Book Review: Choice Words by Peter Johnston

Words are powerful.  This is a truth.  An absolute.  The language that makes up the daily discourse in our classroom not only defines who we are as people and educators, but also sends a powerful message (intended or otherwise) as to who we think our students are as well.  In the book, Choice Words, by Peter Johnston you will be able to reflect and define exactly where your words either foster or flaw what students believe in themselves.

Five Things About Choice Words:

1) In an era of education where we need to build intentional discussion in our classrooms, this book provides an outline for various types of questioning to pull from students those deep thoughts and ideas that we so desire to build upon.

2) For each of the question stems or statements provided, the book also summarizes the intention behind that question or statement, and what it can do for students in terms of learning.

3)  Through the research conducted for this text many classrooms were visited, and those experiences are written out in the text to give real examples of what intentional talk looks likes in classroom.

4)  Considerable time is spent analyzing how our words often communicate a message of some sort regarding how a kid should label themselves.  Through these words they develop a fixed mindset to the type of learner they are–not good at math, a bad writer, a level L reader, etc.  Once a child has put such a label on themselves it takes tremendous effort to undo that.  This book helps us to consider language that allows students to reflect internally and determine on their own who they are as a reader, writer, mathematician, etc., rather than that coming from the teacher.  In so doing, students feel validated in the work they have done and develop a strong desire to keep up the continual effort required to move forward.

5)  Peter Johnston not only focuses on how words affect our students, but also actions and thought processes.  This books takes the reader full circle to consider what we want our students to be in the world, and what we are doing during their short time with us to either build or collapse that vision.

“…making major change in our language is difficult without having other supports in place.  Most important, unless what the children are doing in school is meaningful, that is, relevant to their immediate lives and goals, they will easily help us shift back to unproductive language.  As Vygotsky pointed out, meaningfulness is what makes it possible for children to interact in productive ways, and to be in control of their learning, integrating connections among their thinking, acting, and feeling.”–Peter Johnston

When we develop literate children–that is effective readers, writers, speakers, and listeners–we develop a community of thinkers, not only in the ways of which they see the world but also in the ways of which they see themselves.  These are the steps to a society that honors humanity, honors individuals, and honors the conversations that bring diverse groups of people to the same table.  How are your words impacting that movement, that vision?  Pick up this book to take a closer look at that intimately personal question for each of us.

Need to Refocus the Energy in Your Classroom? Try this!

One Little Word project:

This is another great blog to follow and I just came across this post of theirs, and loved the idea. While this class chose to use the “One Little Word” project as a form of a New Year’s resolution, I thought it could also be a powerful tool for goal-setting.  In thinking about how to make goal-setting visible for kids, how powerful would these images be on your goal board for ELA or Math or behavioral skills or whatever the push may be in your room?  Therefore, students not only see the goals they have set before them but also their reasons and drive for reaching them.  Powerful visual learning and motivation!

My First Twitter Chat was a SUCCESS!

Call me archaic.  Call me old-school.  Call me “not with the times.”  All of these statements are true to some extent.  But, I am trying and my goal this year is to become a stronger Twitter patron, and last night I took my first step.  I joined the fast and furious world of Twitter Chats, and in a word it was exhilarating.  No, really.  Not exaggerating.  But I’m also a nerd.

There were so many ideas being thrown about regarding topics that energized me, and I could not get enough.  I was eating it up and “favorite”-ing, tagging, and archiving at pace this archaic gal didn’t know she had.  Below I share with you my favorites, tags, and archives:

Two Writing Teachers Blog  If you don’t follow it, START NOW!

Slice of Life: Weekly student challenge to describe daily events with as much realism as possible.  Easy entry into writing for our students who resist it.  Find out more at the link below!

Aim Higher Chat Series Links:  Below are the links to all the topics that were discussed on Twitter throughout the past week.  Really great topics!  If you look at the end of the URL you can see them.

Conferring Documents/Ideas:

Behavioral Writing Tool
Tool to observe student behaviors when writing

Checklist Ideas:

Mid-Year Assessments: A big topic last night was mid-year assessments.  I love this idea.  We often assess around the genre, but when we look at the big picture our students should be transferring all we have taught them across genres.  When do we assess that?  Generally, we don’t.  The PDF below gives a student document for them to self-evaluate.  In giving an assessment, any type of authentic prompt writing will suffice.

Student Self-Evaluation:

Two Ideas I Loved:

* Seminars: This can be a creative way to set goals in your classroom.  As you come to the end of a genre in reading and/or writing, think about the big goals or standards that students are still not getting.  Then pull the group of students together who have mastered that concept.  These groups can hold “seminars” during composing time for other students to sign-up and attend based on their goal to foster an environment of learning from their peers.  An EdCamp so-to-speak, but around student goals!  How cool!

Other goal-setting ideas in pictures below:

Tripod Writing Goals
Making student writing goals visible by placing them at their work station or desk grouping.
Writing Goals Chart
Using pocket chart to write class goals and putting students’ names next to the one they are working on.

*Across Class WritingPartners:  The idea behind this is that students from other classes are partnered up to look at each other’s work and provide feedback and ideas.  As teachers, we often trade the on-demand pieces in order to remove bias from grading, but how often do we allow our students to talk to others about their work outside of their own classroom too?  Getting a chance to hear another’s view of your work who is not in the same classroom, with all the background knowledge of what is going on with that piece can provide students with a new, enlightened frame of mind.

I know there is a TON of information here, but hopefully I have organized it in a way that you can pick and choose what you like and/or need.  All of this came from just one hour of “chatting.”  Incredible.  Want to talk about PD that flies!?!?  Here it is!