Language as a Tool for Changing Classrooms and Schools

Book Review:Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, Ron Ritchhart, Jossey-Bass, 2015

This is a book for teachers, focusing on many forces that have the power to change our classrooms and schools so that students can become more successful learners.

The 8 forces are: Purpose and Promise, How Our Beliefs Shape Our Behavior, Language, Time, Modeling (Seeing Ourselves through Our Students’ Eyes), Opportunities (Vehicles for Learning), Routines (Supporting and Scaffolding Learning and Thinking), Interactions (Forging Relationships that Empower Learning).

The focus for this series of posts is the chapter on “Language: Appreciating Its Subtle Yet Profound Power.”  The chapter describes 7 “kinds of language”:

The Language of Thinking

The Language of Community

The Language of Identity

The Language of Initiative

The Language of Mindfulness

The Language of Praise and Feedback

The Language of Listening

The author begins this chapter by describing a classroom scene where Lisa, a fifth grade teacher, is teaching the children to use a particular thinking routine: See-Think-Wonder.  Lisa begins the lesson by giving the students a series of photographs showing children around the world as they experience some type of hardship or inequity.  Ritchard describes the action:  “As I moved around the room with the cameraman, I was pleased we were capturing good footage of students talking and sharing their thinking at each step of the routine.”

He describes the way he moved from focusing on Lisa’s choice of content, preparation, purpose, and the way she was developing a larger understanding, to focusing on Lisa’s use of language. He “became more and more engrossed not in the lesson itself, but in how Lisa’s language served to effectively guide and direct the students’ learning and thinking….  …it was only by carefully attending to Lisa’s language that I was able to begin to understand how all the aspects of expert teaching took shape.” (p. 63)

Lisa starts the conversation by asking, “What do we see?”…Lisa then asks the students, “What do you think might be going on with those children? Students immediately begin to offer possibilities and alternatives.”…..” Students put forth possibilities, add on to one another’s ideas, and connect to things that had been seen….”

Ritchhart points out the importance of Lisa’s choice of words:  “we” (this is a cooperative venture); “might be going on” (seeking alternatives, possibilities, and options rather than naming).

He goes on to describe the way she joins the conversation to help them move forward:  “Feeding their own words back to them, she gives them a chance to elaborate on their initial thinking and modify it if necessary…” (p. 65) and she “effortlessly weaves in feedback in a non-evaluative way by point out the good thinking they have done….”   She asks clarifying questions, using “responsive language” to convey that she has heard and “what questions, connections, or possibilities others have raised.” (p. 66)….not looking for correctness but “engaging with them in coming to a deeper understanding”..(p 66)…..”pushing them for the evidence and reasoning behind their responses….” (p. 67) [bolding mine]

Using a variety of linguistic frameworks, Ritchhart says “we can distill a number of key “language moves” that can create a culture of thinking… (p. 68).

The next post in this series will explore the “Language of Thinking.”  It will be interesting to see how these introductory examples of “language use” (choice of words, ways of joining the conversation, asking questions about connections, possibilities, and reasoning) do or might play a role in the Language of Thinking.

 

 

 

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