Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Choice Words: Chapters Three and Four

These two chapters focus on Identity and Agency. It doesn't surprise me that language can impact both of these things, but the extent to which the most basic phrases can make a difference is astounding.

Johnston makes a brief reference in chapter three to the importance of the relationship between student and teacher on language (page 24). He writes of it regarding language about behavior but it seems to me that the relationship is a factor in how everything a teacher says is heard.

My take-away from chapter three on identity is nothing major (although there is plenty of major stuff to get from this chapter). Speaking to students and labeling them as readers, writers, researchers, thinkers, however we want them see themselves does make a difference. That's small and huge at the same time.

In my copy of Choice Words, chapter four, on agency, has a ridiculous number of post-it note flags. The first is on page 30, marking this passage:
To understand children's development of a sense of agency, then, we need to look at the kinds of stories we arrange for children to tell themselves. For example, I expect that a child who has a history of telling himself stories about being a failure in writing is unlikely to face a new writing challenge with, "Yes, I imagine I can do this." Similarly, just as we can put ourselves into stories in which we are the protagonists, the ones with agency, we can plot ourselves in the same story and attribute the agency to another, as in, "The reason my poem was good is that the teacher helped me." Telling such stories in which we relegate ourselves to a passive role is the inverse of agency.
The language around agency should push students to reflect on how they have been successful and plans to continue that way. Not to say that there should never be discussions of things that didn't go well because that is necessary as well. In addition, students should be pushed to think about problems they faced and how they  can tackle problems in the future.

My last post-it note flag in this chapter is on page 39:
Drawing their attention to their effort ("You worked really hard at that") or their intellect ("You are so smart") will not generate sufficiently useful narratives.
I have been fascinated by Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, and this pushes it farther. For some time now I have been conscious of my language in the hopes of using phrases that emphasize effort over intelligence. Now I am going to have to work harder to use language that is more specific about their effort to build agency.

Any thoughts? Am I off base on any of this?

Thoughts on chapters one and two


Jason Buell said...

My chapter 4 is almost completely highlighted too. I liked this p. 31 quote "Teaching children strategies results in them knowing strategies, but not necessarily in their acting strategically and having a sense of agency." and then the difference between "teaching for strategies rather than just teaching strategies."

This is the part that I feel the very direct/explicit repeat after me instruction misses.

I also thought a lot about Johnston saying the use of 'but' in feedback negates the first positive comment. I really enjoy those subtleties of teaching.

Finally (for now) that idea that literacy has gives you the power to change your environment (page 39) can't be overemphasized. Dan Meyer says his core message is that math has power in the world. I like the difference here between our normal "literacy/math is useful" vs. is powerful.

Jason Buell said...

what I've been wondering:

Comments too.