Think about these questions:
- Rude: Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.
- Mean: Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).
- Bullying: Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.
We have been referencing The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton. She believes that languages “molds our sense of who we are; helps us understand how we think, work and play; and influences the nature of our relationships (Denton, 3).” I’m sure that all of us agree, too! Therefore, she states that the goals of teacher language should be to:
Be Direct and Genuine
Denton states that when trying to get several students to listen to a direction, many of us use the phrase, “I like the way Sam is sitting quietly”; however, statements like these have inherent problems of extrinsic motivation and often do not produce the desired effects. The first problem is that students should not sit down on the rug so they gain praise from the teacher, but should sit down because it’s a time to learn and because they recognise their place in the learning environment. The second problem is that this language actually is “trying to manipulate the the other children to do what [the teacher] wanted without [the children] being conscious of [the teacher’s] control over them (Denton, 15).” In reality, many kids would rather carry on with their discussions than worry about sitting properly so the teacher would praise them. Instead of using this language, gain the attention of the entire class using a common signal and then state something like, “Come to the circle and take a seat now.”
Mean What We Say: Following Through on Our Words
We have to follow through on our expectations. If we expect students to be silent in the hallways, then we cannot permit any talking. If we expect quiet voices, we have to hold them to this expectation. Say only what you can and are willing to follow through on.
Use Statements Rather Than Questions
Denton continues to share the importance of using statements rather than questions. Often children hear, “Could you all go back to your seats now?” and while most of them will realise that this is really not a question, the statement is not clear. What should be said is, “Everyone go back to your seats now.” This is clear, honest, direct, and gives the kids only two choices, to go back or not go back—only one is not acceptable. Here is a list of some alternatives to try instead:
This past week, through the wonders of social media, 10 Rhetorical Questions to Stop Using in the Classroom & 10 More Effective Alternatives by Blair Turner came to my attention. This humorously written article provides many alternatives to the questions we often use with our students after a student has been rude, mean or bullying.
As you read through her list of ten questions teachers should never say, think about how many you might have said (I have said many):
- Why would that be okay?
- Is this funny to you? Oh, you think that’s funny? Do you think this is funny?
- Is this how we act in room 123?
- Are you really still ______ after we just talked about it?
- How many times have I said________?
- We’ve been learning about ________ for over two weeks, and NOBODY can answer my question?
- What. Are. You. Doing?
- Do you know why you’re in trouble? Do you know why you’re speaking to me? Do you know why you’re going to the office?
- Are you listening? Were you listening?
- Do you want to go to recess today?
Head to her blog to read about the alternatives. To read more about positive teacher language, here are some other articles and blog postings from The Responsive Classroom website: