Posted on 04/10/2013 at 01:36 PM by Global Reach

In her new book, Growing Minds: Building Strong Cognitive Foundations in Early Childhood, Carol Copple has collected articles that focus on a child’s development of symbolic thought and executive function (which involves self-regulation).  One of the articles, "Thinking Out Loud: Development of Private Speech and the Implications for School Success and Self-Control" by Becky A. Baily and Carolyn Brookes, really caught my attention, and I highly recommend it. The following is a summary of the article and contains excerpts (indicated by bold print) from that article.

I think every one of us has had experiences with children who, even after coaching to raise a hand, continue to shout out the answers to questions before they were called upon.  Many times we view it as high interest or excitement but other times we see it as a sign of disrespect, disobedience, or maybe even emotional needs.  If we stop them and ask them to wait until called upon, suddenly they can’t remember what they were going to say and we hear, “um, um.”

In their article Baily and Brookes suggest that this chatter is one of the ways children process their learning.  Children talk out loud to solve problems. If they don’t say it out loud immediately, the thought disappears for them.

The need to control those outbursts and gain control of our internal or private thoughts, however is an essential part of cognitive development.  Private speech was defined as having the ability to think through, pause or reflect before speaking aloud.  It is the ability to talk silently in one’s head and keep ideas for use at another time.  Private speech is needed to help children focus and sustain attention, think through and organize actions, and inhibit emotional reactions.

HOWEVER…. Most children do not gain the ability to internalize private speech until the age of 7 or 8. (p.105) 

Children younger than age 8 chatter about their world, constantly thinking out loud. A teacher who tells a 5-year-old, “Sit quietly and do not talk while I read this story,” is essentially telling the child, “Sit quietly and do not think while I read this story.” (p. 108)

“The good news is that teachers can support child’s gradual internalization of private speech, which is vital to academic and social success.” (p.106)

The authors suggest that teachers consider some basic strategies….
    If children need to talk aloud about their ideas, we need to accept that and provide them with the time to do it.  If many children need to talk about a topic at once, set up a buddy system where children talk immediately with a partner. 

    Remember that children who have not developed internal or private speech need to answer immediately.  Call on children as soon as they raise their hands before the answer is “gone.”

    Do not expect children to sit and contemplate their misbehavior.  They won’t  remember what they did more that a few seconds after sitting down.  Instead give them a safe place to talk out their problem and regain their composure.

    And finally, practice with children the behaviors you expect in the classroom. Private speech skills will emerge.  The ability to think through a situation leads to problem-solving, critical thinking and reflection…..all skills we want for children.

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