Monday, June 17, 2013

A Little Bit of Peter H. Johnston

Tuesday Slice of Life is hosted by Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers.  Come enjoy all the summer slices!

     “Language is the essential condition of knowing, the process by which experience becomes knowledge.”  Michael Halliday


         With my book sharing buddy and colleague, I attended a workshop last Thursday to listen to Peter H. Johnston talk about his latest discoveries about how using language precisely can make huge differences in students' ability to learn and trust, and just feel so comfortable in their skins.  It was an exhilarating day of some table talk, but mostly listening to this author of Choice Words and Opening Minds.  We spent much of the day enjoying parts of Peter's stories from Opening Minds and our own conversations as we applied the questions and ideas to our individual experiences.  I’ll share some of the highlights I thought important.  As I re-read this second book, I may add more another time.

       Early in the book, Peter writes:  “My intention with this book is to offer a basis for choosing more productive talk—how to make the most of these opportunities children offer us.” 


found photo-loved the kids' expressions
       One of the things I learned reminded me of another phrase I've heard.  It applies to parenthood as well, and connected to me because it is a piece of advice from my mother.  She often said, “biting one’s lip is a good thing to do.”  I imagine you know what she means, that saying too much in an interaction with anyone, and especially when you are assessing a situation, sometimes backfires.  The reply Peter shared from a teacher he told several stories  
about was simply “say more about that”.  I think I’ve also heard “tell me more”.  That’s it, then wait.  It isn’t a new thing to me, but the waiting is the challenge as well. 
         A kindergarten conflict was described.  The teacher said, “Do you need my assistance or can you solve it quickly?”  (Will you keep your autonomy or shall I take it away?)  Peter spoke of the “leveling” of power.  For example, when talking to a student, crouch down to be at eye level, or bring a small chair to sit level (if the students are younger).   Just a few words (and actions) can level the power.  It was also mentioned that eye contact is important when building symmetrical power relationships.  Another example concerned noise levels in a group: “I’m so glad to hear you’re settling down now.  Are you noticing how you’re helping each other get things done?” 
         Peter spoke of four fundamental human needs:  autonomy, belongingness, competence, and meaningfulness.  He believes that all our talk, words, actions should strive to fulfill those four needs in some way.  I imagine that if we posted those words, and continued to listen to our own “talk”, while self-reflecting, we could do this, every single day.  One example of words that fit:  “Don’t sit back in your chair like that, (add) because I care too much to see you get hurt.”
        Much more was included in the day, and is in the book.  I hope you’ll find time to read either or both of these books.  They will change you, or at the least, help you examine more of your words used, even if you are already aware how important those words you say are.  
        A final quote that I loved: “The widespread failure to recognize the insights that can be found in different perspectives may itself constitute a disability.” Ellen Langnor

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

40 comments:

  1. How exciting that you were able to spend a day learning from Peter Johnston! I loved both books and need to reread them so I can get the words fresh in my mind. It is amazing that just adding the word yet can change the mindset to the learner. Thanks for sharing your insights from this day.

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    1. Yes, that word "yet" and "already" came up in our conversations too. I guess the word for that day was "mindful", Elsie! Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for the reminders about how to level the playing field of power when talking to students. I look forward to talking with you more about talking to students and hopefully reading "Choice Words" during the summer.

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    1. I wish you had been there with Lisa and me. It was very good to hear him in person! I have Choice Words-will bring it when we meet!

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  3. Both books are worth more than one reading, they deserve to be returned to. I created a little "cheat list" for myself at the beginning of the year, I didn't use it often, but it helped to expand my teacher vocabulary. One of the best moments for me was, when one of my students turned to another and asked in a soft voice, "What are you getting from acting this way?" It was so much more powerful coming from a student than me to make the student reflect on his actions. I'd really like to have both books as PD books for our primary teachers. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yes, I agree Terje. To read and remind ourselves how important the words are is a good thing. I hope you might persuade your colleagues to read this with you! Thanks!

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  4. Hey we use those texts at our Summer Institute. I'm going to grab up a few copies :).
    Hey see you tomorrow night :) Too bad I didn't think about staying over on Friday night.
    Bonnie

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    1. Great books to share with colleagues-so glad you know them too, Bonnie. So excited to see you too!

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  5. I find that I ask the question, but the waiting...yep it is hard for me. Great reminder. Also, the crouching down, great idea, but the getting up, yep it is also hard for me:) Seriously, thank you for sharing this amazing workshop with us. I love your final quote as well. xo

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    1. Thanks Nancy. Even with the middle school kids, moving below their level seemed important. Hope you can find one of the books to read and ponder!

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  6. I love these books and I do need to revisit them. Thanks for the reminder. Also love the idea of the previous commenter about a cheat sheet. Might not even use it, but just the process of making one would be good for me. Thank you!

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    1. I think writing down things helps my memory too. And just a word or two might be all that is needed. Thanks!

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  7. How wonderful that you had this experience. Words are so important and Peter Johnston seems to be a master of them. Some of his ideas are close to what I do, but his subtle nuances make all the difference in the world in how children receive our words. Thanks so much for sharing!
    (see you tomorrow at All Write!!)

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    1. We are so glad we took the time to go, Karen! It was rather like a renewal of the concepts! See you soon!

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  8. This sounds like a great book! I love that idea of knowing when to bite your lip
    This one is going on my TBR list

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    1. Thanks Juliann-Both are such thought-filled books!

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  9. "Peter spoke of four fundamental human needs: autonomy, belongingness, competence, and meaningfulness." -- he really nails it, doesn't he?

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    1. If only our "core" curriculum looked long at these, Tabatha. I believe that grand conversations could occur with each one. Thanks!

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  10. I love Peter's approach - the leveling, the relationships that you build because you see your students as people, not someone you are in charge of. Tell me more or say more about that can lead to much deeper understandings and conversations with so few words. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I know what is important, but until I read the books, I had never thought of it as "leveling", so Peter firmed this idea up for me as more real! I have enjoyed the books very much. Thanks Katherine-see you at All-Write!

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  11. What a wonderful workshop to have been a part of, Linda. I read both books back to back last summer, and took so much of what I learned into my classroom in September. I think a re-read before every school year is something I will want to plan to do.

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    1. Thanks for responding during this busy week, Tara. Yep, I think a re-read each August is a must. Have a wonder-filled last week!

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  12. I just have to get these books! Words... I always say can cut like a knife or melt like butter...its all how we use them! Thanks Linda for sharing and for the reminders.

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    1. They're both just good to have, to re-read parts occasionally, Lynn. Hope you do find them! Thanks!

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  13. I love these books too, and like the others I need to reread before the new school year. What a great workshop! I'm so jealous this one AND the All Write, I expect to be learning a lot from your learning this summer!!

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    1. I know you were at the All-Write last year-wish it was this one, Tammy. My friend & I just couldn't pass up Peter Johnston-it was a terrific day! Thanks!

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  14. When you told me you had just returned home from hearing Johnston speak last week, I had hoped you'd blog about it. But I didn't want to pester you for a post. That said, I'm SO GLAD you shed some light on his talk. Always good to have a refresher from him!

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    1. Just needed to write at least some of his thoughts, Stacey. As I've said above, it was a very good day! I'll probably write again too-didn't want to get too long! Thank you!

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  15. Hi Linda,

    I have been telling everyone I know about Opening Minds since I heard Peter Johnston speak at NYState Reading Association's conference in Oct. My friend at U of Georgia works with student teachers and told me she thought it was the best book written on education. I think every parent should be given a copy of it when they are pregnant!! It is such a base. Our conversation is So critically important and many don't realize this. Along with William Glasser's The Quality School model (see Choice Theory) I think these are essential for classrooms to be more dynamic places of learning. So glad you shared all of this!!!! And you are so lucky to have spent an entire day with him! Did he talk about the high school reading program where kids were given choice? That was the talk I heard. Lots of great results, but the study is not "out there" as yet, as far as I remember. Happy summer!
    Janet F.

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    1. Yes, Janet, and more yes! I only shared a little part of my notes, & could go into more depth with the book(s) too. Yes, he shared about the choice & I agree with that too. It was wholly inspiring! Thanks for the Glasser book idea too!

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  16. I haven't heard about these books before, but they are now ordered! Thank you!!

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    1. So glad to hear you say that! I hope you love them as apparently most of us do! Thanks!

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  17. Peter Johnson is truly amazing, and I've been trying to take in everything I can from Opening Minds this year. I feel like this is really an area where I have a lot of growth to do -- it's so hard to choose those words carefully in the chaos of the classroom, and yet they are SO powerful!

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    1. Just great to hear, Jennifer. Think before we act (speak, I guess)! Thanks Jennifer!

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  18. I believe in everything Peter Johnston says. How lucky are you to get to see him in person. I bought both of his books for my son who is going into music education. I think these books will give my son a good foundation on which to build his relationship with his students.

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    1. Yes, great gifts for young teachers too, Julie. I gave them to those interns with whom I worked this year. I hope they find them as helpful as I have. Thanks!

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  19. I participated in the #cyberPD book study last summer and we read "Opening Minds." I have yet to read "Choice Words" but I know I need to revisit -- for at home and at school! Thanks for sharing some of your take aways. It's always good for the refreshers and reminders!

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    1. I guess I missed that study last year, Michelle-sorry I did. I am participating this year-have the book already. You will like Choice Words too-brilliant! thanks!

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  20. Hi, Linda. I am reading "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking." The later chapters have some interesting things to say about our culture's focus on extroverts. Discussion is important, but we also need to value the students who are thinkers and listeners. Have you read the book?

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  21. Just bought it, Laura! It looks very interesting! Thanks.

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Having a conversation is a good thing!