Having now finished (re)reading the book, I am grateful that Opening Minds is waiting for me. I don't feel quite the same sadness as I finish knowing that Johnston has more to say to me, more to teach me.
Chapter seven is Evolutionary, Democratic Learning Community. In many ways all the other chapters have clearly been building up to this one. Here Johnston makes the argument that the language teachers use in their classroom creates (or at least helps create) the community in which the teacher and students live together. The importance of this is voiced early in the chapter, on page 65:
Some teachers are particularly good at building learning communities in which individuals feel valued and supported, and that sustain productive and critical learning. Children must have the experience of such communities if they are to know what to aim for in constructing their own learning environments.We're back, as always, to the idea of agency, just on a slightly grander scale. We have to model for students how to do what they will need to do for themselves. In this case, construct a learning environment that will help them continue learning outside of and beyond school.
A lot of this is more focused on the social aspects of interactions than the academic. Johnston talks about use of the word 'we' in building community. Other language pulls students in to thinking about others, how they feel, what they like. Another important role of language here is to encourage reflection. He writes about inviting students to reflect on the process of working together and solving a problem ("You managed to figure that out with each other's help. How did you do that?" p. 71). Reflecting on this helps students create a narrative for themselves about collaboration. Another example is on p. 72, "How do you know when a conversation is finished?" Johnston explains this reflection as a way to think about
how to manage not just one's own cognition, but the source of one's cognition in the learning environmentAs reflection has been a big focus of mine I was especially interested in these ideas.
Johnston does a lot in chapter eight, Who Do You Think You're Talking To? More than I can begin to process here. One important piece is the idea that language doesn't stand alone. It is received in context of the situation, the past, body language, tone, and more. On page 78 Johnston writes briefly in a way that sums this up for me:
You have probably had someone talk to you in a way that made you think, "Who do you think you're talking to?" or, equally, "Who do you think you are?" When this happens to us, the other person has clearly communicated, by the way they talk to us, who they think we are. We become conscious of it because who they think we are conflicts with who we think we are.As adults we are capable of dealing with this, often through immense frustration, but dealing all the same. Children, on the other hand, are still developing who they think they are and use all they take in to do so. Our language and all that goes with it, are often shaping a student's self-concept. That's a large burden but also a wonderful opportunity. We can, if we are thoughtful, help students see themselves as learners, caring individuals, writers, mathematicians, scientists, activists, etc.
One final quote on page 84 is, I think, a wonderful, one-sentence wrap up of this book.
If we want to change our words, we need to change our views.
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