Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Opening Minds: Chapters 4-6

Chapter four in Opening Minds focuses on feedback and praise. One thing Johnston writes about is a pet peeve of mine. He writes about teachers using the phrase, "I like..." This is something you hear all the time in a school. "I like how you are walking so quietly in the hall." "I like how you spent a lot of time on your work." "I like how you worked together to solve that problem."

The problem with "I like..." is that it sets students up to do things to please their teacher rather than because they are the right things to do. It does not help students gain agency.

From page 44:
Praise is related to power and control. The more important the person offering praise, the more powerful it is. Praise is also related to insecurity. The more secure a person is in what he is doing, the less impact praise can have.
To my mind, the easiest way to break the habit of praising all the time, is to switch to asking questions. I want to ask students how or why they did something rather than tell them 'Good job.' I want them to think about it and to verbalize for me their process or what they are proud of and why rather than me doing so.

Chapter five is about dialogue and uncertainty. Having my students talk - to each other, to me, to the class - is something I try to do all the time. I believe that talking about our thinking and our learning helps us better understand it. Reading this chapter I questioned whether or not I am giving my students enough opportunities to talk. Fortunately, it also did also reinforce my belief about this.
Students in dialogic classrooms come to value their conversations because they are engaging and because they learn from them. Indeed, when Terri Thorkildson asked children in such classrooms how they viewed conversations, the children thought that the conversations were essential, particularly because of their learning. When she asked them about tests, the children felt that tests simply interfered with the conversations. When she asked the same question in a direct-instruction classroom, the children thought the reverse. Without the tests, they could see no reason to learn, and the conversations would just take up time when they could be being taught.
That's from page 57. I've read that quote several times now and it alternately thrills me because of the power in students talking together and depresses me to think of how some children are being socialized by tests. First graders don't ever think the reason they need to learn is because of a test. They are curious and interested in anything. Somehow in our society we take that away from them and replace it with tests and grades.

Social Imagination is the title for chapter six. Johnston explains this as being made up of 'mind reading' and 'social reasoning.' Mind reading has to do with the ability to understand others' emotions from their facial expressions. Social reasoning is the ability to take different perspectives.

After giving many academic reasons for the importance of social imagination, on page 75 Johnston gives another, compelling reason to help students in this area:
Indeed, a poorly developed social imagination is related to misbehavior at home and at school, and to angry responses in personal interactions. Underdeveloped social imagination and moral reasoning are also linked to aggressive behavior in children.Children who regularly behave aggressively tend to have less well developed, and often distorted, social imaginations. They persistently imagine hostile intentions in others.
A lot of chapter six is dedicated to how to help students develop their social imagination, mainly through books and discussions of them. I've ordered a couple of new picture books as a result of reading this chapter.

I'll end with a short quote from Johnston on page 76. He is writing in reference to having students talk about feelings, tensions, beliefs and such in books. To me, the sentence sums up a major challenge of teaching, far beyond simply Johnston's example.
The hardest part for most of us is then keeping our mouths shut and not judging what children say.


Michael said...

I just absolutely love how reflective you are about what you do as a teacher. I learn so much, and I have become more reflective about my teaching.

Jenny said...

Michael, you could not give me a higher compliment than reflective. Thank you so much.