requires the interviewer to think on her feet, to improvise, and to come up with the right follow-up question on the spot.

How frequently and well do teachers employ the flexible interview in the classroom? Research on the issue seems to be lacking. At the same time, flexible interviewing, although difficult, is a natural form of human interaction in which the participants attempt to make sense of problems and how they can be solved—“clinical interviewing is a species of naturally occurring mutual inquiry” (diSessa, 2007, p. 534). Asking a person why he or she said or did something is an entirely familiar form of discourse and not necessarily artificial or lacking in ecological validity.


Organized systems. Few curricula provide extensive guidance in flexible interviewing. D.M. Clarke and colleagues (Clarke et al., 2001) have used a developmental trajectory theory as the basis for development of an extensive collection of “task-based interviews” for children beginning at age 5.

The collection of interview items is intended to form the basis for a comprehensive program of professional development, as well as to serve as a formative assessment tool for the teacher. “The [theoretical] framework of growth points provides a means for understanding young children’s mathematical thinking in general, the interview provides a tool for assessing this thinking for particular individuals and groups, and the professional development program is geared towards developing further such thinking” (p. 2). In many respects, the work is a model for what should be done in this area. To date, few early childhood curricula provide guidance on flexible interview. Big Math for Little Kids (Ginsburg, Greenes, and Balfanz, 2003), however, includes extensive guidance on flexible interviewing for each major topic. The Number Worlds curriculum (Griffin, 2007) offers an assessment system that largely involves a series of tasks (boldly called “tests”), some of which include flexible interview follow-ups. For example, “How many more smiley faces does the hexagon have than the triangle has? How did you figure that out?” (p. 72). After these instructions, an example of a possible child response is presented: “2 more; I counted to 3 and there were 2 left that I didn’t count” (p. 72). In general, the focus on flexible interviewing, even though it is at the very heart of a child-centered approach, is limited in current curricula.


Strengths and weaknesses. The flexible interview can provide basic and often surprising information about children’s knowledge. It sometimes shows that the child who seems to know something really doesn’t, and the child who doesn’t seem to know something really does. This kind of information can help teachers overcome preconceptions they might have about children’s abilities. For example, teachers may expect low-income children to be more capable of procedural than conceptual knowledge.



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