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One Morning at the Construction Table

children at table building with blocks

About this video

In this video, three boys in a half-day bilingual prekindergarten classroom build with plastic gear disks at a table during choice time. The teachers in this room provide instruction in both Spanish and English. Children can and do use either language during choice time. Several children can build with the disks at the same time. This encourages verbal and nonverbal peer interaction. A child might also work alone on a construction. Having free time to use the disks and to work near each other gives these boys a chance to work out their relationships and solve minor problems as they build. As they do so, they meet several IELDS benchmarks while using their home language.

Construction Problems

When children build something, they often address physics problems related to keeping the structure together.

Aladio (age 4.4) applies various strategies for keeping his tower balanced. While restacking the disks after Jacob (age 5.3) jostles the table, Aladio seems to notice that putting larger disks on top of smaller ones makes the tower unstable. He removes a small disk and tells Jacob not to add another one. Later, when several disks at the top of the tower are off-center, he straightens the stack with one hand, then picks it up and aligns the disks while holding it with two hands.

During the second part of the clip, Martín (age 5) has trouble making parts of his structure fit well. He fits disks into slots in a central disk, but one of them remains loose even though he presses it as firmly as he did the others. He sets it aside and replaces it with a disk from another structure, again pressing firmly. It wobbles. He removes it, stops building, and picks up the structure to show Jacob.

Peer Interactions

Many children will avoid conflict with an older, larger child by giving in during a disagreement. Aladio is nearly a year younger than Jacob, but he speaks up (“Don’t do it!”) when Jacob unbalances the tower by adding a very small disk. Aladio picks up the disk and assertively tells Jacob to look at it. When Jacob responds by trying to give advice, Aladio seems to ignore him, rather than argue. Some older children might then insist that Aladio do things his way, but Jacob turns his attention to Martín. A more serious confrontation is avoided. Near the end of Part 2, Martín tries to get Jacob’s attention to show him a disk construction. Although he persists—even following Jacob and talking to him—ultimately the teacher gets Jacob to interact with Martín. Her low-key intervention allows Martín to hand Jacob the construction. At another time, she might want to suggest other strategies to Martín, such as saying the other child’s name. She might also work with Jacob to help him “tune in” when classmates talk to him.

Such “coaching” can help preschoolers understand that sometimes they must be persistent when they want something from a peer and that help from adults can be useful.

Later, Martín seems to ignore Jacob’s directions when they put the disks away. Even after Jacob tells him to do it one by one (“uno por uno”), Martín tosses them into the box. Rather than arguing, Jacob takes disks from him and sets them in the box. Martín does not object but leaves quickly, and Jacob does not insist that he stay to help. Conflict is avoided, and Jacob quickly completes the task with some input from the teacher.

Home Language Development

The boys speak primarily in Spanish, their home language. However, Jacob’s first comment includes code-switching: He substitutes the English word “mine” for the Spanish “mio.” He is the only one who code-switches, and he does so only once.

In this clip, 5-year-old Jacob speaks more frequently than Aladio or Martín. He uses some complete sentences in his home language, including the long, relatively complex sentence “You don’t have to do it in the same color.” He also asks questions (“Can I help you?” and “Where do I put these?”). His sentences contain pronouns, nouns, verbs, and prepositions, but relatively few modifiers. In comparison, 4-year-old Aladio says very little, speaking just one complete sentence (“Don’t do it!”) and some shorter phrases. Martín’s longest fully audible sentence is the question “Where do you want to put this?”

Note: Having promised parents at the school that the children’s identities would remain anonymous, IEL has dubbed out any mentions of the children’s names in this video. In the transcript and the introduction to the video above, we have inserted pseudonyms for the children.


Note: The dialog in this video is primarily in Spanish. For an English translation, you can choose English under the closed caption feature in the video player (above) or click on Transcript (below).


Note: The dialogue, which is in Spanish, is sometimes very hard to hear. In this transcript, […] signals that the words are not audible.

Part 1

Martín connects notched disks to a similar disk, constructing a kind of wheel. Aladio stacks disks one by one on a wheel. He seems to be either counting them or naming their colors as he stacks them.

Jacob comes to the table. He and Martín speak too quietly to be heard. He picks up a partially completed wheel from a corner of the table.

Jacob: This one is mine and […] first another one, look, it’s like this.

Martín (to Jacob): This […].

Jacob adds to his wheel. He looks around, then goes to the sign-in chart and places his name tag on it. When he returns, he seems to accidentally bump Aladio’s arm, and part of Aladio’s tower topples.

Aladio: Ah!

Jacob: Ay, it fell down. Can I help you […]?

He begins to add disks to the tower. Some of them slip off.

Aladio: Don’t do it! Look! (He shows Jacob a disk that is smaller than the others and removes it.)

Jacob: Yes, it’s that first, the […].

He places a small disk on the stack.

Aladio: No! (He removes the small disk.)

Jacob continues stacking. Aladio looks at an array of small disks.

Jacob (to Aladio): You don’t have to do it the same color. It’s that you have to put together.

He adds some disks; Aladio sees that the stack isn’t straight and corrects it with one hand. He then picks up most of the stack.

Jacob (to Martín): Martín! Can I help you […]?

Martín: Look. […]. Look at this! (He holds up his construction.)

Part 2

Martín is alone at the table, working on the construction Jacob left behind. He tests and adjusts his disks. He seems to be trying to put a disk in every available notch of the central disk. He removes a disk that doesn’t connect well and tries another. When it doesn’t seem to fit, he stops building and picks up the construction.

Martín: Hey, look.

He holds up the construction.

Teacher: What’s up?

Martín stands and goes to Jacob, holding the construction. Jacob is not paying attention to him.

Martín (to Jacob): Where do you want to put this? Look at this.

Teacher (to Jacob): Look.

Jacob takes the wheel from Martín.

Teacher (to Jacob): Oh, that one was yours?

Part 3

It is cleanup time. Jacob and Martín put disks away in a plastic box. Martín pulls apart a disk wheel and rapidly tosses parts into the box.

Jacob (to Martín): Let’s do it one by one. There are a lot. (Martín continues to drop pieces into the box.) Martín.

Martín continues to work very quickly.

Jacob: Martín!

Jacob takes the disks from Martín’s hands and puts them in the box. Martín leaves the activity station. Jacob continues putting disks in the box. He then picks up the box of disks and shows it to the teacher.

Teacher: (points to some disks on the floor) I think there are some under the table.

Jacob sets the box on the table, picks up the fallen disks, and puts them in the box.

Jacob (to the teacher): Where do I put these?

Teacher: Um, those, I think they go over there, please (points to a shelf).

Jacob puts the box away.


Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners (e.g., peers and adults in both small and large groups) about age-appropriate topics and texts.
With coaching from the teacher, Jacob responded to Martín by taking the object Martín was trying to show him.
6.D.ECb: Describe comparisons with appropriate vocabulary, such as “more”, “less”, “greater than”, “fewer”, “equal to”, or “same as”.
Jacob used the phrase “one by one” (uno por uno) when telling Martín how to put discs away and indicated that Martín’s method involved too many (“muchos”).
9.A.ECd: Combine two-dimensional shapes to create new shapes.
Martín and Jacob assembled the notched disks into wheel-like shapes.

Aladio stacked the disks to build a tower.
12.D.ECb: Explore the effect of force on objects in and outside the early childhood environment.
When rebuilding his stack, Aladio removed the smaller disks that made it unstable. When he noticed that the stack wasn’t straight, he tried straightening it.
Social Studies
14.A.ECb: Contribute to the well‐being of one’s early childhood environment, school, and community.
Jacob and Martín participated in cleanup time. Jacob asked the teacher where to put the box of disks and then put it away.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Aladio looked at and picked up disks for his stack. When constructing wheels, Jacob and Martín positioned their faces close to their structures and looked at the pieces as they fit them together.
English Language Learner Home Language Development
28.A.ECa: May demonstrate progress and mastery of benchmarks through home language.
Aladio, Martín, and Jacob addressed benchmarks while speaking their home language during the activities shown in the video. Jacob code-switched at one point, saying “Esto es mine” (two Spanish words, one English word).
English Language Learner Home Language Development
28.A.ECb: Use home language in family, community, and early childhood settings.
Aladio, Martín, and Jacob used their home language to communicate with each other and the teacher.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECe: Use materials with purpose, safety, and respect.
The boys used the disks for their intended purpose.

Jacob asked if he could help Aladio rebuild his fallen stack of disks.

Jacob told Martín to put the disks in the box one at a time.

Jacob asked the teacher where to put the box of disks and then put it away.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECb: Demonstrate persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems.
Martín tried several approaches to getting one of the disks to stay in place.

Martín followed Jacob around trying to get his attention.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
Jacob asked Aladio if he could help stack; Aladio nodded in response, and the two boys built together briefly.

Aladio used words and gestures to tell Jacob how not to stack the disks.

Jacob asked Martín if he could “help” him, and they then focused on their own structures.

Martín tried to get Jacob’s attention and then handed him a completed structure. Jacob used words and gestures to persuade Martín to put one disk at a time into the box.
Social/emotional Development
31.C.ECb: Solve simple conflicts with peers with independence, using gestures or words.
When Aladio’s structure fell and Jacob asked if he could help rebuild it, Aladio seemed dismayed by some of Jacob’s efforts. He tried to explain the problem to Jacob: “Don’t do it! Look!”

When Martín would not stop putting several disks at a time into the box, Jacob tried to explain to him and show him what to do. Martín left the table, and Jacob did not try to make him help.
Social/emotional Development
32.A.ECb: Follow rules and make good choices about behavior.
Jacob left the table for a moment to add his name to the activity sign-in chart, showing that he recalled the classroom rule about signing in.

Jacob finished cleaning up after Martín left the table.

WIDA Early English Language Development Standards (E-ELDs)

To assess and make curriculum decisions regarding children whose home language is Spanish, Illinois educators use the Early Spanish Language Development (E-SLD) Standards, developed by World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The observational data described here would be useful for planning instruction. However, a teacher would need multiple pieces of evidence to evaluate a child’s performance level.

Expressive language. Jacob remembered procedures for putting away the disks and tried to explain them in his home language to Martin. Jacob used a variety of complete and original sentences of two to eight words that expressed related ideas in his home language.

Jacob used different types of pronouns, nouns, verbs, and a few modifiers. His sentences included asking questions, making comments, and giving commands. He employed past tense, present tense, and future tense in Spanish. He used general vocabulary and some specific vocabulary, such as “first.”

Jacob showed some evidence of translanguaging when he substituted the English “mine” for “mío” in a sentence.

Based on what is shown in the video, a teacher might consider Jacob’s Early Spanish Language Development (E-SLD) performance for expressive language to be at the “bridging” level. However, children may use language(s) differently in different contexts (home, community, school) and situations (pretend play, direct instruction, project work). The teacher would need to collect additional data across settings, conversation partners, and time to gain a full picture of each child’s receptive and expressive language capabilities in Spanish.