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 


  1. Valerie,

    I, too, was excited to have yet another reason for reading aloud during my day. It is one of my favorite parts of the day, too. I think primary students are especially primed to learn/discuss social issue as they arise in a book. Now I just need to work on being more purposeful as I read.

    The Wordle was a great idea. It is a nice visual to accompany your thinking.

    1. Jill,
      My students do enjoy learning/discussing the books we share. I'm getting so much good information from Opening Minds. I have a lot to think about and to consider for the upcoming school year.

  2. First of all, I love your blog name! I want to be SENSIBLY savvy someday!!

    I'm going to borrow your Wordle idea as soon as I jot down my cheat sheet of phrases I'll be using to replace, "I like the way..."

    I think this is the first reflection I've read that includes that "lifelong TEACHER" quote. Won't it be fun to explore all the careers and life situations that require a person to be a teacher?!?!

    1. Mary Lee,
      Please do borrow the Wordle idea. I would love to see what you come up with.

      I like the idea of our students as both learners and teachers. I think it would be fun to explore "lifelong teaching" in other careers.

  3. Your thinking has helped me to think deeper yet - thanks for this reflection. Really enjoyed your Wordle idea with the language - it would be interesting to see how that would look by the end of the book - what would change, what would be similar?

    1. Karen,
      This book really has me thinking, too. I'm looking forward to applying all of my new learning in the upcoming school year.

  4. Valerie,
    Interesting how this book connects to other learning we have done. As I've been reading, it reminds me a lot of the work we've been doing with Number Talks. As our district has been developing our understanding of these math conversations, I've learned a great deal that goes along nicely with Johnston's book. It has been refreshing to be talking about math and not be concerned about the right answer. Learning to listen as students support their thinking, asking if there are other ways to solve the problem, building on the thinking of others, all lend themselves to this discussion.

    Loved your Wordle (oops, that's probably a judging comment). Anyway, wouldn't it be interesting to see a Wordle of the posts written during #cyberPD.


    1. Cathy,
      I see so many connections to other things we are doing in our school, too. This book is an easy read but it results in some major thinking as I process the ideas.

      It's exciting to think about all of the rich discussions that will occur in various classroom in the upcoming school year.

  5. Val,
    Your post really made me think about the fact that we really are on the right track. I have so much I want to work on, but I think it's important to realize we have already grown and are better teachers than when we started reading this book! :)

    1. Laura,
      Yes, we are better teachers than when we started. I must admit, I'm a little concerned about my interactions with colleagues. As I continue to grow and move forward, it will be difficult to hear others interacting with students using a fixed-performance frame. I'll have to bite my tongue AND share this book!