Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Teaching and Learning

Committee Chair

Amanda Quesenberry


Early childhood teachers attend professional development sessions, take college-level courses, or read articles, and will, at some point, be exposed to some concepts found in Vygotsky’s (1986) cultural-historical theory of cognitive development as they are deeply embedded in education standards, professional standards, texts, and journals throughout the country. And yet, some concepts, including scaffolding (Wood et al., 1976), are the result of misinterpretations and the assignment of a label over the years (Gonzales Rey (2008). A largely overlooked concept accurately relating to Vygotsky’s work is intersubjectivity (Trevarthen, 2008), defined as mutual understanding, among teachers and children, for concept development. Intersubjectivity is reached outside the zone of proximal development (ZPD) by assessing prior knowledge and within the ZPD while engaging children through guided participation (Vygotsky, 1986). Learning why this is important and how to achieve intersubjectivity through guided participation is of critical importance to pre- and in-service professionals. Guided participation is child-centered pedagogy involving multi-modal communication to reach intersubjectivity. The process can be explained as an interactive ‘dance’ between a more knowledgeable other (MKO) and the learner that may include verbal language, gestures, facial expression, and props so they can both to reach mutual understanding (Brinck, 2008; Vygotsky, 1986). The purpose of the study was to investigate preschool teachers’ engagement with children, communicating toward intersubjectivity (mutual understanding) during the learning process, in preschool classrooms. In many preschools, there tends to be an ‘either-or’ emphasis on teacher-directed learning (more academic) or child-directed (play-based) learning. Because the concept of mutual understanding relies on give-and-take (aka serve and return) verbal and non-verbal communication, this study examined practices of three participants in play-based programs serving children from three to five years of age. In this qualitative, phenomenological case study, the methods used to gather data were classroom observations, semi-structured interviews, video of the classroom environments, and coded analysis of data. Findings revealed that two of the three participants used more direct instruction with one leaning more toward intersubjective instruction through guided participation and mediated activity.


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