Intentional teaching: what is it?

Hi everyone, I trust you are all keeping well and avoiding first-hand experience with COVID 19. This post has been bubbling around in my head for a while. It has come about because of teachers asking me for a definition or explanation of ‘Intentional Teaching’. I hope this very short post helps remove some of the mystery.

“Intentional” means to act with a goal in mind.

‘Intentional teachers’ actively work to extend their students’ level of cognitive thinking.

Intentional teaching involves teachers ‘being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions. Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have “always” been done that way’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 17).

Intentional teaching is an active process, and a way of relating to children that embraces and builds on their strengths. ‘Intentional teaching’ involves the employment of pedagogical practices which ‘foster high-level thinking skills’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 17).

Vygotsky (1987, p. 12) theorised, that ‘what a child is able to do in collaboration [with more capable others] today he will be able to do independently tomorrow’. Vygotsky was referring to the role of the more knowledgeable other (the teacher) to create the conditions in the environment to support/teach children to problem solve, or form knowledge that they could not learn alone (Lewis et al, 2019, P. 10).

Epstein suggests that the Intentional teacher can explain their teaching decisions – in any ‘teachable moment’ (2007, p. 4). According to Epstein, intentional teachers are also intentional with respect to many aspects of the learning environment that set the tone and substance of what happens in the classroom on any one day. These include:

  • the emotional climate they create;
  • the equipment and materials they select and how they use them;
  • the way they plan and program – intentional teachers choose which specific learning activities, contexts and settings to use and when; and
  • when and how much time to spend on specific content areas and how to integrate them.

Intentional teachers actively observe with their eyes and their ears to see if what children are learning is what was intended. This is necessary because sometimes there is a mismatch between the actual learning and what was intended.

What we say may be very different to what is heard, what we assume may be different to what is happening” (Hunter, 2012, p. 31).

This is not suggesting that there is no room for spontaneity – quite the opposite. Because the intentional teacher knows their craft and their children well – they can seize the moment (the perfect teaching moment) – and use it well.

N.B.  ‘Intentional Teaching’ is not a new term, nor a new process.

I hope that helps. If you want to read more, refer to the suggestions below.

References/Further Reading

Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, Australia.

Epstein, A. (2007). The intentional teacher. Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, D.C: NAEYC.

Hunter, L. (2012). Intentional teaching: What happens between vision, intent and reality? Educating Young Children: Learning and Teaching in the Early Childhood Years, 18(3), 30-32.

Lewis, R., Fleer, M., & Hammer, M. (2019). Intentional teaching: Can early-childhood educators create the conditions for children’s conceptual development when following a child-centred programme? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 44(1), 6-18.

Published by nmackenz

My name is Noella Mackenzie and I am an Associate Professor (Adjunct) at Charles Sturt University, Albury-Wodonga Campus in NSW, Australia and a Senior Fellow of the Australian Literacy Educators' of Australia. I also work as an independent education consultant. I am also a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother who loves to read, garden and travel. While my career has always been in education, there have been four distinct phases. The first phase was that of classroom teacher – teaching children from 5-12 years of age in a number of primary schools. The second phase of my career saw me working as a specialist professional development provider working with teachers in early intervention and special education. The third phase had me working as an academic at Charles Sturt University. That role involved me teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students, researching and continuing my work with teachers and parents of young children. The fourth phase sees me working as an independent education consultant, supporting school systems and schools with professional learning input for teachers. I am passionate about teaching and in particular early literacy development. I am proudly the product of public education. I grew up on a farm and went to the local primary and high schools where I was fortunate to have some fabulous teachers. My Diploma of Education (Early Childhood) was earned at the Riverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga Wagga NSW. My Bachelor of Education, Master of Education and Doctor of Education qualifications were all earned at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Vic and were spread out over a number of years as I studied part time and worked full time. I completed my doctorate in 2004 and started work at CSU in the same year.

One thought on “Intentional teaching: what is it?

  1. Hi Noella,

    Thanks for this. I particularly like the quote from Epstein: that the Intentional teacher can explain their teaching decisions – in any ‘teachable moment’ (2007, p. 4)

    which would include any spontaneous moment and could be a decision to listen carefully to how the child is making meaning so one can interact with it respectfully and knowledgeably…..bottom line, the intentional teacher always has to be held accountable for their teaching decisions.

    Thanks for keeping me in the loop,


    Liked by 1 person

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