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#cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 2

"I didn't want to know everything that was already known; 
I wanted to leave room for possibilities." 
- Thoughts from Naomi, the main character 
from Sharon Creech's new novel The Great Unexpected

I'm so thankful to be participating with so many reflective teachers that push my thinking.  It's amazing all the bits and pieces and quotes that I missed during my first reading of the book Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (Stenhouse, 2012). It's awesome to read what others highlighted or picked-up from the reading that continues to make my brain grow!  And if you noticed, I did say my first reading -- so this is my proclamation that I will be rereading this book over and over again.

My Thoughts and Reflections
I'm STILL going to take Johnston's words to heart:  "I'm not good at this yet." 

There is SO much to think about in these three chapters.  My brain is currently swimming. (I think that's a good thing though.)

After reading the first three chapters, I've been sharing with others about Johnston's research and ideas, including the varying mindsets and the words and phrases we should eliminate.  The response?  "Hmmm. Interesting.  But . . . Well, then, what should we say?"  At the time, I had to say, "I don't know! I haven't gotten to that part yet!"  Thank goodness chapter four about feedback was next to read.

Chapter 4: "Good Job!" Feedback, Praise, and Other Responses
Right now, with my two year olds, I'm living in the "good job," "you did it!" and "I'm so proud of you!" world because everything is new to them and everything is a learning experience.  I want them to be excited about trying something new on their own, know it's okay to take risks, and continually learn through the process.  And when they succeed?  "Good job!" is what comes screaming out of my mouth.  I just can't say nothing at all.  

My husband said that I can't just stop saying "good job" because of one book.  (Grumble.)  I agree that a "good job" here or there isn't going to hurt the girls over the course of time; however:  "We have to imagine the consequences of these patterns magnified over the days, weeks, months, and years children spend in school" (p.40).  I understand that the mindset I am helping to shape and create will impact their learning and thinking forever. 

No pressure, right?  And then to think about all the students impacted by my language choices . . . (Deep breaths.)

The good news?  Let's start with small differences in language.  I've been trying to change my word choices at home because as Johnston states:  "Trying is more important than success" (p.40). So here I am trying: Trying to say less, trying to focus on the process, the efforts, the possibilities, all the while trying to engage, build confidence and motivate.  By the way, did you notice how often Johnston reminded us about ENGAGING our students? 

Chapter 5: Any Other Ways to Think About That?
Inquiry, Dialogue, Uncertainty, and Difference
My goal with students it to increasingly engage students.  One important way to engage: talk.  Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.  Engaging talk, of course, through questioning that "offers uncertainty, and invites mindful engagement" (p.51).  I realize the importance of allowing students the opportunity to talk more in class.  However, time is a huge factor.  Not that it shouldn't be, but it is and it always will be a restraining force.  Also, I work with small groups of students all day and all their talk is always specifically directed to me.  Students feel more comfortable and a sense of urgency to share more in smaller groups.

Over the course of the last couple years, I've thought about how I want to change the dynamics of the "talk" in my resource room.  I've dreamed about the conversations, the disagreements, the back-and-forth chattering -- WITHOUT a single interference from me!  I thought it was a dream, but now I have some strategies!  [See Figure 5.1 on p.56.]  (And with Common Core, the natural conversations are the standard for learning.) "Judith Lindfors observes that dialogue is a bit like a game in which keeping the ball in play is the goal rather than winning" (p.57).  I love this analogy!

Chapter 6: Social Imagination
"Learning is fundamentally social" (p.67).  I agree.  Mind reading and social reasoning are two concepts that are new to me.  I'm slowing processing the words and the implications in my classroom.

I'm understanding there is a difference between making an inference and imagining "what goes on inside heads, and not just the cognitive strategies being used to solve problems, but the complex social-emotional logic that lies behind their behavior" (p.69).  One suggestion? Choose books that have emotional tensions and conflicts inviting conversation about g, motives, and beliefs.  And then DO this: "The hardest part for most of us is then keeping our mouths shut and not judging what children say" (p.76). BINGO!

This chapter is one that I want to read deeply again.  

Implications in My Classroom
"This feedback is not given by the teacher, but it is surely grounded in the kind of feedback the teacher gives" (p.35).

Simple, but effective and powerful!  More immediate feedback sprinkled throughout the day from all the teachers in the classroom.

"The heart of formative assessment is finding the edge of students' learning and helping them to take up possibilities for growth.  Assessment isn't formative if it doesn't influence learning in a positive way" (p.49).

A classroom commitment to moving forward.

"A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students" (p.52).  [Similar to Figure 5.1 on p.56]
  • Ask open questions
  • Give enough wait time
  • Do not judge student responses
  • Invite others to respond: "What do the rest of you think?" or "So . . ."
  • Do not specify who will be allowed to respond
  • Use tentative marks, such as "I'm wondering if . . ." or, could, maybe, or something, perhaps
  • Use the nonjudgemental "Hmmm" response, or as Jill mentioned (in a comment I read) take a breath before responding 

"Liz Yanoff began her first-grade research referring to 'read-aloud' or 'story time' but quickly realized that it would be more accurate to say that it was time for 'reading together' or, more accurately, 'thinking together with books" (p.57).

Enough said.  We will be thinking together with books from this day forward!

Language Cheat Sheet
"How did you do that?"
"You should go tell __ how you did that."
"Can you find another way to do it?"
"Have you thought about . . .?"
"Do you mind if I . . .?"  
"Look at how you . . . "
"When you did this __, I really understood __." (Causal statement, p.42)
"Any other ways to think about that?"
"Why do you think . . .?"
"I should hear a conversation of your confusion."

Eliminate:  Good job.  Good girl.  I'm proud of you.  I'm disappointed.  
               Good vs. Great vs. Excellent = Comparison (p.41)

* * * * * * * * * * * 

#cyberPD: Learning more from others!

July 11th  Chapters 1-3  Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 18th  Chapters 4-6  Hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion
July 25th  Chapter 7-9  Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-a-Lot
July 26th  Twitter Chat (time to be announced)


  1. Michelle,

    As I read your post, I remembered reading some books and articles by Alfie Kohn about not saying "good job" when my daughter was younger. My husband read them, too. We both decided to stop using phrases like "good job". When our daughter got a little older she started asking us why we don't say "good job" like the other parents did at swimming lessons or at the park. It surprised us that she was this aware and that she noticed. I have to admit that even though we tried to explain to her that we just used different words, we did start occasionally throwing in a "good job" on rare occasions. Still not sure if this was the right thing to do or not. It is all so complicated and our culture complicates it even more.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Funny you should mention it - earlier this week a blog post mentioned the articles and I took the time to read them. How interesting that your daughter picked up on your word choice! I agree with you, it is so complicated! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Michelle,
    Thank you for this post. You have shared many great points in a realist tone (ways to make feedback more meaningful) for both home and school. I have caught myself saying "Good job!" with both Kam and Nat. So, I appreciate that you took the time to offer the "cheat sheet" with the sort of phrasing to use when providing feedback that will foster accountability to further growth in thinking and learning.

    Also, I love the thought that read aloud will now become "thinking together with books" time.

    One strategy that I can share on think time and wait time is to post "Q5, A5" in the room to remind the teacher and the students to tap out 5 seconds silently to yourself after asking a question and then 5 more seconds after an answer before saying anything in response to build accountability and time for everyone to think and listen to their classmates. The trainer I worked with also suggested that when questions have an increased cognitive demand the wait time should be increased even more (her formula was 3 seconds added the higher on Blooms you go)...the point is-wait time allows for thinking by all.

    Thank you for sharing your thinking here. I am making so many connections to this book with all the other p.d. I have had. I am trying to catch up and get these chapters read to make a post about them. Thank you for the inspiration and for being honest about how you are working through your learning.


    1. Amy - thanks for sharing the think time idea! A great reminder to just wait. It's great learning "side by side" with you.

  3. Michelle,
    I'm going to say it, though I know I am supposed to be learning not to, I loved the quote you used to begin your post. Maybe I should say, you must have worked hard to find such a perfect quote to start your conversation? *wink wink*

    I have been thinking a lot about the "good job," "I like the way..." conversations we have with kids. I wonder if they are more common with younger kids, much like the way adults seem to change their sentence structures and tones when talking with babies. Do primary teachers use this talk more than middle school teachers, for example?

    I had to smile when I saw your "cheat sheet." Several posts have eluded to a cheat sheet. It was even suggested that we create a language page collaboratively to use in our classrooms.

    Most of all, I appreciated your strike-throughs of words/phrases to eliminate. I have a lot of those I need to consider.


    1. I happened upon the quote as I was thinking about writing this blog post. Reading called me louder than writing. I read that line and thought "That's it!" :) I'm glad you noticed!

  4. Michelle,

    As I was reading chapter 5, I too was thinking about inevitable time constraints. My class last year LOVED to share their ideas (toss their own ball into play) but struggled to stay on topic and respond to each other's ideas. The expanded analysis in Appendix A offered some good examples for how I can keep "one ball in play."



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