More on The Language of Thinking

More on The Language of Thinking

At last week’s faculty meeting, we continued our work to learn and share ideas for teaching and promoting habits of mind.  The faculty broke into eight study groups. Five of these study groups are focused on using strategies to make thinking visible. These groups are organized around different age spans (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) or subject areas (e.g. math).  Another group is focused on social-emotional habits of mind (such as perseverance and listening).  A seventh group continues to work on helping students learn to manage impulsivity.

I joined the eighth study group, which is focusing on Ron Ritchhart’s latest book, Creating Cultures of Thinking.  In September, I wrote about how Ritchhart describes eight forces that help shape a culture of thinking. One of these forces is the language we use. Our group read and discussed the chapter on language.    In September, I gave the example of talking about learning, not just the work to be completed.

Ritchhart actually describes 7 types of language.  One type is the language of community, which can be seen in the example I gave in September of the power of the first person plural pronoun to signal an inclusive learning experience (“We are going to look for patterns in solving these problems.”).  I will describe two others that have applications at home.

One is the language of mindfulness. Ritchhart suggests, “Language that allows for the possibility of interpretation and that opens the door to even a small bit of ambiguity has the poser to keep the mind in an open state, avoiding early closure, pursuing possibilities and listening to information presented by others.” In practical teams, this means teachers and parents should strive to use conditional words (e.g. ‘might’ or ‘could be’ instead of is) when asking children questions or engaging them in discussion.   “Conditional language is not about forgoing answers, it’s is be forgoing the early closure to the process of finding answers.”

Another is the language of praise and feedback. Here, Ritchhart draws on the now familiar “growth mindset” work of psychologist Carol Dweck. She argues that praise directed at the person and one’s abilities (“You’re so smart.”) promotes a fixed view of intelligence, rather than one of growth (“You used a great strategy to solve that problem.”)  Feedback (which is not the same as praise) needs to have language that is “specific, descriptive and informative so that it tells the learners what they did correctly…as much as what they indicating what they might do differently.”   As parents and teachers, we need to be mindful of how we use praise and practice giving specific feedback.

This work is rich with possibility because language permeates all we do in the classroom.  Ritchhart challenges us to “examine our use of language to see if we are conveying the sentiments and intentions we truly desire.”   Whether at home or in the classroom, this can be difficult to do in the moment, but with practice and support from partners or colleagues, we can all get better at promoting a language of thinking.

Rick Rogers

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