Teacher Talk

Our focus on Accountable Talk has me thinking more critically than ever about the way I communicate with students.  I believe firmly that the teacher sets the tone by example for the way children in the class will treat each other.  How we speak with and coach kids can make all the difference in student learning in all subjects.

In Praising Kids, Talking to Kids, Questioning Kids the author talks about the importance of using specific examples with praise- not just blanket statements such as “Good Job!”.  This resonated with me because I know that I value specific compliments from people much more than general ones.  Why wouldn’t kids feel the same?

Over at The Responsive Classroom, The Power of Teacher Language gives specific strategies for making our teacher talk more powerful.  Here is the gist of the article:

1. Be direct and authentic: When we say what we mean and use a kind and straightforward tone, children learn that they can trust us. They feel respected and safe, which helps them develop self-discipline and take the risks that are necessary for learning.

2. Convey faith in children’s abilities and intentions: Our language shapes how children see themselves and their world. When our words and tone convey faith in children’s desire and ability to do well, the children are more likely to live up to our expectations of them.

3. Focus on action: Because children tend to be concrete thinkers, it can be effective to name specific actions rather than abstract terms. For example, rather than telling children to “be respectful,” it’s usually more helpful to tell them exactly what to do: “When someone is speaking during a discussion, it’s time to listen. That means eyes on the speaker and hands in laps.”

4.  Keep it brief:

It’s difficult for children to follow long strings of words. “When you go out to recess today, be sure to remember what we said about including everyone in games, because yesterday some kids had an issue with not being included in kickball and four square, and we’ve talked about this …”

By the time we finish talking, many of the students are thinking about other things. Few have followed the entire explanation.

5.  Know when to be silent: The skillful use of silence can be just as powerful as the skillful use of words. Silence allows children to think, rehearse what to say, and sometimes to gather the courage to speak at all.

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