While ADD, or attention deficit disorder, is a term frequently referred to in educational and developmental settings (an intriguing article on which can be found here), I’d like to introduce another term, one directed at us as adults. IDD, or Intention Deficit Disorder is not a disorder you’ll find the DSM-IV diagnostic manual, but it’s one I see in frequently in adults working with children, and even in myself from time to time.
Intention Deficit Disorder is characterized by action without meaning or purpose. Busyness without intention. It isn’t so much about what the activity is, it’s whether or not we are able to recognize why we are doing it. And as I’ve mentioned before, when we can recognize what we are teaching (or what our purpose is) we can emphasize that aspect in order to maximize the outcome.
So here’s an easy example. Not too long ago I planned an art activity like the one above. The children were to tear tiny pieces of colorful paper and glue them to the dinosaur outline. My purpose was to build on a discussion about scales and to encourage the development of those underdeveloped fine motor skills used to tear tiny pieces of paper. Unfortunately, I apparently didn’t convey this purpose effectively to the other adult helping with the activity and in her effort to speed things along she grabbed a pair of scissors and quickly snipped up a pile of little papers for the children to use. Because I didn’t help her to recognize the purpose of the activity, she failed to emphasize that aspect (the tearing), and an opportunity to maximize the outcome (fine motor skills) was lost.
Often with Intention Deficit Disorder, the emphasis becomes the product or the appearance as the outcome, rather than the development of the skills and abilities we otherwise only hope for. Intention implies planning. As we select activities we have to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose?” I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll sometimes pick activities to do with the children I love and teach simply because they catch my eye, sound like fun, or fit with my scheduled theme. Even with these activities, if I simply ask myself, “What is the purpose?” I can often find something that I can emphasize to maximize a developmental outcome. And if I can’t, I find a better use of time.
I watched recently as an early childhood teacher led her group of little ones through a Halloween art project. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a spectrum of preschool arts and crafts, and while I’d prefer to see more creative arts, I do believe there is a place for crafts….that is if you know your purpose. Well, in this classroom situation the teacher directed her class to use their paper strips to form two black rings. Then they were to take a white strip and connect the first two rings. Lastly they added another white strip to the end of the chain.
By the time the children (and I) made sense of the directions it was clear that they were creating a paper chain with an ABAB pattern. This was a prime math concept for the group of children doing the project. Emphasizing this concept would have made the whole project so much more worthwhile! The children would have had the opportunity to quickly learn about AB patterns in a mini-lesson, complete the art activity as a hands-on application of the concept, and then be reminded of the concept every time they looked at their festive Halloween decoration hanging up at home. Instead, they had a paper Halloween craft that took a hefty chunk of class time and had an undefined purpose (other than the product), and a lack of intention.
Intention has a lot to do with planning, not just in direct planning but in being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that lie in unplanned moments. Life is busy, and as they say, it comes at you fast. We all have to learn to roll with the punches, and no one knows how to adapt like a parent or teacher of young children. But when you know what you’re about, what you want to teach and encourage, you can find opportunities to do so in almost everything around you. A trip to the grocery store becomes a letter hunt with your preschooler. Outdoor play time becomes a springboard for a discussion about observable aspects of the changing seasons. Even spilled orange juice provides an opportunity to teach and train as you involve the child in cleaning up instead of doing it for them. There are teachable moments everywhere, if you are prepared and intentional.
When you plan your overall intention – whether in a core curriculum or course outline, or in a family mission statement or value statement – you become more intentional about every other choice and interaction.
In order to live and teach with intention, your purpose doesn’t have to be the same as someone else’s as long as you know what it is and it aligns with your value structure. You might have children paint with watercolors to encourage creativity and fine motor skills while another may introduce it as a way to emphasize primary and secondary colors, while still another may incorporate it into a language-building book activity, and yet one more might choose it to encourage social empathy as they make cards and pictures to share with someone who’s been under the weather. When you know your purpose, whatever it is, you are able to teach with intention.
Spend some time thinking about what you really want for the children that you love and teach. Do you just want them to be busy or to be quiet? Those are goals that often give the appearance of an educational setting, but offer little purpose in and of themselves. Set out developmental objectives for the children you love and teach. Consider the whole child, including social-emotional, creative, spiritual, and physical development right along with the typical cognitive goals set out in typical school curricula. Consider what you really hope for and turn that into intention. Use your intentions and purposes as filters. We can simplify our classrooms and our homes by knowing our intentions and living and teaching by them. Begin to recognize that we don’t have to do everything. We just have to do what matters most.
To schedule a training on intentional, play based teaching, check out my speaking page here.
Top photo by Piotr Banola.
Grocery photo by Pavel Losevsky, Photo Xpress.
Virginia Erdman says
AMEN to your article. Also guilty as charged, even tho I DO TRY to communicate why (as a retired teacher) I do what I do for a reason. Communication should be a required course in all colleges no matter what the major
Thanks, Virginia! I agree that communication is really key to any profession!
THANK YOU! This post is great. So many times I see friends/teachers who do lots of things but don’t seem to accomplish much. And I think intention is the big reason. They (well, we) don’t always think through why we are doing something or we don’t adequately explain our intentions. I may (will) borrow your term as I talk with other teachers in the future. IDD can be a serious condition!
I love your “they (well, we)” comment! I confess, I began this as a “they” post, but as I mulled it over in my mind, I found a lot more “me” in it than I had expected! I suppose intention is something that is a lifelong pursuit! I agree that IDD can range from the minor cases to the very severe! :0)
Yes! this is such an important problem…for many of us working with young children. I try to ask what do I hope the children will learn …but also I find that planning for experiences not activities is important…then as you say, communicating with my co-educator so that what’s important to me is clear to her, and I am trying to move towards some planning by both of us to reduce the potential for the sort of muddle we all recognise.
“Planning for experiences, not activities”…I love that!
Thank you for this article. It opened my eyes that I’m not communicating (as others have commented), the purposes that I’m hoping to see happen at different activities, to the parents in my program.
At my program a child attends with a grown-up but often, for example, at the craft table I’ll see the grown-up do the work for their child rather than, what I hoped, they work it through with their child – example is using a hole punch.
I’ll have to think of the best way to display these goals with my families.
Please share what you discover as you work to solve this, Maureen. It’s something we all struggle with one way or another!
I made reference to your article on my blog, check out what I did today.
Fabulous! You so eloquently wrote what I believe is a handicapping condition for many teachers! Hopefully reading your wisdom could be the antidote!
My major in University was Drama & Art In Education & Community – big fancy title to say “teaching through the arts”. We learned all sorts of fundamentals for turning Drama & Visual Art into ‘real lessons’. Using stories to teach Math, or as you mentioned, craft time to teach too. On my crummy little free website (it’s what a work at home Mama Artist can afford) I have a lesson through art each month – listed under “bright ideas”. These are borrowed from my years in school, but now I am using them with my 2 year old & her friends. One day my son will be included too, but he is only 5 months old. Also, for more intentional Art & teaching ideas see David Booth’s Story Drama or Dr. Bernie Warren’s Creating a Theatre in Your Classroom and Art As Meaning Makers (my favourite book, yet the Author’s name escapes me). Great article! I sincerely hope when my children do go to school they happen to have quality teachers like yourself.
Nancy Gaumer says
I am a college professor (community college early education) and just found your blog. Love it! This explanation of teaching with intention was so practical and easy to understand. Thank you so much for sharing all your ideas and knowledge.
Thanks so much, Nancy! I’m so glad to have you here!