Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Value in Labeling

Tonight at bath time my husband was attempting to wash our three-year-old's hair. As he was trying to get her to lay down and get her hair wet she said (in an exasperated voice), "I'm being patient." I know he and I were both thinking, "This is what you look like being patient?"

This interaction got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Having read a lot of Alfie Kohn's work and Peter Johnston's Choice Words, I struggle with using praise with my students (and my daughters). I've come to a conclusion recently that what I am attempting to do instead is to label things: behaviors, strategies, skills, etc. Sometimes that means telling a student that what they are doing is rude. I'm not assuming they realize that already. Sometimes it means pointing out how efficient a math or reading strategy was for a student. Sometimes it means showing a student how they used dialogue in their story. Hopefully I am not making a judgment call but simply putting a name to what they are doing. (Although I realize that rude is a judgment call.)

Young children, and my students in particular, do not have words for all they see, try, or know. I hope by labeling things in conversations with them they will be better equipped to use that strategy again or choose an appropriate behavior.

As for my three-year-old, I'm not sure if we need to do a better job of labeling patience when she is actually demonstrating it or if she just labeled it so we will recognize it in the future.


The Science Goddess said...

I think "you got told" what patience looks like. :)

I like the idea of labeling---I think it's good for learners of all ages (even teachers). This has been one of the biggest struggles with the assessments we're building. How do we communicate with other educators about what "innovative thinking" looks like? Can we agree on the labels, or will we have some disagreement (as your family does about being "patient")?

Kelly said...

I think labeling is good for the kids in that way, so they learn to label other things. But I also agree that some may have different opinions about labels, especially the little ones :)

Jenny said...

Science Goddess - you bring up a good point (as always). We often assume, whether working with children or other adults, that we are all on the same page when we use a term or phrase. It's critical that we take the time to be sure we all understand whatever we are discussing. What is true with 6 year olds is so often true with adults as well.