I’ve been working on my language lately.
No, not that language. My teaching language. I’ve come to realize that language is a powerful teaching tool, and I’ve been working for years on improving how I use this tool in my class. For example, I’ve worked hard to make specific rather than general comments about student work– comments that focus on the skill used rather than on my personal approval . So, instead of saying, “I really love your character”, I might say “Wow! Describing all those small actions really brought your character to life!” I’ve also made concerted, though much less successful efforts, to consistently reduce the rate of my speech.
After attending a four day workshop before school started, I’ve been thinking about language again. Specifically, I’ve been trying to use reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language à la Responsive Classroom. Please note, I’m going to sum up as best as I can, but my words reflect my understanding of these terms and that is still evolving.
Reinforcing language is just what it says. When they see positive things happening, teachers use reinforcing language to help students recognize and build on their successes. So, with an upbeat, encouraging tone, they give specific feedback. Instead of a vague “Great job!”, it’s “Everyone got in line quietly and calmly so we can get out to recess on time.” The idea is to focus on the positives, draw attention to them, and build off those successes.
Reminding language helps students as they get slightly off track or when the teacher anticipates they might. It’s direct, brief and calm. It prompts students to remember for themselves what the expected behavior is and to alter their behavior accordingly. So, instead of a long interjection from me about what they should be doing, I try to make a statement or ask a question and put the onus on them. “Remind me what you should be doing right now.” or “What is our rule about classroom materials?”
Finally, redirecting language is when student behavior has gone farther afield, and they need to hear briefly, specifically and calmly what they need to do. For example, instead of “We’re wasting time. We need to get started.” It’s more like, “Stop. Put your folders on your desk and sit down. Then we’ll start.” This type of language also comes into play when students need some external support with their behavior so they can be safe and move back into more productive behavior.
I find it fascinating to think about how I use language and the impact it has on my classroom and students. Right now, I may be overthinking it a bit, and I’m sure I sound a bit stilted sometimes, but it’s early days. The goal is to use reinforcing language the most, and overall, I feel pretty successful with that. Giving specific feedback has become more natural over time. It definitely helps that our ongoing Reading and Writing PD with Teachers College has had a similar focus. My own goal recently has been keeping reminders brief and to the point. If you read my blog regularly, you probably know: Brevity is not my forté.
Last week, I was thinking about all of this at recess. In between navigating critical ball shortages, four-square fiascos, and friendship squabbles, I was reflecting on how my language work was going.
I need to look back at my workshop notes. I’m doing okay with reinforcing language, and am being specific (most of the time), but what about the reminding language when kids aren’t following expectations? Or is that redirecting language? When does one become the next? Maybe I should look at some of the examples again…
My internal thoughts continued as we lined up to head back to our classroom. As we started moving, I noticed Y and Z tossing a football around in line. This was something we’d clearly discussed earlier in the week.
“Y and Z,” I said, “Remember we don’t throw a ball in line because it’s not safe. Please hold onto it.”
Turning back, I grimaced. Ugh. I was calm and matter of fact. Brief? Not really. I’m also pretty sure I was supposed to prompt them to think of what they needed to do in line to stay safe, not tell them.
Changing my language is tough! I turned back and kept walking. I’ll do better next time.
A blur of movement caught my eye.
Wait? What was that?
Sure enough, once again, Y and Z were veering in and out of line, tossing the football back and forth, over the heads of a few of their classmates.
I turned around again, thoughts about effective teaching language fresh in my mind. My voice erupted, deep and resonant. Actually, it emerged a bit differently than I had expected. Huh? A little louder (a little?), firm and definitely a bit …well, maybe more than a bit…gruffer. Maybe even rumbly. Actually, it sort of sounded a bit as if a demon had entered my body and taken over.
“Y and Z. HOLD THE BALL!”
They froze. Their eyes widened. They grabbed the ball, held it tight, and scuttled back into line.
Brief? Yes. Direct? Yes. Calm tone? Not so much.
I turned around, facing away from them, and had to laugh.
Yikes! Where had that voice come from? Well, I guess the pendulum swung too far the other way that time. I’ll keep working on it.
For now, at least, the ball was firmly in hand, and we made our way back to the classroom with no further incident– of either the football or demon-possession variety. I’ll count that as a win and in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my language.