective early learning project: The quality of adult engagement in early childhood settings in the UK. [paper presented at EECERA Conference]