Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Even More Opening Minds Thoughts

One of the things that has stuck with me throughout reading both Choice Words and Opening Minds has been how powerful just a few words can be. Johnston analyzes the language teachers use to show how much is said and suggested in phrases or words we use frequently.

One example from Opening Minds is on page 3:

And yet, when she said, “I just made a big mistake as a reader. I got distracted when someone came into the room. So I’m going to reread this section here,” she did two really important things. First, she leveled the power difference between teacher and students. She said, “I make mistakes just like you.” Second, her comment began to explain the meaning of errors. When you make a mistake, it means nothing more than that. Fix it. Learn from it. It does not mean you are incompetent, stupid, or not a good person.
I know I have said things like this to my students. In my mind I was modeling for them what to do as readers. The idea that it 'leveled the power difference' and that it also modeled ways to handle mistakes had never occurred to me. So much more is happening when we speak to students (or when we speak in general) than we realize.

Another example is on page 31:

She immediately apologized, "I’m sorry, Shatara. I just did your job.” With a single utterance, she apologized, reviewed the normality of making errors (and of apologizing when they are social ones) , and implicitly recognized that Shatara (as everyone else) is a person who takes her responsibilities seriously.
Again, I have said things similar to this without recognizing how much is being heard and/or understood. It's wonderful as I read these books to notice the sorts of things I do well with language. It's depressing to think about the things I do poorly. Right now I'm noticing that with my daughters (I'll notice it with students soon enough when school starts) and it is frustrating. Hopefully it is also a chance to grow.

One more brief example in an area in which I struggle, from page 38:

We only have to mark one end of the proud/disappointed conversation for the children to be pulled into that conversation. If we say “I’m proud of you” when they’re successful, they will fill in the other end of the conversation and infer our disappointment when they are unsuccessful. We don’t have to say anything. They are learning that, in this domain, we judge people.
I don't think Johnston is saying we should never tell children we are proud of them. I do think he wants us to recognize the underlying message such a phrase sends. This is similar to telling students they are smart when they do something which sends the message that they are dumb when they do something else. We need to understand that the words we say convey much more than we typically realize.

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