Monday, June 7, 2010

Verbs Not Nouns

Recently I received a message from about George Forman. George Forman is the emeritus professor at University of Massachusetts. As a researcher he would video kids playing to determine how they learn (rather than study them in a laboratory setting). The short article linked to a monologue of Dr. Forman talking about how kids learn. (You can listen here.)

The most fascinating thing he said, the thing that has me really thinking - kids take a verb approach to the world. Their learning consists of acts and events; they see the world as how things change or don't change as opposed to what things are. Many times teachers focus on "what do we name this thing" (noun approach) but they should stress how to change something from one state to another, to help the kids understand how to change things (verb approach).

My mind has been reflecting and dissecting this thought since I heard it. I think I agree. The kids I know are always asking "What do we do here?"  I've always advocated process (the doing) over the end product (the result) art and in other activities. Kids enjoy figuring out how to use the brushes to create colors or effects rather than creating a specific representational picture. They draw pictures of things they cannot identify. They ask me, "How did you do that?" rather than "What is that?"

I also noticed in the past months that I've been asking a different question when I look at a painting or a structure or other creation. I now ask: "Did you paint something or did you just create a design? Did you build a kind of building or did you just build?" I'm now going to add: "Tell me how you did that" as a statement to instigate discussion. Talk about process...doing...verbs. Avoid naming...nouns.

I'm going to do some more reading about Dr. Forman's ideas. This concept has really energized my thinking.


  1. Hi Scott, YES! I saw that piece too and was intrigued - you know how you recognise good research and think - of course, that's true, I knew that, but now I understand - it joins the dots to make a bigger picture - I loved the fact that they have found that that's how children learn their language and concepts. It also sort of chimes in with some learning I am doing about how to reflect on our actions - we had to write an account of an incident where we interacted with someone in our teaching role (- substitute any relationship) - and we had to pick out all the verbs - they gave us a pretty good idea of our interpersonal style - eg invited and wondered instead of decided and told...I guess actions speak louder than the theories we claim we follow, sometimes.
    I have just found your blog via playbasedlearning (- I am another kinder teacher in Australia) and I will be visiting regularly...I love finding some kindred spirits on the web, as I am fairly isolated geographically, where I am in the Mallee in Victoria.
    from Louise at

  2. love this idea. thank you for articulating what we can use (and understand by observing with this new lens) to better relate to children.