“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 storiesabout 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