Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Power of Listening: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 3

Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston (Chapters 7-9)
After reading Johnston's book, Choice Words, there was no question as to whether I would read his latest book, Opening Minds.  As I finished the final chapter, I thought about how reading this book has really opened my mind in terms of the kinds of conversations that can and should be taking place in our classrooms and the learning those conversations can lead to.  As Johnston states, "Given what we know, failing to attend to students' civic, social, and broader cognitive development in school is not only academically shortchanging children, it is criminal." (p.124)

As I think about opportunities in my classroom, the first thought that comes to mind is teachable moments.  Like most teachers, I try to take advantage of the teachable moments that occur naturally in the course of a day.  They don't always happen at the most convenient time, but they are great moments for teaching and learning.  "It might be better to view these interruptions as opportunities for building a moral compass and both the tools and inclinations for social problem solving." (p.91)  I want to embrace these moments and points of conflict as they occur.  The great thing is, I don't have to plan for them, all I have to do is notice them and use them as opportunities for us (our classroom community) to learn.

I want to remember that social problems offer:  (p.91)
  • concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives
  • understanding and managing emotions
  • learning strategies for negotiating social conflict
  • asserting a commitment to fairness
I want to remember that conflicts offer:  (p. 91)
  • opportunities to make clear that we value considerate, empathetic behavior, and
  • disapprove of non-considerate behavior

I recognize that fact that listening is an important skill, both inside of and outside of the classroom.  We all know individuals who are terrible listeners, and we find ourselves gravitating to individuals whom we view as good listeners.  Johnston spends a lot of time talking about the value of listening.  Why?  "Perhaps it seems trivial to mention this, but in order to have dialogue, people have to listen to one another." (p. 100)

Johnston shares several examples where teachers use "turn and talk" during discussions in their classroom.  I use it, as well, in my own classroom.  I'm often perplexed by the children who feel they have nothing to share or the children who are not really listening when their partner is speaking.  Johnston talks about the need to teach our students to listen.  This was an "aha" moment for me.  Teaching my students to listen, is definitely an area that I need to pursue and spend more time on.

"A turn-and-talk is not simply an opportunity to say what you have to say and allow someone else to do the same.  When we are listening to a partner, we are actually doing more than that.  We are offering through our bodies a responsiveness to the other that, in a sense, brings the other into being.  If there is no responsiveness between us, no openness to being influenced by the other, there is no trust.  It is through persistently being heard that we take ourselves seriously and view ourselves as agentive--someone who has interests and plans and acts accordingly." (p.102)

Talk that promotes engaging conversations: (p.104)
  • Why do you think that?
  • Could you explain?
  • I agree because...
  • I disagree because...
  • And...
  • I agree, and...
  • I have evidence
  • sometimes...

Books as Vehicles
Johnston frames a lot of his information around reading aloud to students and having conversations around books.  "That these students are thinking through social problems in their school lives--bullying, discrimination, loneliness--using the books as vehicles, expanding their social imaginations and their relational ties, should be celebrated more than their test scores." (p.120)

In my district we use a resource called, Making Meaning.  It's a great resource to promote listening, viewing, and speaking development.  As I think about using this resource in the upcoming school year, Johnston's words cause me to ponder how I might use it in even more meaningful ways.  With the support of this resource, we already have a lot of conversations around books.  However, our focus is on comprehension skills and strategies.  Can I use the books that are a part of this resource in more meaningful ways?  Can I use this resource to help students develop their social imaginations?  As Johnston states, "Making meaning is good.  Doing meaningful things is better." (p.124)

How will you support your students in doing more meaningful things in your classroom?  How will you support the social imaginations of your students?  I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching Them To Teach: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 2

Opening Minds:  Using Language to change Lives by Peter Johnston
"How we give children feedback is probably the most difficult for us to change, but it is probably the point of most leverage." (Opening Minds, Chapter 3, p. 37)This is the last sentence in chapter 3 and after reading it, I could hardly wait to read chapter 4.

Teaching Them To Teach 

In chapter 4 of Opening Minds, Johnston explores interactions and the consequences of different kinds of feedback.  According to Johnston, "We are not just giving students feed back; we are also teaching them to provide it.  In a way, we are teaching them to teach." (p.36 )

I don't recall when I started to pull away from giving students person-oriented feedback, like "Good Job" or "Nicely Done" but  I think it was several years ago when my building started using a behavior program called Conscious Discipline.  It was through that program that I began to learn how to notice instead of judge students.  A lot of the thinking in chapter 4 reminded  me of my training in Conscious Discipline.  

"If you are going to give feedback, focus on the process and possibility." (p.37)  It's important to use process-oriented feedback rather than person-oriented praise.  These are examples of process-oriented feedback:  
"You tried really hard."
"You found a good way to do it; could you think of other ways that would also work?"

Process feedback is important for the following reasons: 
  • It gets children into the habit of explaining successes and failures in terms of strategy use.
  • The more process talk becomes part of classroom conversations, the more strategy instruction will be occurring incidentally, without the teacher having to do it. 
In the midst of a teaching day, it's so easy to revert back to old standbys such as, "I like the way..." but in doing so we are offering judgement.  I know I've been guilty of using those words on many occasions.  Instead, we should say, "Look at how you...", which turns attentions to the process.  "Causal process statements are at the heart of building agency.  They show the consequence of a process, making it into a tool that the child can use again on another occasion to accomplish a similar end." (p.42)  I love the idea of creating a classroom community where process talk is a part of our every day classroom conversations.  "We need to help them become lifelong teachers as well as lifelong learners." (p.50)

Tools for Growing Minds

Chapter 5, Johnston describes a dialogic classroom.  "A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students." (p.52)  Theses are classroom where rich conversations are created.  A lot of these conversations are created around books.  Johnston referred to books as "tools for growing minds".   Having conversations around books is right up my ally.  I think my classroom is one where a lot of dialogic instruction occurs.  It's not where I want it to be, yet, but as I read this chapter, I can honestly say I'm  on the right track.  Here's a quote that Johnston shares, which I want to remember and keep in the forefront at all times, "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 had never quite thought about dialogue in that way.  However, It's a good analogy for promoting rich conversations.

In my classroom, we love to spend time thinking together about books.  We often use "turn and talk" and "think pair share" when we discuss books.  I love the examples of dialogue in this chapter.  Students engaging in conversations without a lot of "talk" from the teacher and a free exchange of ideas.  It reminds me of something Lester Laminack said when I heard him speak on reading aloud.  He said that students should not have to raise their hands.  Instead, there should be respect within the learning community so that children are careful not to interrupt others but are free to interject their own ideas without waiting for the teacher to recognize their raised hands.

Social Imagination
Most of the information in chapter 6 was framed around books.  Johnston talks about social imagination.  Which he refers to as an ability to make sense of social cues and to think through their implications.  According to Johnston, there are two main dimensions of social imagination:  mind reading (the ability to read  facial expression and figure out what's going on in their mind)  (p. 20)  and social reasoning (the ability to imagine and reason about other's actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives.) (p.71)

Johnston states that having children talk about others through storytelling is a good place to start.  He goes on to state that, "Social imagination directly affects the child's ability to comprehend complex narratives." (p. 72)   That statement alone puts a smile on my face.  I love my classroom reading time.  For me, it's the best part of the day.  Being able to support the idea of  social imagination by having conversations around books is a major bonus for me.  I had to laugh, however, when Johnston stated that the hard part for teachers is keeping our mouths shut while our students engage in conversations.  Fortunately, most of us have learned from experience that the more the teacher talks the less students listen.  This book shares a lot of great examples of the way we should facilitate the conversations in our classroom and not dominate them.

Johnston also shares that there are other benefits too.  "Children with well-developed social imaginations have, according to their teachers, more positive social skills than those who do not." (p73)  Not only are we building comprehension skills, we are helping our students learn to problem solve on their own, and all of this contributes to better classroom management.

Below is a Wordle  I created with some of the key words from chapters 4-6.

 Wordle: Opening Minds 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

#CyberPD - Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Beginning this week and for the month of July, I'm participating in #CyberPD (online professional development). A group of educators, like me, will be reading Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston. We'll be writing reflections about the book on our blogs, commenting on the blogs of others who are participating, and using Twitter to continue the conversations. In this first session, I'll be reflecting on chapters 1-3.

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston
I believe that Words Have Power. The words we use and the feedback we give our students can impact them either positively or negatively. According to Johnston, "The language we choose in our teaching changes the worlds children inhabit now and those they will build in the future." (p. 7)

Johnston talks about the meaning of errors. When we make a mistake it should be viewed as an opportunity to learn. I can't tell you how much this resonated with me, it's a belief that I have tried to instill in my students over the years. Teachers and other adults make mistakes too. As Johnston suggests, we want children to feel valued even when they make mistakes. Consequently, my students enjoy catching my mistakes and they are quick to point them out. Johnston confirms the importance of creating an environment where students are safe to make mistakes in order to risk participating in learning challenges. This book and it's big ideas are centered around productive talk and creating a culture of positive language.

Dynamic-Learning versus Fixed-Performance
  • In a dynamic view, the process (how things are done) is most important.  In the fixed view, the outcome (performance) is most important.
When students operate within a fixed theory, they view everything as being out of their control.  Students operating within a dynamic theory believe that things can change and improve.  As I was reading, I started to ask myself, "What is the best approach for changing a fixed view to a dynamic view?  I found the answer on page 18.
Johnston gives three major points of influence:
    The first point is what we choose to say when children are successful or unsuccessful at something--when we give children feedback or praise.
    The second point of influence is the way we frame activities. 
    A third point of influence is what we explicitly teach children about how people's brains and minds work.
Johnston gives a great example of the third point. "If children know that each time they learn something new, their brain literally grows new cells, they can apply that to their thinking about the stability of intelligence." (p. 18)  My students would be all over this statement. The idea of their brains growing new cells would be totally motivating to my first graders.

I love the idea of turning attention to change rather than stability.  The teacher reading the story, Martin's Big Words, was a perfect example of embracing change.  I can't count how many times my students have told me another teacher had already read the story I was about to read to them. While I think my responses to that statement has usually been appropriate (For example, when we read a story for the second time we often notice something new, something we didn't notice before.), I love they way Pegeen Jensen responded.  When she reminds her first graders they are not exactly the same people they were in kindergarten.  By sharing this moment, Johnston gives a wonderful example of weaving change and growth into our classroom conversations.

There are so many important ideas in the first three chapters of Opening Minds, I can hardly wait to share my reflections on chapters 4-6.

Quotes I Like:
    "Teaching is planned opportunism. We have an idea of what we want to teach children, and we plan ways to make that learning possible." p. 4
    "Our language choices have serious consequences for children's learning and for who they become as individuals and as a community." p. 7 
    "By affirming that someone is smart, we agree that smart-dumb is the way to think about people." p. 10 
    "Because we all make mistakes, even teachers and presidents, and it doesn't make us bad people. It makes us people who are trying--taking on challenges in order to learn." p. 31 
    "Indeed, school interventions based on the dynamic-learning framework can change the trajectory of children experiencing difficulty in school." p. 18 
    "Since learning is fundamentally social, basing a classroom on dynamic-learning principles offers a double boost to learning." p. 21 
    "Turning attention to change rather than stability makes a difference to all kinds of learning." p.26 
    "Process information removes the "genius" from performance and replaces it with both a dynamic-learning frame and the strategic knowledge of how the success was accomplished." p. 31
Words I want to think more about in the context of using language to change lives:
conversational current
re-voicing words