Power Relationships

I have been amazed how much my work on my goal has aligned with C6, particularly when it comes to being a co-learner in the classroom. I learn so much from my students everyday, but do they know that? Do they feel like they are my partners in our learning journey? To be honest I just don’t know.

I am currently in two co-teaching relationships where I am the teacher that comes to their classroom. While I consider the students I work with to be my students, in reality they are the homeroom teachers. I like to think of the homeroom teacher as the parents and I’m the aunt. Family, but not the final say.

I may not be able to do everything I want too, but what I can focus on is me and my language. There are some ways I can reduce the power between myself and my students – leading towards becoming co-learners and valuing everything they bring to the class.

These include:

  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Using “maybe” “perhaps” “I wonder”
  • Not jumping to say what is right or wrong
  • Providing enough wait time
  • Teach students to talk to each other, not always to me
  • Try to be on the same level as students as much as possible

All of these things start to even the power and help students see themselves as capable learners who don’t need me to give them the answer. Next year I want to explore this even further. Particularly when it comes to teaching students how to dialogue with each other. As I continue to focus on my language this year I hope I will be ready to focus on creating a dialogic classroom next year. I believe strongly that my EAL students can participate and benefit from a classroom where we learn from dialogue. Where we think aloud and learn to have conversations with each other.

Praise

I started on my path towards becoming more aware of the language I was using with students after reading Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds. One thing he talks about in his book is praise. In many ways we associate being positive with praise. Johnston makes the argument that we should reduce the amount of praise we give students. According to Johnston praise carries risk because  “[w]henever we publicly say ‘good’ to one student and then follow it with ‘excellent’ to another, suddenly ‘good’ isn’t worth as much” (p. 41). He states that it even goes further than this. When we heap tons of praise on students the focus becomes about pleasing us, not working for themselves. Even something as simple as “I like the way you…” moves the focus from the student to the teacher.

I get this and I see this. It makes sense to me. However, it is also an incredibly difficult thing to change. I am American, we tend to give lots and lots of praise. The word “awesome” probably comes out of my mouth at least once a day if not more. I can’t seem to help it. Changing this seemed unrealistic.

Johnston does give us an alternative. What if we started that same sentence with “Look at how you…” The focus stays on the student and the feedback you are providing is the same. He even suggests that in order to train ourselves to stop saying “good job” we say “thank you” instead. It still validates what a child has done, but doesn’t give random praise.

I am getting better at this. I now I still say “good” and “awesome” in the moment. But when I’m conferring I think a bit more before I give feedback. I find that I sometimes still say “I see” or “I notice” but I think it is better than “I like” and so that is progress.

This was a difficult chapter for me to read. I saw myself doing all the things he suggests we don’t do. It wasn’t until I read this that I decided I really needed to focus and change my language: “Praise is related to power and control. The more important the person offering praise, the more powerful it is. Praise is also related to insecurity. The more secure a person is in what he is doing, the less impact praise can have. . . . For the moment, it feels great. Long-term, however, because of the fixed frame it invites, there can be other consequences. At the very least, you know people are judging you.” (p.44). If I am truly following the C6 framework and I’m a co-learner in my classroom I need to reduce the power dynamic. I need to make learning about learning, not about judging. The final grade doesn’t matter as much as the improvement made over the course of time.

I can give positive feedback that does not have to include praise for praise’s sake. I did this the other day. I was conferring with a student in reading who blew me away in the progress she has made. She is no where near reading at grade level, but after months of struggles something seems to have clicked. I calmly pointed out the four or five things I saw her do and suggested one thing to help her improve her reading even more. I didn’t say good job or awesome and yet when I left that conference I could see her smile and how proud she was of herself.

It has not be easy to change the language I use and I have a feeling it may take me years to get where I want to be. However, I think in the long run the struggle and focus will be worth it for my students and their efficacy in themselves.

Observation

Colleagues of mine asked to observe me conferring. While they were observing me for their own reasons, they were kind enough to ask me if there was anything that they could watch for that would help me. I mentioned my goal and how difficult it was for me to stop always using “I” when giving feedback. With permission I am sharing the feedback:

  • Your conferences are tight! 6-9 minutes for each
  • You asked the students questions to give them voice and choice “what strategies can you try”, “what are you working on?” and “do you want to try”
  • You used you language like  “you used…” “where you got confused” “you did it every time” “how did that sounds to you” and “you fixed your mistakes” to point out explicitly what students were doing as readers
  • You followed up with students at the end of conferences “what are you going to work on?” 
  • There were some instances where you used ‘I’ language “I saw you…”, or “Can I tell you somethings I noticed” in the first conference but I didn’t notice it as much in conference 2 or 3
  • Your teaching point was really clear in conference 1 “One big thing I want to teach you” 

Getting feedback like this was such a great reminder how much I learn and grow when someone else observes me. Similar to when I was able to watch myself teach, this feedback gave me perspective on what is actually happening when I am conferring with my students.

I aim for my conferences to be 5-8 minutes, so I was happy to see I am mostly within that range. I didn’t even realize that I was giving students voice and choice during my conferring, but now it is something I want to make sure I’m consistently doing. I was happy to see that I am making progress when it comes to explicitly letting students know what they are doing as readers. I also want to make sure my teaching points are as clear in all my conferences as they were in my first one.

I specifically asked for feedback regarding my use of “I” because I am attempting to shift the power dynamic in the classroom. I don’t want my students to do something because they think it will make me happy. I want them to learn self-efficacy and love learning for themselves. To be clear, I still think it is okay to use “I” in the classroom, particularly when letting a student know how their behavior or words make me feel. I also think it is okay to use occasionally in a conference. However, I’m trying to move away from using it all the time and I want to stop say “I like…” completely.

The feedback supports an inkling I had. I often notice my language more during my first conference of the lesson and then work to refine it as I move on to other individuals and groups. This is great because this is growth. I was also happy to see I never used the “I like…” phrase I’ve worked hard to remove from my vocabulary. In my opinion “I notice…” is much better than “I like…” because it is more neutral. However, there is still room for growth and I will continue focusing on the specific language I use when teaching.

Student Feedback

I was fortunate that last week in that I was to be able to attend the Readers Toolkit Institute at Teachers College. This three day institute focused on how we can collect and analyze student data that we gather through running records, conferring and small groups in order to create toolkits that guide us in purposefully driving reading instruction. I came away with a lot of practical information that I’m excited to fully process and apply in my classrooms.

My goal focuses deeply on the language I use when speaking to students. In particular I have been working hard to try to give explicit feedback that is useful and practical for my students. In other words I am trying to name for students what they are doing and nudge them to take a step that further deepens their learning.

The reason we use tools (anchor charts, bookmarks, sticky notes, etc.) in the classroom is to help provide students with feedback so during this institute we spent a good deal of time talking about feedback.

I came away with a few big takeaways when it came to feedback:

  • Feedback is most effective if it comes after explicit strong teaching.
  • If you want to see growth than feedback should be given in the moment.
  • Positive and critical feedback does not need to be even. Instead think about what a student needs.
  • For feedback to be effective it should answer the following 3 questions:
    • Where am I going? (goal)
    • How am I going? (how to meet the goal)
    • Where to next? (long term vision/plan)

The first two bullet points feel obvious and yet were good reminders. What they mean to me is that feedback and teaching go hand in hand and the more we can give explicit feedback in the moment the more our students will learn.

An a ha moment for me was that positive and critical feedback don’t need to be even. I think about some of my students who are just beginning to write independently. At this stage they don’t need me to push them to add details, they need me to point out everything they are doing well, building their confidence so that they continue to write independently. Eventually they will be ready for critical feedback, but right now might not be that moment. I also have students who love getting critical feedback and immediately add it to their writing or try out the new or different strategy in reading. Rather than always focusing on one positive and one critical it is time for me to really think about what each student needs at that moment. What can push them forward in a way that doesn’t diminish their love of reading and writing.

I also loved the structure of giving effective feedback. It also seems obvious that students need to know where to next. I know I like to understand why I am doing something someone asks me, why wouldn’t my student. It is also such a simple thing to add. Instead of just saying: “You can try breaking that word apart by looking for the vowels and vowel teams, as well as looking for words you know.” I can say: “You can try breaking that word apart by looking for the vowels and vowel teams, as well as looking for words you know. This will help you read longer words and be able to read your books more fluently.” It takes a few seconds and makes a huge difference.

 

Tracking My Goal

It has taken me a while to figure out how to track my goal. In the end I realized I needed to figure out a way to answer one simple question:

  • How can I become more aware of the language that I’m using when I talk to students?

In the end I realized I could do this with a simple tally sheet. It may not be perfect, but the idea is to become more aware of what I say. Hopefully this will  provide me with some data to reflect on as I move forward.

 

Watching Myself Teach

A few weeks ago, our very supportive literacy coordinator, came into classrooms I was teaching in to film me. She was able to catch me conferring, working with a small group and teaching a mini-lesson.

After putting it off for almost a week, I took a deep breath and watched myself teach. The first time I watched it that is all I did – watch it. The second time I wrote down random things I noticed. The third time I focused on my goal and the language that I was using.

While there are many things I would have tweaked or changed in these lessons, in order to keep myself sane I focused my reflection on language (well at least as much as I was able too).

In my conferring video  I used “I noticed” and “You noticed…” as well as asked both students questions. I stopped to teach vocabulary when it was relevant so my students could understand the text. With the second student I also pointed out the process he used when reading. Two things I would have done differently are calling the teaching point a strategy and making sure the students repeat what they will work on, so I can check for understanding.

In my small group video I asked a lot of questions, purposely not telling them whether they were right or wrong. However, I noticed that I did use nonverbal communication, nodding my head yes. My nonverbal communication is something I will need to think more about and figure out how to also slowly begin to change that as well. I also need to make sure that I’m ending the session with a strategy or teaching point my students can take away with them.

In my mini-lesson video I paused and tried to show my thinking. I also try to connect the strategy to a hand motion, making the learning physical. I need to be aware of the pace of my speech at all times.

As I reflected with the literacy coordinator I realized that I would really like her to film me again in January. Will my language have changed? Will I be doing the same things? I often notice in the day when I don’t reach my goal. In my head I think “Damn I said it again!” But, I am not sure I’m noticing when I am asking questions, pointing out what I noticed (not what I liked) or when I am commenting on the process, not the product.

I walked away from that meeting with a few things that I am going to do. I am going to try to track how often I use the word good or I like after each time I teach a small group or confer with a student. I am also going to add small versions of the anchor charts so I have them on hand to help students identity what they can do to help themselves.

There are two main language points that I want to focus on:

  • Questioning and asking “How do you know?” every time I teach
  • Naming the process for the students, making my thinking and their thinking visible

Now to try and figure out an easy way to actually track what I’m saying!

Survey Results

Reading and reflecting on the survey results was an interesting process. I found some of the questions focused on a the culture a homeroom teacher creates in their classroom.  As an English as an Additional Language teacher, I work in other teachers classrooms, and I am very careful to follow their lead when it comes to systems and routines.

Overall I scored medium in every area. There was one area in Challenge, where I scored a low – “My teacher makes us explain our answers – why we think what we think.” One question I constantly ask my students is – How do you know? It has become a foundational question for me during all my teaching this year. So I was surprised to have scored a low here. Reflecting, their could be a few reasons for this. First, I don’t work with every student in that class either one-on-one or in small groups and in order to keep minilessons short, they don’t spend a lot of time telling me/the whole class why they think what they think. It could also be because first graders are not connecting the questions “How do you know?” to explaining their thinking. Or perhaps I’m not being specific enough when I ask the question.

Looking at the Item Response Detail section of the report I also had some low responses to the question under Clarify – “When she is teaching us, my teacher asks us whether we understand.” This is also an interestingly worded question. I don’t believe we actually find out if a student understands, by just asking them if they understand. Instead I may ask them to repeat the process, or the strategy they are going to work on. Are students making the connection that this is how I assess their understanding – I don’t know.

There were also some low areas in peer support, which I will touch base with the homeroom teacher about.

I placed my goal under Care, whose two questions are: “I like the way my teacher treats me when I need help.” and “My teacher is nice to me when I ask questions.” Based on these questions, my goal may not fall under Care. In many ways my goal seems to fall more under Confer – “My teacher is a good listener when kids talk to her.” and Clarify – “My teacher is good at explaining things.” “When he/she is teaching us, my teacher asks us whether we understand.” and “In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.” and Challenge – “My teacher makes us explain our answers – why we think what we think.”

Based on my reflection I am going to keep my goal the same, but focus on the sections/question with Confer, Clarify and Challenge. 

Opening Minds

Last summer I bought the book, Opening Mindsby Peter Johnston. As what seems to always happen, I carried it around with me all summer long, with the very best of intentions, and I did not read a word. Finally, in September, during a rare moment after school when I did not have a meeting or commitment, I picked it up and started reading. Before I knew it, I found myself at the end of chapter four.

It was a good reminder that our language matters. I know this. In fact, I know this well. It is hard to grow up mixed race in America without knowing the damage language can do. After being asked “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” more times that I could count I began to see myself as something different – I was the “Other” box I had to check on every form that asked about race. This negative view of myself continued all the way through graduate school until a friend called me a woman of color. In that moment, with those three words, I was able to take ownership of my identify again. So yes, I know that language matters and I am very careful about the language I use.

But, this idea of praise being more harmful than I imagined, knocked me over. As many in education I am a believer in Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset. I try to use the word “yet” and show my students that we are always learning and can always learn more. Before starting, Opening Minds, I never deeply examined what giving praise to a student does to their growth mindset and self-efficacy. If you are told “good job” enough in reading, than you begin to internalize that you are good at reading. If you are told “good job” less often in math, you internalize that you are just better at reading than math.

What was even more eye opening for me is that the language I use daily in the classroom goes against what I am trying to produce in my students – independent learners who are learning how to learn. If I say “I like how you…” enough times, than I am promoting students doing work for me, not for themselves. If I want to promote self-efficacy in my students, I need to become more aware of my language.

I realized that while it is important to continue to focus on the idea of yet and teach how our brains are continually growing and learning, I also had to change the way I gave feedback. This has not been easy. Everyday I catch myself saying something in the “good job” repertoire.

There are small ways I can do this. Instead of “I like…” I can comment on processes. Naming for a student what they did to get to the result.

  • “Look how you figured that out together. You made a plan, you listened to each other, you made a diagram . . . I don’t think you would have figured it out without doing that.” (p. 31)
  • “When you… I understood…”
  • “Look at how you…”
  • “When you… I understood…”
  • “You did… if you tried… it may have this effect…”

Instead of saying “You did a good job.” I can switch to:

  • “How did you do that?”
  • “How do you know that?”
  • “What are you thinking?”
  • “Look how you did ____” (then go through steps)

I need a cheat sheet. This isn’t going to be easy. But I think if I can pay more attention to my language and shift the way I speak to my students it will have a big impact.

My Goal

When I was reviewing the 7Cs Framework for Effective Teaching I was struck by one of the reflection questions under CARE.

  • What type of language and tone do you use when…
    • offering student encouragement?
    • trying to help students improve their behavior?
    • commenting on students’ work?

In particular I was struck by the work “language”. Last year I attended the HKIS literacy institute and got a chance to hear Peter Johnston, the author of Choice Words, speak. I had previously read this book and it had made me more aware of the words I use with students. The session I attended focused on praise and how even good praise is detrimental to students because it encourages a fixed mindset – “My teacher told me I was good at this, but great at this therefore I must be better at X.” After attending his sessions I purchased his other book, Opening Minds, and began reading it at the beginning of this school year.

I haven’t yet finished the book, but I was struck how not only should I be moving away from “good work” but also from the sentence starter “I like”. I use both of these phrases multiple times over the course of a day.

Therefore I have decided to make my goal the following:

I will begin shifting my language from fixed-performance, such as “good job” and “I like…”, to dynamic learning language in order to help my students develop a growth mindset. 

I think this goal will be challenging. One day after making this goal I caught myself using some version of “good job” and “I like” four times. However, I think if I can make this shift in my own language it will have a huge impact on student self-efficacy.

 

Welcome!

Welcome to your Professional Learning Blog! This is a place for you to post your goals, and reflect on them throughout the year.

  • Decide on your goal, perhaps in consultation with your colleagues or principal, and create a post to share with this online professional learning community that you are now a part of! Categorise this post in Goal Setting. Set your goal by considering:
    • Self assessment and reflection based on new teacher standards  (Tripod 7C’s)
    • Previous or new observation data from peers and principals
    • Student surveys (online surveys developed and aligned with 7C’s)
  • Identify colleagues, coaches, principals etc. that will play a supporting role in achieving your goal, and invite them to view and comment on your post. Encourage them to bookmark your blog and visit regularly.
  • Throughout the year, collect and share evidence to support your progress. Categorise these posts in Reflection.
  • Encourage your colleagues to share your learning journey by engaging with your blog. In return, engage with their blog (and others across the School)
  • You may also like to share work that your students have created or your own professional achievements that may not be directly related to your goal setting. This is encouraged! Categorise these posts as Showcase.

If you need support using this platform, please don’t hesitate to contact Ed Tech, we are always happy to be of assistance!