“Errors usually happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are stretching into new territory – when we are learning” (Johnston, 2012, p. 3)
I think this is my new motto – giving myself (and my students) permission and encouragement to make errors, because that is a sign of learning. That being said, this blog and this post is an exploration of what I understand from the first three chapters of Peter Johnston's book Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives.
One word changes meaning and can change lives and create worlds. I have supervised practicum students and student teachers for the past four years and often press my students into considering the power of the words they use with students. Throughout their elementary training, they are encouraged to praise and compliment students, but the form of compliment can create a sense of fixed-performance attributes (You are so smart to figure this out.) or dynamic-learning attribute (You worked hard to figure it out.) These are some powerful narratives that students adopt through their interactions with the teacher and their peers – which all hinge on the power of words to create the world the students inhabit.
In a world of fixed-performance, a student is born with a talent or inherently smart. This would indicate that no amount of effort, studying or feedback is going to change the threshold of the student's ability. In this world, the student may fear challenge, refuse practice, feel helpless and have a lot of negative self-talk.
In a world of dynamic-learning, a student can change, grow and has agency. This may be exhibited in greater risk-taking when learning, confidence in ability to learn, and motivation to practice and make mistakes.
One of the most most powerful words in a dynamic-learning world, according to Johnston, is the word “yet” because it creates a sense of optimism and agency, “I know know how to do this yet.”
What type of world would I like my students to inhabit? The answer is a resounding dynamic-learning world. Johnston provides several suggestions on how to create this type of world.
- Focus on change (over time) – Look how far we've come!
- Focus on process – How did you figure that out?
- Normalize making errors – and how to fix them
- Respect students by authentically listening to them, giving real choices and appropriate responsibilities
- Pay attention to how language molds the world
You can join the conversation about Opening Minds anytime. Check out the instructions at Cathy's Refine and Reflect