ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Tips on Inviting Students to Learn

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Carole Hayward

At last weekend's ASCD Fall Conference on Teaching and Learning session "Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students," Jenny Edwards presented many strategies from her ASCD book by the same title. Edwards's strategies are based on the premise that the language teachers use powerfully affects students' ability to learn.

Studies show that teacher language has a great influence on student learning. "The way you speak to your students is key to creating an inviting learning environment," Edwards explained. "What might you like for your students to be saying 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years in the future about how what you said to them influenced their lives and their futures?"

Influencing the way students think about themselves is often a function of the language that you use. "What we say needs to align with what students believe," Edwards asserted. "If what we say is completely different from what students believe about themselves, they may be obligated to act out in order to demonstrate that they are correct and we are incorrect in our observations. What we say needs to be based on evidence. If a student believes that he or she is not capable, we need to indicate that student, indeed, can accomplish things and back up our statements with irrefutable evidence."

Edwards provided several key examples:

  • "Even better." The phrase "better" carries with it the supposition that what the student previously did was not great. By saying, "This is even better," we can presuppose that what the student originally did was fine, and this was even better.
  • "Refining" versus "improving." Instead of telling students that they need to "improve" a paper or an assignment, we can presuppose that it is already fine and all they need to do is "refine" their work.
  • "Someone said...." Students might not necessarily believe what we say; however, they will need to accept what someone else said. "Your teacher from last year said he believes that you are going to be a renowned scientist!"

When it comes to influencing the way students are thinking about learning, Edwards suggested listening to how students discuss their problems. They tend to convey that they have this problem, they have always had this problem, and they will continue to have this problem.

"You can counter this by talking about it in the past," Edwards offered. "You could say 'So you had that problem' or 'You used to think that you couldn't do that.'" You can also offer "had had" to put the problem even further into the past. "You had had that problem; you had thought that you couldn't do that." Edwards offered that the word that serves to move what they are talking about even further away. This tends to be located close by, while that is located farther away.

Edwards shifted gears to talk about ways you can influence students' thinking about their ability to achieve. She offered the following strategies:

  • Feeling smart. We can preteach concepts before we teach them formally to help students feel smart. Then, when we are actually teaching the concept formally, the students will almost know the concept, making learning easier. You could discuss a topic a week or a day before you begin the study, and then refer to it in the actual lesson. "Remember when we divided up that candy bar the other day. That's the idea behind fractions."
  • "Yet," "Until now," "But not for long." By using these phrases, we can presuppose that of course they will be able to do the task or assignment soon. "It's just a matter of time!"
  • Pointing out growth. We all like to see how we have grown. "Do you remember when you were first learning to write your name? Now look at how you are writing it! Bet you feel good about that."

Edwards's examples of positive language use were eagerly captured by the audience, and it was easy to see that these techniques could work for anyone, not just classroom teachers. For more information about these tips, check out the study guide for the book (PDF).

Comments (1)

Muriel Rand

November 2, 2011

This is a great reminder of how important our teacher language is to our students, thanks!

The examples also made me think about children who are playing a role, like the “class clown”, or the “dumb kid”, or the “perfectionist.”  These become self-fulfilling prophecies. Edwards’s strategies can also help children get out of being stuck in these roles and see themselves in new light - especially when based on evidence.

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