Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opening Minds #cyberPD - July 18

One of the most important things for me as a learner during these #cyberPD chats is reading what everyone else has had to say about the same thing I read.  Last week, I wasn't surprised to see how many people focused on that powerful word, "yet".  But I loved, and probably grew the most, from the comments and thinking that were slightly different from mine.  Had I just been reading this book on my own, I wouldn't have the depth of thinking this PLN has provided.  Thanks to this #cyberPD community for your reflections!!

Knowing the power of others' reflections, I was really looking forward to this week's  assignment, knowing that the first chapter we were reading dealt with feedback, praise, and other responses to students.  Before reading the chapters for this week, I shared with a group of teacher friends that my "behavior management" plan has always been to notice students doing what they should, and try to encourage others to do the same, and after just reading the first three chapters of Johnston's book, I was pretty sure I might have to rethink this.
  • "I like how Sally got her read aloud notebook and came to the floor so efficiently."
  • "I like how Sam spent some time organizing his thoughts before writing."

So I began the reading, and then, KABOOM! I got to the top of page 42, and I knew I was right about rethinking these types of statements.  To use Johnston's words, "The 'I like...' part is not as helpful.  Rather than offering an agentive narrative, it offers a judgment and implies that the point of the child's efforts is to please you."

So I'm going to take Johnston's suggestion and focus more on, "Look at how you..."  I'll be taking out the part where the students need to please me, and focusing more on the process of what the students are doing.  My goal is to focus less on judging, and instead "position myself beside rather than above the student."

I loved the examples Johnston gives of writing conferences which really focus on cause/effect: saying to a student that you noticed they did a particular thing, and it resulted in a specific effect in that piece of writing.  One of my favorite phrases in chapter 4 was "feedback is cast in a language of possibility rather than criticism."  That phrase is one I will ponder and "carry in my pocket" all year long - the "language of possibility" - what an important goal for which to strive.  I believe it will change the dynamics of my relationships with all students.

What Johnston had to say about the importance of dialogue, dialogic classrooms, and uncertainty  in chapter 5 were all important and powerful messages for me.  I've decided to just list some thoughts I had as I read about these.
  • I was not shocked to read the research about 8th and 9th grade English classes and their lack of dialogic interactions.  Let me clarify that that isn't a judgement about those particular teachers, but rather an observation that, as my own children went through the school system, dialogue was not always valued in some grades and across subjects, but certainty was.  As a parent, I want my child to be so much more than just someone who can spew back information.  I want my child to be a consumer of information, who then processes it in many different ways that help them make sense of the world around them.
  • I thought a lot about where the control lies in my classroom.  While I would like to think that my beliefs in children and in workshop make it a democratic place, I know that control is a hard piece for me to relinquish.  However, as I read the suggestions on page 55 of how we can start to take ourselves out of a controlling position, I realized that I do several of those things all the time: wait time, taking ideas seriously, asking open questions.  What I will be working on: not judging with my word use and collaborating with the class so the control of who talks next doesn't always lie with me.
  • Ann Marie Corgill had already paved the way for my thinking about this.  In a recent edition of Big Fresh from Choice Literacy (one she had written before), she thinks hard about classroom space so that all the students sit in a circle when they came together to think, giving the class more equality.  In addition, she works very hard at the beginning of the year to establish expectations of how her students talk with one another.  It doesn't involve raising hands - something I can't quite seem to master... yet.
  • Loved the idea of changing the name of "read aloud" to "thinking together with books".  While I think my classes have always known it is the latter, the semantics are pretty important.  
  • I plan on introducing uncertainty into my classroom on a constant basis.  The quote "uncertainty is the foundation of inquiry and research" spoke to me -- we start our year wondering about topics together.  Continuing to push where we are uncertain will help us all grow.  I thought about my own growth as a learner when I read this part.  I push forward in my learning because I reflect, possibly question a practice, and am uncertain.  My best learning occurs when uncertainty is present; why would I not want that for my students?
  • I haven't used Voices in the Park in recent years, but may need to bring it back this year.  The concept of understanding multiple points of view might be a great way to begin our year together.
The last chapter about Social Imagination also spoke to me.  I thought a lot about specific students in the past few years who did not have the skill sets to do either the "mind reading" or the "social reasoning".  I have a new appreciation for all the time our intervention specialists put into working on social stories with these students.  I knew it before, but see with more clarity now, the reasons for doing such important social work with individuals.  But, I also realized in order for all students to be productive citizens of our classrooms, schools, communities, and the world, it will take much more work than the support of our intervention specialists.  Johnston's quote really made an impression on me:
  • "As teachers, we increase our skill at social imagination the more we listen to children."
One of the many things I plan to do this year will be to listen so that I know my students and can help meet the needs they have that will allow them to be productive citizens.

I can't wait to read what everyone else thought about this week's reading.  This week, Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion, will be the hostess for our #cyberpd thinking.  Have a great week!


  1. Karen, there are so many of your thoughts that we are on the same page and I often miss our conversations after school. I missed the "thinking together with books" I added that to my notes. Starting the year with inquiry is so important to allow students the chance to know it's ok to wonder, search for answers and not know everything the first time.

  2. Karen,

    I loved your description of how you had a feeling that your use of praise was not quite right and then "KABOOM!" you found proof.

    Changing our language is so challenging but you have so clearly demonstrated that you are up to that challenge.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation.

  3. Karen,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post! You hit upon many of the ideas that also made me wonder or think more about. In particular, the idea that we have been taught to praise students to build their self-esteem and we may be doing more harm than good. I, too, am going to work to change my language in regards to providing feedback for students.

    Thank you for another thoughtful post.


  4. Karen,
    Raising hands is such a fundamental school behavior that even pre-schoolers "play" school with each other by raising hands. As adults, we think that it is a civilized way of interacting, but it is really about power and control. Can classrooms run without students raising hands and waiting to be acknowledged? Many of my pre-service teachers couldn't even imagine it. (That's why we need to develop the social imaginations!)

    I worked closely with two third0grade teachers that made it a priority to help their students develop the language and behaviors that foster deep discussion. They focused on what active listening looks and sounds like, provided sentence frames to help students connect other's thoughts to their own, and helped the students learn the cues of entering a conversation and ceding to others. One of the unique phrases they used, that showed they didn't want to see hand raising was "Speak into the silence".

    I saw that a classroom can function without hand raising, and I hope to emulate that in my own classroom.


    1. I have been thinking about this a lot. Several years ago as I was working with Max Brand this discussion came up a lot. He was very good at modeling turn taking with older students, but I wondered about primary students.

      If I have learned anything over the years it is that I am usually the only thing in the way of progress with my students. I am going to commit to making a greater effort toward this in the new school year. For me, the easiest place to start seems to be in share circles at the end of our workshops. We will see where it takes us from there.


  5. Karen, I also loved the change from read aloud to "thinking together with books". It is a better description - it's not just about the teacher reading aloud but so much more. It's interesting how last week's reading focused on adding one little word (yet) to make an impact on student learning and this week, simply taking a few words away (I like how...) makes such a difference. Just brilliant! Enjoyed your post!

  6. "My goal is to focus less on judging, and instead 'position myself beside rather than above the student.'" I cannot stop thinking about this quote from your post! Like you, I have used phrases such as, "I like the way Kaitlyn..." and am now thinking about how I'm going to change that. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  7. Karen, Your opening paragraph completely summed up how I am feeling about cyber PD. I feel that I am growing with the ideas that are similar and being challenged to think deeply about ideas in his book that I did not really think about during my first read. Now I am rereading through a different lens. But no matter where we enter into engagement with the text...we are all relating it back to the text to foster everyone's understanding. What a beautiful thing!

    Thanks for sharing your post!!!

  8. I'm with you on rethinking my classroom "behavior management" system.

    Because of this book and these conversations, I have shrunk my teacher space in the classroom by another size and a half (still have more than the people who only keep a shelf in a do they DO that?) and I looked at all the knick-knacks...all the ME stuff I typically put up...and I'm thinking I'll store that stuff. Why should I get to dominate wall space that should be used for kids' work?

    Thinking, thinking, rethinking.

    And here's what else. I tried to read this book (and Steve Moline's on visual literacy) on my iPad...and I'm going to have to buy them both. I miss my sticky notes and underlining!!!

  9. Karen,
    Like you, I am learning so much from the varied perspectives across this event. Part of me wants to race through the posts to see what everyone has to say, and part of me wants to slowly read and ponder every thought over many days. There is so much learning here.

    This quote, "Feedback is cast in a language of possibility rather than criticism," caught my attention as well. I know it brings a new light - a positive one - into learning conversations. As usual I think I also need to consider this at home as well.

    Your honest reflection, next steps, and new understandings helped me to think more deeply about the book and my classroom practice.

    See you on the patio,

  10. Karen,
    Like always, loved so much of what you had to say. I really, really, really want to learn to how have kids listen and talk to each other without raising their hands (and not have the two most verbal kids do all the talking). I'm not good at that YET! Not sure about changing the name of read aloud- we talk a lot about books as mirrors into ourselves and windows into the world. And I'm pretty sure kids know that we use books as tools for thinking… Thanks for all this rich stuff.

  11. Karen,
    One of my goals is do a better job of listening to my students. I think it's an area where we can all improve. Also, in my reflection I mentioned the raising hands thing too. Reading your reflection makes me really want to take a look at that piece for next year. Thanks for sharing.

  12. ..."feedback is cast in a language of possibility rather than criticism."
    Love this quote and I've been pondering the possibilities in my classroom. I, too, would like to work on kids not raising their hands to create a more authentic conversation. Maybe we can support each other in that endeavor. :) It might be neat for all of the cyberPD participants to check in throughout the school year to talk about the changes we see in our classrooms based on reading this book.