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#cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 3

"I want my children and 
their children in a class like this."
Johnston (p. 82)

The last three chapters of Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (Stenhouse, 2012) were powerful, meaningful, and significant to the future of American education, especially in light of the tragic events in Colorado.  This is why we teach -- to reach our students on many different levels, going beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.  It is essential that we integrate and dedicate lots of time and modeling to create thinkers, triers, questioners, wonderers, talkers, listeners, and then doers.  

"Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better" (p.124).

My Thoughts and Reflections
"I'm REALLY not good at this yet." 

I am really stuck in this rut.  This "good job" rut.  Over and over this last week I caught myself saying it.  It was out of my mouth before I could even think about something else to say.  Then I tried to "fix it" with another response that inevitably started with "I like the way you. . . " or "I'm proud of how you . . . "  I do believe it will get easier, especially when my two year olds start thinking beyond the concrete, like I've asked, "How did you do that?"  And at this point in time:  blank stares and crickets.  I jump in and fill in the language.  Modeling is good, right?  But I'm in need of that cheat sheet!   

I'm completely understanding the importance of a dialogic classroom.  Talk takes time, but it is worth every extra minute we provide for students to talk.  Understand this is not just any talk, but conversations that lead to deeper understanding, moral development, and social reasoning.  

Deeper understanding and increasing awareness about fairness, differences, cultures, stereotypes, and prejudices. Not always easy conversations to have in the classroom,     "[b]ut conflicts are opportunities to examine our assumptions and values and they are exactly the places where students find morality most engaging" (p.91). With open minds and hearts, we can learn so much from each other.  

Yet, we can't just tell kids to talk or work with a partner.  We need to model and explicitly share the language of conversing.  Beyond just talking, we need to model how we listen.  This is an area that I need to work on as well.  I'm good at nodding my head and repeating the last couple words with a lame feedback while I'm thinking about the five other things we need to accomplish in, oh, two minutes.  

I need to work on listening -- really listening!  And take time.  "Learning to think together doesn't just impact achievement in a subject area.  Rather, it affects the whole child and his relationships to himself and others" (p.97). Just take the time because "[n]onetheless, if you wanted to make an argument for instructional efficiency, remember that these gains are generated mostly when the teacher is not even with the students" (p.97).  

Yep, I need to take time.  The results and outcomes of allowing students to think, process, and learn together is staggeringly powerful.  Once a strategy was used (for example, language stems such as "I think . . . " or "What do you think, [classmate]?), it was available for others to use and used with increasing speed. (See p.97-8 for specifics.)  Wow-o-wow!  Isn't that amazing?  Allowing the opportunity to think together, strengthens so many other areas, including comprehension, thinking, reasoning, expressive language, which then improves writing.  

The last chapter, "Choice Worlds" reminded me WHY I love to teach and want to make a difference.  We are teaching the future.  Sure, we can hang the posters on the wall that encourage empathy or social justice or trying your best, but if the students don't live, breathe, and hear it daily -- it won't happen.  If it's important to you, it WILL happen.  Every day.  

I know this is hard for me, but I'm comfortable saying, "I don't get this yet."  I think we take for granted our words that we use daily and the power they truly hold.  I'm thinking I have a goal for this next school year:  "Use language to change lives."  

Implications in My Classroom
"Again, the way we frame classroom activities influences what students think they're doing and who they think they are." (p. 86)

"Take ten silent seconds to think in your head, what could be the main idea of the story--and you need to support your main idea" (p.100)

"At some point, we will want children to articulate and post on the wall a version of these social rules, preferably an ongoing draft" (p.105)

'"It's OK for things to be hard.  That's when we learn.  We show we believe in ourselves by saying things like 'I don't get it yet.'"(p.115).

Language Cheat Sheet
"Is that fair?"
"Does that connect to any other things you have encountered?"
"Say more about that."
"Thanks for noticing that."
"Listen to each other, take each other seriously, and hear all voices."
"I'm wondering if you can share what your partner just said."
"I want to share not just the details, but the process of what you went through."

* * * * * * * * * * * 

#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 @ 7 pm EST using #cyberPD


  1. Michelle,

    I love how honest you are. I don't get this, yet, either! Just like you, I'm finding that changing the way I speak to my children is difficult. But change is difficult. The first step is wanting to change the way we speak. I think we are there. Now, it's a matter of re-training ourselves to use language that will help our children (both biological and students) grow into moral and civic human beings. We can do this! We will do it together! That is the power of collaboration. That is the power of conversing together to change thinking and to grow.


  2. Michelle,

    I love your ideas of modeling how to listen and how to work/talk with a partner. I agree that this is an important step and one we often skip. I am going to try to remember to do this more in my classroom, too. I can't wait to hear how things are going for you as the year begins and you get a chance to try this out. Please share what you learn. I am interested. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Michelle,
    Like you, I was struck by the tragic event in Colorado. As I read Johnston's book I couldn't help but wonder if we are doing all we can to shape strong citizens for our communities. However, I was also touched by the many stories of people who did the right thing in the face of tragedy. That's what Johnston is talking about, I think --- doing the right thing.

    What I heard you say as I read your post is that we, as educators, really have the responsibility in changing our learning communities. We have to shift the way we think, listen, talk, and provide opportunities for learning that really matters in life.

    I know I have a lot to work on in the coming year. This conversation has helped me to know where to begin.

    Thanks, Michelle.

  4. Michelle,

    I love reading your continual reflections and the process of change taking time. The on-going monitoring is so important in the process. I am also thinking about how the cheat sheet will really be a great reminder for me to reflect on my words.

    Remembering to think about the long-term impact of our teaching today really stood out to me as well. I had not made the connection to Colorado, but as soon as I saw your words it made perfect sense. It really does capture how vital it is for us as teachers to think beyond individual content areas.


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