August 24, 2014

Reflecting on Teacher Language

I just finished read Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. Peter Johnston focuses on how teacher language impacts the classroom and its students. I had previously read his first book, Choice Words, and found it completely mind-blowing.

I was so affected by Peter Johnston's research in this book, that I knew I needed to process it via a blog post. And then - is it fate? - the #MTBoS Challenge for this week is to write about meaningful professional book. So - this post will work for that, too. And I'll even throw in a blurb at the end for a math-specific professional book!

So here are some major take-aways from Opening Minds:

1. Our feedback should be process oriented not person oriented.
Rather than say, "Good job," or "I'm proud of you," or "I'm disappointed in you," or "You're smart." We should say, "I noticed that you took your time" or "I noticed that you explained your reasoning" or "What could you do differently?"

2. Get out of the way.
We must take seriously the work that students can do when they are treated as agents of their own learning. We must provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue with one another, without the teacher constantly commenting on student ideas or even repeating what other students say. We need to shut up and get out of the way. (I need to work on this one big time!)

3. Our students need explicit instruction about how to learn together.
I have always started the year with several lessons around concepts like: Make Eye Contact and Disagree in an Agreeable Way, but our students will work better together if we go farther than that. We can provide phrases they can say to one another, "I disagree because..."  "Can you explain what you meant by..."  "I'm thinking that.... because..."

This year, I am going to make an extra concerted effort on all 3 of those take-aways. Last week I made some progress on 1 and 2, but still found myself slipping back into "Good jobs" and rephrasing student ideas. Next week, I'm going to work even harder and do some lessons around #3.

Here's a math professional book that I love:
Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle is kind of my math-teaching Bible. It was recently revised by Karen Karp, Lou Ann Lovin, and Jennifer Bay-Williams to add CCSS alignment. They explain best what this book is all about:

"The series has three objectives:
1. To illustrate what it means to teach student-centered, problem-based mathematics
2. To serve as a reference for the mathematics content and research-based instructional strategies 
3. To present a large collection of high quality tasks and activities that can engage students in the mathematics that is important for them to learn"

There are 3 versions (K-2, 3-5, 5-8). Here's how I use it - before every unit I look up that content in the book and review Van de Walle's suggestions. Usually there are a few activities I pull straight from the book to implement in my class. During fractions and decimals work, his suggested sequence of instruction has revolutionized my teaching and improved my students' comfort and understanding of these difficult concepts.

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