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.
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.
Social ImaginationMost 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.