Each year, the faculty I work with is given summer reading homework. The chosen book deals with a best practice in education. The expectation is that we read the book. Then, there is an open discussion when we return to school in September. This summer’s book is titled The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton, EdD. While reading, it got me thinking about how the words I use, can have both a positive and negative impact on my students without realizing it.
This book is part of series of books that supports the Responsive Classroom Model. This is a model that recognizes the connection between the development of social-emotional skills with academic success. The faculty has been trained in this model and the concepts are being used school wide. This approach focuses on teaching proactively instead of reactively. It is really about knowing the children you teach and allowing them to have a place in their learning (About Responsive Classroom, 2016).
Being trained in the Responsive Classroom approach is not necessary when applying the concepts found in The Power of Our Words. In the book, Denton (2015) shares the role that teacher language plays in student learning. It breaks down how what we say and how we say it can impact the students in our classrooms. Additionally, the book shares that the general guidelines for positive teacher language include: be direct and genuine, have faith in the child, focus on actions, be brief in explanation, and know when to stop talking (Denton, 2015, p. 12). It encourages you to think about what you plan to say for all aspects of teaching including introducing a lesson, handling transitions, and redirecting student behavior. Using techniques like asking open-ended questions, active listening, and careful observation, Denton (2015) provides examples of what this type of language should sound like.
What struck me while reading is all the things that I say regularly to students that could actually be having a negative impact on their learning experience. So I decided focusing on my teacher language is going to be one of my professional development goals for the year. Here are three things I plan to work on:
I love to talk! It can be a strength, however, in this case it is a big problem! When I say too much, my students are not able to process everything and they miss directions. I know I am going to have to pay close attention to how long my explanation need to be. “Children often actually understand more when we speak less” (Denton, 2015, p. 26). Repeating directions is something I do regularly. Sometimes, I repeat them before I even let my students try them out…eek! This is not necessary! I should have already taught students the expectations and given the directions clearly. At that point, I have to trust them to complete the task. Redirection only needs to be given on an individual basis (Denton, 2015). There is no need to bombard the whole class with unnecessary words.
Stop Using Positive Comments for Just Individual Students
I have found it effective to identify one student who is on task to get others to follow suit. Saying something like, “I noticed that Sarah and Johnny are sitting correctly on the carpet.” In doing this, I have singled out Sarah and Johnny and have not identified anyone else who is doing the action correctly. I may have gotten others to follow, but now I have created unwanted comparisons between students. Instead, I should say, “There are many students who are sitting correctly on the carpet. We will begin when everyone is in carpet position.” Again, if carpet position has been modeled, then I should not have to point out students who are doing it correctly. Everyone already knows what it should look like (Denton, 2015, p. 101-102). Keeping the statement general will preserve a better environment for all.
Focus on Specific Behaviors
It is easy to get caught up in the fast pace of a lesson and not truly listen to student responses. Or give just a quick comment on student work. In trying to fit everything in, I sometimes prepare for what I need to say or do next instead of giving the type of feedback that will further student growth. Saying “good job” is not as effective as, “You have done a good job on your research today by identifying a reliable source.” The first example might make the child feel good, but it is not going to allow them to reflect on what they did well (Denton, 2015, p. 102-103).
Identifying specific behaviors can also be used when giving redirection. When trying to get student behavior to change sometimes I try to be subtle and hope that the child catches on. If I am being honest, this does not usually work. Instead, I should simply say their name and what behavior they need to complete (Denton, 2015, p. 130-131). Being more specific will allow all children to reflect their strengths as well as understand the expectations better.
Teacher language is an important part of any school environment. It is one of the key factors in developing a positive learning experience. It is my hope, to improve on my teacher language in order to create an even better library for all!
To find out more about the Responsive Classroom Model please visit: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org
Denton, P., EdD. (2015). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn (2nd ed.). Turners Falls, MA: Center for Responsive Schools.
About Responsive Classroom. (2016). Retrieved August 25, 2016, from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).