Wednesday, August 1, 2012


"When children grow up they are not only going to be wage earners. They are going to be citizens, parents, spouses, teachers, politicians, artists, managers, and so forth. Do we want them to be come successful in these endeavors—citizens who actively work toward a democracy, effective parents and spouses, lifelong learners, effective teachers, creative and collaborative workmates. I think we do. Should we assume these goals will take care of themselves if we just attend to academics? The evidence suggests otherwise"  (113)  

Thanks for coming by today. I don't know about the rest of you, but summer in Colorado is almost over. And while I love teaching, I don't always love the frantic, hamster wheel pace. I don't love that I don't do as much professional reading, or reflection, as I do during the summer. I think OPENING MINDS is a really important book. And I'm not done thinking about the book yet. I really want it to impact my teaching. And I know how easy it is to let the learning kind of slip away, and to never think about it again once I get back into the craziness of school. I wanted to revisit the book one more time. I wanted one more chance to process my thinking before I jumped back into the craziness of school. I hoped I would be ready to present a coherent thoughtful plan of how I was going to use Johnston's work at my school this year. Unfortunately that hasn't happened yet.

I do have a few goals for myself as a teacher and a parent. First, I know that I really want to work toward what Johnston describes as "instruction that directs students (and teachers, because I'm a coach) toward a dynamic- learning frame, agency,  accurate social imagination, and social problem-solving (79).

1) Toward that end, I really want to look at the people I work with (both adults and children), and my own sons, and maybe even myself, through the lens of a dynamic learning framework. I was struck, as most of you probably were, by how children's view of themselves as learners affects not only their current and future academic development, but also their social, emotional and mental development. I think of my own two boys, neither of whom has been particularly successful in school and I wonder how different their experience might have been if more teachers one had  looked at them through the lens of "yet."

2) I want to work really hard this year at promoting great dialogue when I facilitate professional development and when I work with kids.
  • I want people talk to each other without raising their hands.
  • I want people learn to really listen and respond to each other, not just wait for their own turns to talk. 
  • I want to people learn to articulate and defend their opinions. 
3) I want to think about how OPENING MINDS can inform the work that people are doing around Common Core Standards. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I think there are lots of connections between rich dialogue and comprehending deeply. If I really work at promoting that rich dialogue, and helping kids learn to support and defend their opinions, then I believe comprehension will happen. 

Right now, I have notes throughout the book. And I have fourteen pages of typed notes. And I have two different lists going.  One list is quotes that I want to remember, things I want to keep thinking about. Here are some I especially want to remember:

  • Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat, word for word,  what you shouldn’t have said. Unknown, as quoted in Johnston (1)
  • As teachers, we choose our words, and in the process, construct the classroom worlds for our students and ourselves. (1)
  • In classrooms, events happen, but their meaning only becomes apparent through the filter of the language in which we immerse them. (2)
  • Errors usually happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are stretching into new territory- when we are learning.
  • This set of interactions might not mean much by itself, but the threads it contains, repeated over and over in different. forms, moment to moment, day to day, week to week, month to month, start to amount to something. Their power is strengthened as they echo and reverberate in children’s talk  (4).
  • Teaching is planned opportunism. We have an idea of what we want to teach children, and we plan ways to make that learning possible (4).
  • Teaching requires constant improvisation. It is jazz (4).
  • The language we use in our teaching changes the worlds children inhabit now and those they will build in the future (7).
  • When children are being successful, it doesn’t matter which theory they hold. When children are failing, their theories matter big time.
  • Asking children “How did you do that?” gives them a reason to retrace their steps in accomplishing something, such as solving a math problem, writing a poem or cleaning up after an art project. This narrative makes what might have been a series of unplanned and unconscious steps into a packaged strategy linked to a goal – a strategic action that can later be invoked for planning and refining (34).
  • How we give children feedback is probably the most difficult for us to change, but it is probably the point of most leverage (34).
  • When we make personal judgments of children, whether through praise or criticism, we teach them to do the same. They learn to judge themselves and others. They develop a contingent sense of self-worth—that they are only able, good, and worthy when they are successful.  39
  • Feedback that helps children think that their performance reveals some permanent quality, intelligence, or goodness at drawing (or anything else) has some serious side effects. These side effects include enjoying the activities less, being less resilient in the face of difficulty, being less likely to choose the activity the next time, being more likely to judge themselves and others, and generating unproductive narratives to explain their experience. 40
  • The more process talk becomes part of the classroom conversations, the more strategy instruction will be occurring, incidentally, without the teacher having to do it  (40).
  • The purpose of feedback is to improve conceptual understanding or increase strategic options while developing stamina, resilience, and motivation—expanding the vision of what is possible and how to get there. Perhaps we should call it feedforward, rather than feedback. 
  • A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students (52).
  • Martin Nystrand et al. -Students in dialogic classrooms recalled their readings better, understood them in more depth, and responded more fully to aesthetic elements of literature than did students in more typical monologically organized classrooms. 53
  • Judith Lindfors- Dialogue is a little bit like a game in which keeping the ball in play is the goal rather than winning.
  • It is the perception of uncertainty that enables dialogue. If there is certainty, or only one view, there is nothing to discuss and nothing to learn. Uncertainty is the foundation of inquiry and research  (59).
  • The root of the word school is the Greek schola meaning leisure. SLOW DOWN!!!!
  • For intellectual development, the most powerful lever comes when children disagree and take each other seriously (65).
  • Vygotsky- Cognitive growth is more likely when one is required to explain, elaborate, or defend one’s position to others as well as to one’s self, striving for an explanation often makes a learner integrate and elaborate knowledge in new ways (65).
  • When people expect to disagree and to explain their position, have a reasonable tolerance for and expectation of uncertainty, understand the value of listening to others, particularly those who think differently, and work to produce symmetrical power relationships, they are well prepared for a strong democracy (66).
  • Whether we like it or not, children are acquiring the “character” and dispositions toward civic engagement (or not) as we teach them about history, literacy, math, and science. Their moral development doesn’t just stop because we choose not to think about it (81).
  • In the long history of human kind (and animal kind too) those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Charles Darwin, as quoted in Johnston (92).
  • Our main advantage as human beings lies in our ability to think together (92).
  • We conveniently forget that children’s ability to use language as a tool for thinking on their own has its origins in thinking together. We also forget that most problems of any significance require the application of more than one mind. The question is, can children learn to use, say, three minds together to accomplish things that the three minds separately could not accomplish (97).
  • Mary Cowhey- The real test of a dialogic classroom is to have the least empowered children, the least articulate, take a leading role in that dialog while the more articulate children thoughtfully listen and consider things from their classmates perspectives before they comment or question  (100).
  • If the “American dream has a lot to do with the pursuit of happiness,” neglecting broader aspects of children’s development will lead neither to happiness nor to economic security. Happiness matters, even if you focus on economics. Happy teenagers ultimately have much higher incomes than those who are less happy, even after accounting for family income and grades. But happiness, it turns out, is made up of three parts: “the pleasant life” (pleasure), “the engaged life,” and the meaning ful life, and pursuit of the latter two, meaning and engagement, are the best predictors of life satisfaction (114).
  • Our main advantage as human beings lies in our ability to think together. Our main threat has become our failure to think and act together on larger scales and to act on the understanding that the sheer existence of our species depends on how we think together—how we experience and treat each other (114).
  • A better concept of a fair education would be to have every child develop as fully as possible. Of course we have no way of knowing what is possible for each child. All we can do is arrange for children to be fully engaged in ways that we know lead to expanded development… When children are fully engaged in an activity, they press into service all of their resources and stretch themselves as necessary (118).

The other list consists of language that I really want to use in my work with teachers and kids. Right now this list is way too long. I still need to distill it down. I want it to fit on one page. I want the font to be big enough that I can see it without having to use a magnifying glass. But that distilled, condensed, easy to read list has not happened. Here is my language list as it currently stands. 

Language that promotes a dynamic learning framework
  • Let’s see how much you know already.
  • I’m not good at _______________ yet
  • You have changed so much this week
  • You have learned so much since ________________ (September).
  • Would you have used that strategy back in _______ (March?)
  • You haven’t learned about that yet, but you will.
  • When kids say they have heard a book before: Are you exactly the same person as you were in ___________________.  So when you hear these words this time, you might think differently about this book. 
  • Your brain is changing and so is the way you experience ideas. Expect to think differently.
Questions that encourage children to rehearse agentive narratives
  • How did you do that?
  • How did you know that?
  • What are you thinking?
  • Thanks for teaching us that.
  • Ask your partner how he did that.
  • Are you ready to get started? Do you have a plan? You don’t need to tell me your plan. I might be able to figure out your plan from your behavior.
  • Say more about that. 
  • You found a good way to do it, can you think of any other ways that might also work? (this invites children to imagine alternative strategies and develop flexibility)
  • Not “I like the way you,” rather “Look at how you…”
Mistake Making
  • Do you think when Barack Obama was in kindergarten, he ever made mistakes?
  • We all make mistakes, even teachers and presidents, and it doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us people who are trying- taking on challenges In order to change. This is the central anchor that allows children to handle difficulty and change.
  • He made a decision for his own benefit and didn’t consider other people.
  • Do you want to attend to the book (or group activity), or do you want to read by yourself?

Language to promote strong dialogue
  • Say more about that…
  • I think (POSITION) because (REASON)
  • In the story it says (EVIDENCE)
  • What if (SCENARIO)…
  • (CLASSMATE SAID)_________ but I think                          because …
  • Let (CLASSMATE) talk.
  • What do you think, (CLASSMATE)?
OK, that's enough random rambling from me. Johnston also said, "And of course the teacher’s excellent command of language is shown in her consummate ability to keep her mouth shut while the children engage each other’s views" (80). Or as Tony said so eloquently one day, "I'm going to work at shutting my piehole." Now it's time for me to shut my pinhole and hear what you are thinking. Leave your comments below and I will round them up periodically throughout the day.

6:30 a.m.

Excited that people are already starting to post.

  • Deb Frazier started the conversation. She tweeted me with her link before I was even done writing mine last night. I could soooo identify with many of her comments about classroom community and management!
  • Jill Balen, another literacy coach, synthesized the book into a gorgeous "meditation" that I am going to #1, put on an index card and read every morning, and #2, try to write myself, because then maybe the book really would go deeper inside of my brain. Jill doesn't have her own blog yet (I'm hoping that changes really soon because I'd love to read more of her thinking!) so be sure to read her comments here.
  • Dawn has also managed to distill Johnston's thinking into a short, succinct reflection that she can carry in her head and her heart. She is practicing Johnston's language on her six-year-old daughter's reading. Dawn is assembling a bibliography of "Tools for Growing Minds." She's categorized books into three categories- building community, developing moral agency and teaching civic engagement. Don't miss that link!
  • Jill has organized her takeaways into three professional goals for 2012-2013. I love her what/why/how format, and am thinking that might help me get a better grasp on my thinking. 
  • Be sure to stop by Heart of a Teacher, where LitProf Suz has linked Johnston's work to that of Gail Tompkins. Suz also takes readers on a field trip to a third grade classroom, where we get to "hear" some very thoughtful third graders reflect on their learning. 
  • Michelle integrated Johnston's work with comments from the #cyberpd Twitter conversation, then included some takeaways for her classroom. She hopes that our conversation will continue into this year. I do too, Michelle; I'm feeling like I still have lots to learn from our conversations!


Unknown said...

Hi Carol,

We are on the edge of something in education, aren’t we? No longer the authority, no longer the sage on the stage, no longer the only thinker in the room. And we will make mistakes, there is no doubt. But Carol, your synthesis of Johnston’s work assures me that we are on the right track. We do need to figure out what his ideas look like for us in our work with kids and teachers and parents. Many of your thoughts overlap with mine. I, too, am a coach and so I am thinking about how I speak to teachers, how I listen to teachers, and how I give them feedback. What kind of world do I help construct for my teachers by the words that I use with them? Yesterday, I met with a young teacher to discuss our foray into a global project. We talked, she talked and I listened, or I hope I did. Opening Minds was sitting on the table at my elbow reminding me to be quiet, listen harder, think about the feedback, choose my words carefully, and pushing me to slow down. Breathe girl, breath.
John Hattie’s research published in Visible Learning (2009) provides the evidence that feedback is one of the top ten factors to have the greatest effect size in student achievement. Johnston’s work gives us the ‘why’ of that impact. I need to remember to provide feedback that is positive, not simply praise; on intention, not on getting it right. As a coach, I am always interested in leverage, and Johnston states unequivocally that feedback is “the point of most leverage” (p. 34). And like you Carol, I have a son that struggled in high school regardless of my interventions. As parents, we have influence, but teachers should never underestimate the level of influence we have. The idea of ‘yet’ could not penetrate the consciousness of his teachers. He did not fit into the box of the ‘academic student’, and they could not think of him (or any kids like him) in terms of yet. One teacher summed up her response to kids like him in this way, “You can tell what mark a student will get by the way he stands for Oh Canada.” He never heard her say that, but kids don’t have to ‘hear’ our words. They feel them. It is no surprise then that he spent his high school years reflecting back to his teachers what he saw, heard, and felt. This is feedback, too.
My list of quotes and the language that I need to learn to use is similar to yours, too. I am thinking that I will distill them both down to fit on a ‘bookmark’ that 1) I can have with me and 2) I can reproduce as my colleagues’ interest becomes piqued. (And it will be as they hear me stutter and stammer into this new language!!) I think that this will not happen quickly, rather the language that I need in my work will emerge overtime. I will have to work hard at being patient with myself.
Here are the ideas that surface when I try to talk about Opening Minds in the early days of processing it.

on Opening Minds, first read

Create space and time for dialogue.
This means
—slow down.
No rushing in with the answer,
allow uncertainty to feed wonder and discovery.
Make room for confusion in conversation.
Give it permission to spur dialogue,
to build collaborative thinking
to create knowledge
Remember that teaching changes worlds.
How will I know?
Listen to the students. What are they talking about?
There is the answer.

Carol thanks so much for hosting this last session. I, too, needed one more week to read blogs and process, and I very much appreciate this opportunity to get it out ‘on paper’. Thanks too to Laura, Jill, and Cathy. This has been my first virtual book study, and I loved the experience. The openness and generosity of all the participants is to each other and to newcomers is refreshing. The thinking and the writing has been inspiring. I hope by next summer, I can join #cyberPD with my own blog

Carol said...

Thanks for stopping by! Last night, after I put up my post, I read a post about a principal whose staff had just finished a book study. He decided he would create what he called "prayer cards," featuring important things he wanted to remember. His post is here, if you want to read it. Thinking I might want to create a prayer card, or ten, from OPENING MINDS. Love how you synthesized Johnston down into a short poem/meditation. Thinking if I read that every day as I started my day, maybe I would slow down, breathe, make more space for dialogue. Hmmmm.

Your comments about your son sound so, so, so similar to those I have heard for years. Wonder what would have happened if teachers had looked at him through the lens of "not yet" instead of "can't/won't/doesn't." He graduated this year, headed off to a junior college 900 miles away, and is living in an apartment, cooking his own meals, buying books for school, etc. and seems to be doing fine. I've been really working at giving him process oriented feedback all summer.
I hope you will create a blog! I'd love to continue these conversations and would definitely be a follower. If you use blogspot, it is super easy! And there are lots of us willing to help! Try it today!

Carol said...

Just realized I didn't include the link for the "prayer card" post. Here it is if you want it.

Dawn Little said...


Thank you for hosting this final wrap up. My post is pretty short -- I touched on a few things I would like to incorporate during the school year. I realize though that I forgot to add a list of the language I want to use. So important. I'm definitely not done going back through the book and finding nuggets to use. I really need more time to process this important read.

I will also go back and look to link Johnston's work to the Common Core. I did in a few of my other reflective posts, but I'm sure there are pieces I missed.

My post can be found here:

Thanks again for hosting!


Linda B said...

Carol, I'm not part of this, but have bought the book & am following along. Thanks for your post & now I'll read the comments too. What a great piece-time to start the walk to this year, I know. I like this quote especially: "The purpose of feedback is to improve conceptual understanding or increase strategic options while developing stamina, resilience, and motivation—expanding the vision of what is possible and how to get there. Perhaps we should call it feedforward, rather than feedback. " I'll remember this, for the future! Thanks!

Jill Fisch said...


What an awesome synthesis of the book. You have gathered some of my favorite quotes, language and thoughts. My favorite is the quote that you led with about all the roles that our students will play throughout their lives. The language/learning from this book will serve them will in all of those areas.

Thanks for hosting today. My thoughts are at:


Unknown said...


Thanks for hosting a wrap-up. Although the learning isn't over, it is nice to have a celebration of what we've all learned so far!

I connected Johnston's ideas to Gail Tompkins book Literacy for the 21st Century.

Here's my thoughts:

Cathy said...

First of all I want to thank you for suggesting this final #cyberPD post. I appreciate having the opportunity to sit down and try to put all of the learning into some type of coherent final reflection. I'm not sure I managed the "coherent" part, but at least I have moved down the path a bit.

I also appreciated your final reflection. I think I should hang this on my door, The root of the word school is the Greek schola meaning leisure. SLOW DOWN!!!! The perfect reminder. I also found it helpful to think about your questions that encourage children to rehearse narrative agendas.

My final thoughts are here:


Laura Komos said...

Thanks so much for suggesting and hosting this final reflection portion of #cyberPD! You have some really important points in your post that I plan to revisit (and perhaps borrow!) I, too, feel like I'm not done with his book yet. So much to continue to think about!

My final post is here:

Thanks again!

Michelle said...

Hi Carol,
I finished up my not-so-final thoughts! (I know we'll have more conversations to come!)

Thanks for hosting and I'll be taking time later this week to respond.