As part of this semester’s course work I am a part of a book club focusing on two books written by Peter H. Johnston. The first book that we are reading is Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning.
I don’t love writing in my books the first time that I read them. I typically live by the expectation that I hold for my third grade readers. “We read the text the first time for understanding. Then we go back in and take a closer look. That’s when we highlight, underline, sticky note, etc, anything that we need to focus on.” I also encourage them to ask and answer questions as they read, which I do all too, sometimes distracting-ly, well. With this book, however, I had to reach for my pencil early on. On page two, Johnston discusses how he frequently witnesses teachers doing amazing things, yet they feel guilty about missing something or failing to accomplish part of the curriculum. He states that this is unproductive and “is caused, in part, by the teacher’s inability to name all the things they did accomplish.” I immediately wrote in my book. I even called up to my husband, who was upstairs in his office, and read that part aloud to him. It was the hook that I needed to keep reading and to keep reading in a positive, open minded, ready to learn manner. It showed me that was Johnston was writing about was real.
Johnston went on to write about naming and noticing in chapter two and about how the simple way we phrase things shapes who students are in their own minds, and that they don’t realize we are doing it. He even states that a lot of the times teachers don’t realize they are speaking and communicating in a way that positively (or negatively) shapes the students’ inner perception of self.
Johnston also acknowledges that focusing on positives isn’t a new thing (page 13) and that it’s hard to do when we rely on what is expected or “normal”. I again, began underlining on my first read through. (I guess, in all fairness, I did back up and reread, so technically I did read it a second time, therefore my close reading goggles were appropriately paced on and my pencil/highlighter usage was valid… get out of my head third graders!!) This particular section reminded me of one of my students this year.
This student was very misunderstood and overlooked or referred to negatively by others. Right away it broke my heart. I, however, never expected her to act this way. I didn’t take anyone else’s comments to heart. I forced myself not to let them have any influence on my perception of the child. I met her where she was. I compared her to herself rather than to others. I had no “normal” expectations and I took her for who she was. I pointed out the positives and encouraged/praised the behaviors that I wanted to continue. I am proud to say that she has blossomed this year and people are definitely taking note.
Because of the progress I have had with this student I believe the words Johnston has written in Chapters 1 and 2. Our words and the way we use language does make a difference in students. However, because of the progress that I have had with this student I am left asking myself, “If I put as much effort into not having a preconceived expectation for all of my students like I did for this student, where would my class be? What would it look like? If I pay attention to the specific language I use with her and apply that to how I speak to and with my other students, how might they blossom?” I am still going to let myself be proud of my progress with this particular student, but I am going to let it motivate me to really reflect on and address these questions. Hopefully the guilt Johnston speaks of will stay at bay.
In conclusion, this text has affirmed some great things that I do in my classroom, it has shown me better ways to do or say things, and it has engaged me and motivated me to take a reflective look at my teaching. I am excited to read further and try new things. Bring on chapter 3!