The Language of Learning: or Loving My Clay Feet

The language that models an inquisitive mind must be modeled.

Photo of Linda Delgado
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When teaching middle school I initially chaffed under the corrections of one particular student. Evan was bright, delightfully quirky, and outspoken. He frequently challenged my assertions, logic, literary and clothing choices. He was a middle school student with a mind on steroids (figuratively). Getting out of his way proved to be among the most useful and profound things I ever did. 

Often a fan of the least resistant path (that would get the class where I wanted them to go) I began asking Evan to explain his thinking. Next, I might move the conversation to a different student, and asked her to comment on the most salient points of Evan's ideas, or to challenge his thinking. I grew to love the relief and ultimately the power that came from admitting when I didn't know, when I needed thinking help to clarify, or when I was flat out wrong. I realized that a well-facilitated conversation led to learning and to joy. The variety of perspectives, the creativity of the thinking was manna-- more delicious even than holding forth in my infinite wisdom. 

Now let's talk caveats. Learn a little about facilitation before you try this. Learn to shape responses from the vociferous students (Evan) by asking that they put their thoughts into two succinct sentences. Open the conversation up to quiet students by having them write (spelling or punctuation errors allowed-- this is writing-as-thinking, not a spelling or grammar test). While students write you should walk the room, and read over shoulders. Speak (and ascribe CREDIT!) to the authors of important ideas as you share what they may (as yet) be too shy to say. Manage the conversation so that ideas and differing perspectives are encouraged. Use sentence stems that illicit ideas: "tell me more about that"... ,"can you describe..." , "explain...", "give me an example"... 

And whatever you do, LISTEN. If you are playing the students they know it. I assume you all care; show it by listening. You demonstrate this with a closed mouth, eye contact and a refrain from judgement. 

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Photo of Dan Ryder

I got completely caught up in the story, Linda, and wanted to know what happens next. Dynamic discussions? Caustic explosions? A mix of both?

I noticed how you framed the big takeaways and criteria for success within a story -- an incredibly relatable story as well. (Who amongst us has not had an Evan? Or six? Or a baker's dozen?) This has me wondering about variations on this story from year to year. What trends have you noticed since adopting this new mindset?