Apparently I'm not quite done linking back to a quote that inspires me. I keep finding more and more ways in which it's good advice for not only writing, but for teaching in general. I'm starting to wonder if it's not an appropriate metaphor for my view of teaching with my students.
For years I've been a very strong believer in the Responsive Classroom approach. It fits so well within my philosophy of education -- in the way I think about children and teaching -- that it's really only natural that I find it such a good match.
Over the past two years, I've been thinking a lot about the language I use when I communicate with my students. The RC approach talks about three kinds of language to use with children: Reinforcing, Reminding, and Redirecting language [for two useful articles, go here and here]. There is a wonderful book that discusses teacher language in great detail: The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton.
Of the 3 R's in teacher language, I think the Reinforcing piece can be one of the hardest of the three to build facility with. I've been thinking about it recently and wondering if it's so difficult because for many teachers it involves breaking old habits. Instead of praising, we're naming specific behaviors and allowing the children to construct their own meaning and self-control with our guidance. We're not saying, "I like the way you're walking in the hallway," which praises and implies that they're trying to please me. We're saying, "Your mouth is quiet and your feet are walking. You're showing respect to the other classes." which names the specific behavior.
Naturally, there are so many more things I could say (and probably will) about teacher language and the Reinforcing piece in particular, but as my mind is really quite stuck on my Lucy Calkins connection from last week, it was with this that I began this blog post and connecting these two teaching elements in my head.
When Lucy Calkins encourages the teacher to Find the good in the classroom... isn't she doing just that? Reinforcing what is already there, allowing children to see that and then guiding them forward. She's naming specific writing behaviors, giving the children information about what is in good writing, not just giving general praise.
Specific feedback is so powerful. It names expectations without any grey areas. There is no guess what the teacher wants, but instead gives the information to everyone. Every student has access to the information they need, instead of just the ones that are good at reading the teacher's mind.
So, while I have copied the quote and taped it to my writing clipboard, I wonder if it's something I should be carrying around all the time, advice that I should be heeding any time I'm talking with a student. No matter how much I relish moments when I'm in front of the whole class being dramatic and engaging, it's the small moments from Writing Workshop, from Reading or Math Work Stations that I treasure the most. For me teaching is, at its very core, the guidance and encouragement of learning.
And isn't that exactly what Lucy Calkins is talking about?