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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Could AI be the"The Fourth Teacher" in the Early Years?

Updated: May 27, 2023

“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children and their physical environment.”

-Loris Malaguzzi

In Reggio Inspired schools the environment is referred to as "the third teacher". The educators of Reggio Emilia discovered that by using the environment (classrooms, shared spaces, special areas) as more than just a "space for teaching" it can support children's play and learning. This idea of creating an evolving space children interact with and use in their learning has been adopted by many ECE educators around the world.

Recent developments in AI such as ChatGPT has had a massive impact on education. Could this technology become "the fourth teacher" in the early years classroom?

Much of the discussion around AI/ChatGPT has focused on the impact on older students using it for essay writing etc. Obviously children in the early years cannot use it so what other potential benefits could there be for ECE educators?

AI technology has the potential to be a virtual colleague, a collaborator, and someone to bounce ideas off or receive suggestions. For example, you can ask it for ideas on planning certain topics or themes you might be exploring with your students. More importantly it can be used to enhance your understanding of children's play and potential next steps.

The notion of 'observation' in early childhood education is deceptively simple. Watch children in play as a way to inform you of their interests, abilities and skill levels. Problems arise when teachers don't understand what they see. Educators new to the idea of planning through observations often expect them to play the way adults teach. When embarking on play based education for the first time adults can think that when left to play children will immediately go to concrete places such as wanting to learn letters or build a city out of blocks. In reality many children scribble endlessly before being ready to form letters and before building "things", pick up all the blocks from place only to move them across the room and put them in another place on the floor. These types of play urges can lead teachers to scratch their heads.

"what are they doing?"

"what are they learning?"

"what do I do next?"

Can the potential "fourth teacher", ChatGPT (AI), help when teachers see children do things they don't understand? Below are two observation records of two-year-old students in China (forgive the mistakes in my write up). I wrote these up quickly as part of a class observation where the teachers were new to early years and the idea of planning based on play observations. I gave them these as simple examples on how by observing children in play we can learn more about their levels in different areas as well as their interests.

I took these observational notes and pasted it in ChatGPT.

Example 1

I asked the AI "Can you give me the data on the below observation of a two year old in play using developmental analysis?"

Here is what the "fourth teacher" said,

For a teacher still learning the ropes or not having much pedagogical training or knowledge this type of analysis can be helpful. It is important to note that we should not take this as absolute truth but as something to consider and reflect on i.e. don't just copy and paste into a portfolio. You need to read, agree and understand it.

The fourth teacher also offered suggestions to support this students play.

It also provided additional ideas for teachers to implement.

Example 2


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