Choice Words Reflection Chapters 3-4

As I continue through this book I am amazed at how realistic and easy to read Johnston’s words are.  I am left thinking, “That makes total sense!” or “I can’t wait to try that!”

Chapter 3, “Identity” was about students identifying as a reader or a writer or a poet and so on and how we, as teachers, can help build those identities.  I think I’ve been riding that train for a while and Johnston reiterated, affirmed, and explained the reasoning behind a lot of decisions I have been making in my classroom.  Calling my students detectives/scientists/authors isn’t crazy!  I’ll keep doing that!

Chapter 4 was what really got me thinking and questioning and strategizing about not only my teaching, but about the relationships I have with my students.

Chapter 4, “Agency and Becoming Strategic” has been the most eye opening chapter thus far.  I’ve been implementing what I thought was choice in my classroom since student teaching.  Recently I even began letting my students choose which centers to go to for ALL of their rounds of the Daily 5, AND for math centers.  While what I was implementing wasn’t bad or wrong it wasn’t what I thought I was doing.  I thought that by offering several choices and allowing students to be in charge of their activities that they would feel to be in charge of their own learning.  What I wanted to be doing, or what I intended to be doing was creating a sense of agency in my students. I just didn’t know that and by offering choices within centers and then the choice of which center wasn’t quite hitting the nail on the head.  I want my students to act strategically and accomplish their goals which is how Johnston defines the word agency.  Now, in my class we work hard to meet our goals and I believe I have unknowingly built some sort of agency in my students, however, I haven’t been strategic about it. This chapter really help me realize that, and the overall need for strategy and intention.

While reading, like in the beginning of the book, I couldn’t stop myself from underlining right away!  I’d like to point out and discuss some of my favorite parts of chapter 4.

In the “How did you figure that out?” section:  “We hear a lot about teaching children strategies, but we often encounter classrooms in which children are being taught strategies yet are not being strategic… Teaching for strategies requires setting children up to generate strategies, then reviewing with them, in an agentive retelling, the effectiveness of the strategies they generated..” I connected with this statement because, as an elementary teacher I feel that a lot of my education was like this.  I learned a lot of teaching strategies in college and during my student teaching, however, I was never taught how to be strategic about it.  The questions that were written as examples made so much sense.  “You figured out that tricky word by yourself.  How did you do that?”  The way that question is worded allows the student to narrate what happened inside his mind.  It allows him to be reflective.  That is much more helpful that, “Great job decoding that word!”  As a teacher, I think if I had been asked more questions like “How did you do that?” or “Why did you do that specifically?” I would have realized in what situations I should use the various teaching/behavior strategies that I was taught a lot sooner than I did.

Another truly eye opening aspect of this chapter was the discussion on praise, affirmation, and agency.  Now, as you know from other posts, Word of Affirmation is my number one love language.  I think that because of this, I tend to affirm my students as often as possible and hide under the phrase “positive reinforcement.”  Don’t get me wrong, I am a true believer and advocate for positive reinforcement and for affirmation, however I struggle with the idea or fear of praising them too much and making them rely on that rather than being motivated intrinsically.  This chapter really touched on that and gave several solid examples of how to affirm, allow for choice, and give students responsibility all without developing the need for praise.  Johnston suggests that teachers show students the agency of authorship by allowing them to understand how to tell for themselves whether their efforts are or will be successful (p35).  He writes, “The experience of success necessary for developing a sense of agency is partly a matter of perception… the language we choose in our interactions with children influences the ways they frame these events and the ways the evens influence their developing sense of agency.” I can still tell my students what I liked about their writing, I can still reinforce the behaviors or actions that I want to continue seeing, and if I begin strategically wording or phrasing the way I do that, coupled with open ended possibilities (choices) then I can create a sense of agency where students develop a consciousness and ownership of their work making them self motivated to continue doing what they do rather than doing it so that they get a “level 4” or a shout out at the end of the work period. This I can feel good about!

My reflections on these writings are jumbled because I am still working them over in my mind.  These are just my first thoughts after finishing the chapters and I hope to continue reflecting as I try them out in my classroom and in my own personal self talk.  I really appreciate the way this text has caused me to think.



  1. Jaymie, I was left thinking some similar thoughts about “choice” in the classroom. In many of our discussions in the literacy class last semester, we emphasized giving students choice and autonomy in selecting topics, modes of presentation, books, etc. I agree that choice is great, but I have feared that it doesn’t always help students achieve their goals. Giving students choice doesn’t always allow them to reach their reading goals or self-betterment because they often don’t know how to use the power we give them to do that! I think your point about doing this strategically is of utmost importance. I think we can justify many of the decisions we make in the classroom when we apply strategy and show careful attention in deciding facets of them. I don’t know if this is an idea that would work (and it certainly isn’t the best example of what we’re talking about), but my class is currently undergoing a genre challenge. As a grade level, we decided we really wanted students to read a larger variety of genres in order to become wide readers. So, we generated a few resources, made a personal challenge out of it, and allow students to pick the books they read for it. What students are responsible for are reading every genre on a list we give them and writing a book reflection on the books they read. I found that giving them a parameter but allowing choice within that was beneficial because it was structured but flexible. I want to think of more ideas to help strike this balance. Can’t wait to hear more about the effects in your classroom!


  2. Jaymie, I really identify with what you said about using praise and affirmation! A counselor that used to be at my school once said that we are creating “praise junkies” and it is turning kids into people who only do the right thing if there is a reward that they will receive at the end. Even though in my classroom, these “rewards” are often verbal, like “I love the way that……” or “Great job……”, I too am realizing that by using phrases like that, I am crippling my students from developing their sense of agency. I am trying to think before I speak, just as I encourage my students, and am working to change those “praise junky” words of affirmation into words building agency. Thanks for your post!


  3. Jaymie,

    This post got really got me thinking about how I can help build agency and confidence without just using “self-esteem building language” choices. I noticed that most of your observations involved asking questions instead of providing statements! I think over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write down a list of statement and phrases that I use regularly in my classroom, and try to brainstorm questions or prompts that I can use to replace those comments. Sometimes it is hard to come up with them on the spot, but I would really like to be prepared and make it habit for when those crucial moments arise! Thanks for the thoughtful post!


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