The Simple Interactions Tool
Here you can experience the Simple Interactions Tool (PDF Here) on a deeper level. We highlight each of the four main elements of productive youth-adult interactions -- connection, reciprocity, participation, and progression -- with definitions and examples to demonstrate each. And remember, there are more details about using this tool in the manual.
CONNECTION: interacting with mutually positive or appropriate emotions
More about "Connection"...
- When you see people together, whether 1-on-1, or in a classroom, you get a sense of whether they are connected, or really 'with' each other, or appear in tune. They are aware of one another, they are present to one another. They may physically get on the same level with one another, for example, an adult getting on her knees to be level with a child. They tend to be in sync with each other, emotionally, whether they are both happy, sad, excited, serious, etc.
- The Y (middle) of this dimension can be regarded as either “mismatched” or “mixed” (some X and some Z). Two scenarios may put an interaction into the Y zone. Scenario #1: Kids are excited, and an adult is somewhat flat, or vice versa. That is a "mismatch." Scenario #2: Adult seems to tune in with some kids, but somewhat indifferent to other; and vice versa. That is a “mixed."
- Smiles and joyful expression are not mandatory for Z. Mutual attentiveness, awareness, and 'in-tune-ness' are the core of this dimension. Of all the dimensions, this is one where it may be easy to confuse individual personality/style differences with the essence of connection, and it is possible that our own subjective, cultural lens can become a filter. A youth-worker can be serious, matter-of-fact, unsmiling, and non-physical, and still be very attentive to the child. Because this dimension addresses emotional 'connectedness' between two people, it is not helpful for analyzing interactions where one party is out of view of the camera; focus only on the interactions that are fully in view when considering connection.
RECIPROCITY: balancing roles of engagement during joint activity
More about "Reciprocity" ...
- When we do things together with children, whether it is to play, to talk, to learn, to teach, we can have different roles. In the best case, nobody is dominant or dominated. We exchange our roles, we form a partnership, like a little kid tossing a baseball back and forth with an older brother (I throw, you catch; you throw, I catch). In everyday contexts, it might take the form of an adult really listening to a child (and vice versa), or a teacher who is just as interested in what the child has to say, as she is in the lesson plans she has already made.
- In less than ideal states, children may simply choose to comply with your direction and instruction, maybe because they like you or because they are afraid of you. Or worse yet, you drag them kicking and screaming as they try to go the opposite direction, or perhaps they are totally detached from you in general.
- The focal point here is “role." Who is in control? Who is the driver? Every conversation goes back and forth, yes, but just because there is a conversation does not make it a “serve and return." A Z requires that “serving” (or control/driving) is coming from both sides. This dimension is fundamentally different from the traditional “child-directed” vs. “adult-directed” polar ends. This dimension assumes that the ideal state is a balanced, reciprocal partnership between adult and child.
- The analogy of serve and return in tennis may work. A one-cycle serve and return, in which the coach (or the ball machine) serves and the player returns, is not a Z. For something to be a Z, whoever is doing the serving also has to do some returning, either in response to a “return” or by simply handing over the power to serve.
INCLUSION: Inviting and involving children who are the least likely or able to engage
More about "Inclusion" ...
- When you walk into any place with more than one child, and you often notice that some children appear to be participating a bit less than the other children, for any number of reasons. The adult who knows how to build a community among children knows how to include every child in the group, and to help everyone appreciate the value of each individual.
- Sometimes, adults may take care of the rest of the children and then turn their attention to certain children separately . This is good in the sense that the child gets some attention, but it falls short in the sense that the child may feel like he or she does not belong in the group.
- The worst case, of course, is that these “least likely" children are neglected or excluded, passively or actively, from the rest.
- The focal point is not the format of the interaction, but the essence of the “experienced” interaction. A scenario may be a teacher lecturing or instructing to a whole group of students. Though the group appears to be “together,” the essence of that interaction is that each child is listening to the teacher separately, irrespective of other children. It would be a Y.
- For an X, a child (or some children) are either deliberately excluded or neglectfully unattended to -- particularly children who appear to struggle with learning or behavior. Alone time does not make it an X -- an X indicates an element of passive neglect or active exclusion
- For the mode to be Z, there needs to be some deliberate effort or design on the part of the teacher to encourage inter-activity among the students (listen to one another, praise one for all to hear, etc.)
- Both Y and Z can be appropriate for many settings. There is a theoretical assumption that ultimately kids want to feel they belong in a community, not just that they have an individual relationship with a teacher. A good 1:1 relationship is important, but does not replace the importance of “belonging” in the communal sense.
OPPORTUNITY TO GROW: presenting incremental challenge and matching with appropriate support
More about "Opportunity To Grow" ...
- In the ideal case, adults help youth see what they can accomplish with support (scaffolding), and then challenge youth to do more than they are comfortable doing by taking away a bit of that support to see what youth can do on their own (fading). It’s like learning to ride the bike with training wheels -- supports like training wheels and a steadying hand are necessary to begin, but to truly learn how to ride a bike, those supports eventually need to be removed.
- Good teachers and coaches can break down very difficult tasks into smaller, manageable steps so that kids can accomplish incrementally what they cannot do in one big leap. Another good analogy is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the soup is too hot, too cold, and finally just right. A challenge for a child has the potential to be too hard, too simple, or just right.
- In the worst scenarios (X), children are simply given impossible tasks under the guise of “high expectations," without any support and are left staring at the impossible, feeling discouraged and helpless. Or, children are given no expectations at all.
- The focal point of Progression is the appropriateness of the challenge to the child’s present level of competence and confidence, and whether the adult offers any support to fill in the gap.
- It is not necessary for the child to actually MAKE progress, just that they are pushed and challenged to try to make a leap of progress (Z).
- Think about what is being “progressed” here: Content skill? Social skill? Behavioral skill? Character skill? It is helpful to identify that. Not all interactions focus on identifiable academic skills.
- Can the child readily do the task, in repetition, without any extra help or prompt? If yes, it may be undemanding (X). Does the task appear impossibly difficult and beyond reach, and there is no obvious evidence that the adult is providing any help beyond demand/expectation? If yes, it may be unrealistic (X).
- Can the child do the task, in increments, with relative ease so long as some help and prompting is provided along the way? If yes, it may be incremental challenge with scaffolding (Y). A key distinction between scaffolding and fading is that scaffolding just tries to break the task into smaller and smaller chunks so that it is easily digestible or accessible. Fading involves some deliberate effort to make things harder than what is “comfortable” for the child, in order to stretch the child.
- Does it appear that the child is experiencing a desirable amount of difficulty that requires “stretching” or “reaching” beyond what is comfortable? Adult help is near and available, but not unlimited -- the adult’s goal is not “help you get it done, quickly” but “see what you can do." A distinction between “unrealistic” in X and fading in Z is that the adult in X just assumes the child should do it; the adult in Z is not sure, but wants to see, and is therefore attentive to how the child is struggling (in order to decide how much more help to give and when). For both “unrealistic" X and for Z the child may struggle -- the difference is that the child shows some level of competence/confidence, and is struggling to reach higher in Z; but in X, the child does not show much competence/confidence, and is simply left struggling with an unrealistic task.