Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words Blog Reflection Series
- Part One: Be Direct
- Part Two: Be a Genuine Listener
- Part Three: Focus on Action
- Part Four: Presume Competence
This month, I am reading The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD. This text is recommended reading, as part of the Responsive Classroom Model to teaching. I am reading and reflecting on this book as an SLP working with early elementary-aged children.
General Guidelines for Teacher Language:
1. Be Direct.
2. Convey Faith in Students’ Abilities and Intentions.
3. Focus on Actions, Not Abstractions.
4. Keep It Brief.
5. Know When to Be Silent.Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
The author of the Power of Our Words speaks of conveying faith in students’ abilities and intentions through the language that you use. This made me think of the concept of presuming competence, which is a common theme in the field of special education. When you are focusing on identifying and addressing areas of weakness, it can be easy to fall into the trap of promoting learned helplessness and taking a weakness-based approach. Presuming competence creates a noticeable difference in student engagement.
If we are practicing the teacher language outlined in The Power of Our Words, we have already established clear expectations in our classrooms by being direct and focusing on action. We have also created a foundation of trust with our students by being genuine listeners. Now, it is time to presume competence. Our students are capable, and they need to believe that we view them as capable. Presuming competence means trusting that students can rise to our expectations, given small supports, which is where the concepts of reminding language and redirecting language come into play.
Reminding language places ownership of classroom expectations on the student. It prompts them to remember the expectations for themselves. The school adjustment counselors in my current district recommend using reminding language to help students learn to self-regulate their anxieties. Children with anxiety may struggle with continuously asking questions to get reassurance that the answer and expectations have not changed. Using reminding language helps the students learn to reassure themselves.
Reminding language is asked as a question in a neutral, direct tone. For example, “Tell me how we will walk back into your classroom when speech is all done?” Reminding language is only effective in calm situations, and when you follow up to see that the students’ actions reflect the answers they just provided.
Redirecting language is brief, specific statements that immediately stop and change the direction of a students’ behavior. When you redirect, you want to directly, but discreetly call on the particular student and explicitly label the wanted behavior. For example, “Ben, freeze. We use safe hands at circle time.”
Naming a consequence in your redirecting statements implies that we do not expect the student to follow through with our expectations. When children feel like they are not capable, they manifest that belief. Using threats and consequences emphasizes our capacity as an authoritative figure with the power to get students into trouble, rather than focusing on the students power over their actions. Furthermore, consequences, turn fixing mistakes into punishments rather than opportunities to learn and grow (Denton, 2018 p. 27).
Managing Your Anger
“[Anger teaches] children to either comply with or rebel against [your] will rather than teaching them self-control.”(Denton, 2018 p. 121)
Working in the schools is difficult. Spending hours on end with children, while extremely rewarding, is exhausting. We all get frustrated. We all feel anger. How we handle our anger matters because it sets the tone of our relationships with our students. Using reminding language, consistently and early, while the problems are still small, can help prevent situations that provoke anger.
Having a take a break chair available for students, when you need a minute to decide how to proceed, can be an important preventative measure. I have a comfy papasan chair with tons of fun pillows and a stool to place your feet on in the corner of my speech therapy room. At the beginning of the year, I explain that this is our take a break chair. We take time to discuss the purpose of the chair, which is to help us calm down and return to being ready to learn. We also discuss how we get access to the chair, which is either I have told you to take a break in it, or you have calmly and respectfully requested a break in the chair.
One time, I asked a student to take a break and rejoin our lesson when he was ready to use kind words towards the other students. He fell asleep within seconds. Sometimes, taking a break helps you see the real problem. For this student, the problem was being cranky from not sleeping the night before.
I highly recommend reading The Power of Our Words for yourself! It includes concrete examples of what to say and when to say it, as well as more in-depth information about each of the general guidelines and types of teacher language. It also includes steps to begin practicing teacher language with your students.
It can be hard starting our with changing your language. I made this The Power of Our Words Reference Sheet, which I keep on my therapy clipboard, to help me remember the changes I am trying to implement.
Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
Thanks for reading!