My husband and I work out at home (more now that our New Year’s resolutions have begun) and we recently decided to purchase a new set of DVDs. We have done P90X and we were doing Jillian Michaels for a while and after a certain amount of time, our routine got stale. With this comes less and less motivation for working out and hence, the New Year’s resolutions.
Like any practice, if you do the same thing over and over again, you lose your edge. The thing you once loved becomes mundane and any progress is stalled. The same goes for teaching. I like to read new articles and books about teaching because it keeps me fresh and helps me reflect on my practice and shake things up. I need this as much as the kids do, so we can stay on that cutting edge of learning.
I could open up any catalog or visit any teaching website and find thousands of new titles or articles to read. However, I often find myself going back to my favorite books and authors and rereading something that once inspired me. This week, I picked up Peter Johnston’s book “Choice Words”, which beautifully details how our language and the way we speak to students affects their learning. Reading this book long ago really helped me notice and refine my language so I could not only communicate clearly with my students, but also make them more active and engaged as they learn.
One of my favorite ways to respond to students as they read and write is this:
“I like how you did______ and it was almost right!”
This is a great response for two reasons. 1) It acknowledges and confirms what the students did well and 2) It directs the students to action. This comment is usually followed up with me telling the students what was right and then directing their attention to a part that might need fixing. For example, if a student reads “something” for “someone” and does not self-correct, my response might sound something like this: “You were almost right! I like how you noticed the first part of that word. You noticed “some” and you were right. Now take a closer look at the ending and see if you can read the whole word”.
Peter Johnston writes “the most important piece is to confirm what has been successful (so it will be repeated) and simultaneously assert the learner’s competence so she will have the confidence to consider new learning”. We use this same theory in kid writing and writing conferences when we offer a “praise” and a “push”. Hearing the praise first boosts the learner’s confidence and allows them to hear what might be done differently. If we started with the “push” (or talk about what’s not going well), students may immediately shut down and find advice about the instruction hard to listen to.
Lev Vygotsky, a famous child psychologist from Russia, demonstrated very well what he called “zones of proximal development”. He stated “We need to be pushed, not too far. Good development occurs when we are invited to accept challenges that are just big enough to demand we work at solving them, but that they don’t completely defeat us”. Marie Clay used this theory in Reading Recovery, teaching teachers to praise the “partially correct” as a way to progress children forward.
This is the power of “you were almost right”. The next time you are working with your child, force yourself to notice and praise what went well before you offer a correction or direct attention to an error. This small shift can make a big difference in lifting the learning and moving kids forward.