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.


  1. Let me begin by saying that I am so looking forward to working and learning with you on #1stchat! I see so many parallels in our goals and beliefs. I was also struck by an "a-ha" moment when Peter wrote about the importance of teaching students to listen. Thanks for your reflections!

    1. Lauara,
      I'm quite excited by the thought of working/learning with you on #1stchat, too.
      Twitter has introduced me to an amazing variety of educational/professions experiences. #CyberPD is one of them. I can't wait to apply all of my new learning in the upcoming school year.

  2. Hi Valerie!
    "Having conversations around books" is such an amazing framework for the students to bring their interests, perspectives, and beliefs to enrich discussion around a text. Peter mentions that building conversations means building on each other's ideas and in order to do need to listen! Our students need to see each conversation as a source of learning.
    Great post!!!!

    1. Tracy,
      Our students do need to see each conversation as a source of learning, don't they? I'm so thankful to have read this book and to open my mind to the possibilities that having meaningful conversations around books can achieve.

  3. Valerie,

    The whole section on listening in conversations really struck me, too. I have been guilty of just waiting for my turn to speak and not really listening to the current speaker. I have worked on that as part of my teaching - really listening to what a child is saying to me. It has helped me tremendously in my conferring. Now I see that I need to help students learn the same skill - of deeply listening. It won't be easy but it will be worth it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Jill,
      I agree, the time that it will take our first graders to learn the skill of "deeply listening" will be worth the investment. It's a skill that many adult should continue to work on and one that I will continue to practice and be more conscientious of.

  4. Valerie,

    What a thoughtful post. Thank you! Two points you bring to light -- listening and books as vehicles. I, too, can work on my own listening skills. As Johnston said,"Listening is the foundation of a conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking."

    I am a huge proponent of using books as vehicles for a variety of uses in the classroom. My goal now is to create a community for children to converse about social change, morals, etc. through books and for students to have an opportunity to share their perspectives in a dialogic classroom that includes lost of listening!

    1. Dawn,
      I love the idea of books as vehicles. I'm so excited about the prospect of using books to discuss social and moral issues with my students. I've always tried to teach my students about different perspectives and books are great vehicles for building those kinds of conversations.

  5. Thank you for your post I learn so much as I read the other blogs. Your reminder about valuing "turn and talk" is so important. I am so thankful for that reminder.

    1. Maria,
      My students love using "Turn and talk" to share their thoughts and ideas. Think of how much more they will get out of it when the learn how to really listen.

  6. Val,
    Part of me wants to respond to your post right now, and part of me wants to return after I spend some time thinking about all you have shared. In a first grade room there are many opportunities that present themselves across the day for learning how to problem solve in conflict situations and growing social imagination. I like that you said, "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. " So true! I will have to remind myself to slow down to notice and then take advantage of these learning opportunities.

    Johnston's book has me thinking a lot about books to support learning. His book pairs well with professional books I have read and some I plan to read. Additionally, I am beginning to build lists of picture books to have conversations about learning, perseverance, community and social imagination.

    I think it may take a couple of weeks to really synthesize Johnston's book, the many blog reflections, and the invaluable conversations we have all shared.

    Glad we will all stay connected through Twitter to help one another through the tricky parts.