Thursday, August 5, 2010

Choice Words

This book has been in my To Be Read pile for quite some time and shouldn't have been.  I found, Choice Words  How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter Johnston to be uplifting, reaffirming, and guiding.  I immediately used what I was learning when A came off the softball field this summer and I said to her, "I bet you're proud of yourself."  Peter suggests turning the who's proud of who to the child for these reasons.  "Inviting a child to attend to internal feelings of pride builds upon the sense of agency and at the same time attaches an internal motivation to the activity."  The entire book is based on talk, the words we use with and to children through our teaching.  However, I think this could be a book parents should read also. 

"The teacher has to make something of what children say and do.  She makes sense for herself, and offers a meaning for her students.  She imputes intentions and offers possible worlds, positions, and identities."  The book is about our interactions with students and how we can improve them.  Peter has carefully studied "teacher talk" and categorized it into groups with key phrases that are the most effective.  Noticing and Naming is based on recognition.  It celebrates and shows growth promoting future learning.  Identity is a category of phrases that can be used to help foster children's identities as they grow and change, often trying out new things.  Agency and Becoming Strategic is essentially things we can say to help promote thinking and verbal articulation.  Peter cautions teachers to not only share what students do well but to push for what is next in their thinking.  Flexibility and Transfer could also be referred to as Generalizing and is essential for growth and understanding.  Another category is Knowing.  This refers to the teacher pushing the student to make sure the teacher understands/knows what the student is saying.  The last category provides phrases and focuses on building Community. 

As I was reading this book I found myself saying, I can't carry this around with me each day but I have to internalize these phrases.  I do use a few of them but I need something in my hands.  I'm going to type these up and place them in my stack of papers on my clipboard I carry around.  There are times when I get overwhelmed, I think I could quickly look at my set of phrases to refocus.  Our interactions whether through verbal means or body language is very important with our students.  This book is a great resource to help my interactions to be more intentional putting the students first.  I also think this book should be a required reading for anyone working through formative assessment, I Can statements, and giving ownership over to our students.  I'm going to add this to my list of resources for parents too.


  1. This is a great idea. I picked up this book one day in a classroom I was subbing in and tried to read the whole thing. This is a great reminder of it. I was taking notes that day. I will have to find another copy and read it from cover to cover. I think I will make a list for myself then. It will help me to change the things I am in the habit saying.

  2. One of the BEST books I have read as a teacher and a parent!

  3. Mandy, it took me a long time to read this book. I felt like I had to read a section, take it in, listen to myself, and then work on my language. I enjoyed this book as a teacher, but realized as a parent I had some work to do with my language. It seemed - sad to say - I was better with my language at school than at home. Typing the phrases would be a great way to start to use them. It takes a lot to transform our language, and break old habits. Perhaps it is time for me to reread this one.

  4. When I saw this review in my google reader, Choice Words was sitting next to me on my chair!! I read it once before and LOVED it but felt like it didn't stick. Since I'm not teaching right now, I wasn't sure if it would be beneficial to reread it. I love your example of how you used it in your "real" life with your daughter!