Yesterday I was listening to Pea ramble on and on about princesses and all of things that being a princess entails. She was using some of her own Spanglish words in her descriptions, and I was reminded of something I heard a couple of years ago on an airplane. The man in the row behind me was traveling with two small kids. Based on the conversation I could overhear, these kids were obviously very sharp. One of the kids mentioned that someone had “shutted” the door. The dad was quick to correct him–“It’s ‘shut’, not ‘shutted’.”
This dad’s heart was in the right place. He obviously wanted his children to speak correctly, and that’s a good thing. But his method was a little off. The better response would have been, “Yes, he ‘shut’ the door.” See the difference? The second method is called modeling, where the correct past tense of the word “shut” is demonstrated for the child instead of making a correction of what the child said.
In this case, the kid was actually a lot smarter than the dad realized. The child is becoming fluent in the English language and has realized that the usual way to make a word past tense is to add the -ed suffix to it. He incorrectly applied this approach to the word “shut”, but that’s ok. He just demonstrated that he has a firm grasp on one of the rules of our language. Modeling the exception for him is a way to positively reinforce one of the many complicated exceptions to the rule without pointing out his error.
Modeling is a strategy commonly used with students who are learning a second language to correct them without making them self-conscious and accidentally discouraging them from continuing to practice. It only makes sense to do the same thing to help encourage fluency in a small child who is learning his or her first language.