Sunday, July 22, 2012

Choice Words: Chapters Five and Six

Chapter five in Choice Words is Flexibility and Transfer (or Generalizing). Dr. Derek Cabrera, about whom I have written before, refers to transfer as the Holy Grail of education. The idea is that if we can help students take skills, concepts, or ideas learned in one subject or one setting and transfer them to another independently we have significantly upped our impact.

On page 44 Johnston explains how the language from the earlier chapter on identity plays into transfer:
Once a child incorporates into his identity a sense that he is a writer doing writerly things (or a scientist, mathematician, and so forth), he can ask himself in a new situation (not necessary consciously) what he might do as a writer, since those roles do not stop at the border of a single activity setting.
Another piece that struck me was using the word like. Johnston says on page 46:
This means thinking beyond the literal to the metaphorical, and the word like is very good for invoking metaphors.
If I remember correctly, and I'm being lazy and just going with my memory rather than any research, metaphors were one of the, if not the most,  powerful tool Marzano wrote about in Classroom Instruction that Works. Johnston goes on to talk about the power of metaphor because it allows one to take what is known and stretch to what is unknown. I have clearly not thought enough about how and why to use metaphor in my classroom.

Chapter six, Knowing, struck me as being essentially about creating an atmosphere and community in a classroom that makes taking risks doable for everyone. Johnston starts off with language that offers the students some control and ownership of the learning and conversation. He continues with language that clearly sets the teacher with the students, such as "Thanks for straightening me out." Showing students that we make mistakes or that we don't always know the answer sets up an environment in which they are willing to do the same.

I think my favorite bit is on page 60:
Never believe everything I say. Never believe everything any adult says.
I firmly believe that as a teacher and as a parent one of my jobs is to help my kids question things, not accept things at face value. Actually saying something as explicitly as this has never occurred to me however.

Building a community that allows students the opportunity to grow requires that they feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. It is no surprise to me that my language impacts that but Johnston's ideas are helping me identify areas in which my language is weak in regards to this goal.

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