Friday, November 15, 2013

What Am I Really Saying?

I have been thinking lately about the language we use with our students and what it is we are really saying to them. I have been struck by the question, “Who can tell me..?” For example, "Who can tell me why Edward feels mocked by the crows?" This question implies quite a bit. First it implies that I am the one who holds the answers - that the students may try and guess what I am thinking. The answer will be either right or wrong based on my judgement. 

When I hold the knowledge, I rob my kiddos of the opportunity to construct their own answers based on their own thinking. If I hold the knowledge, they need me by their sides to learn and portion it out. I want my kiddos diving deep into books asking questions, building theories, and revising their thinking. How can they do this if the “knowledge-holder” is not side by side with them? This kind of questioning implies a “right” answer and the only evidence they need is whether I say the answer is good or not.

The other implication of asking the “Who can” question is that it defines kids as those who can and those who cannot. If day after day and year after year I am a student who raises my hand to guess the teacher’s thinking and am rewarded with a “good job," then I am a student who can. I begin to believe I am someone who can.

I remember these students well from my own schooling. My dear friend Amy, who had perfect cursive in 2nd grade, was a student who "could." Her hand was always up and our teachers could count on her to provide the class with the correct answer. Amy could. I also remember those students who could not. The ones that never raised their hands. Those that froze when called on even without their hands raised. The ones the teacher had to coach the answer out of, sometimes by sounding out the beginning sound of the answers, “because he was ssscccaaar..?” I wonder now if they really couldn’t or they just believed they couldn’t. 

I will be taking a look at my own language and what  messages I am really sending out. I invite you to do the same. Recognizing this is only the first step. I must consider what language, structures, and behaviors I can replace them with. My intention is for my students to be independent thinkers who can. All of them.

By Julie Budzinski-Flores

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