Your words are free – they cost nothing – but they can have a huge impact on the students in front of you and, in fact, can influence their identities as learners. The following principles will help ensure your influence is a positive one.
Replace ‘work’ for ‘learning’.
Our language can lift students to their highest potential and help them be the very best learners. Make everything about learning – and be explicit about it. It will shape how students think and chose to behave – and ultimately, how they learn:
“There is a lot of learning in this next task…”
“I’m really impressed with how well you’ve approached this learning…”
“I’m glad you’re all ready to learn because I’m going to really challenge you today…”
Ditch the negative connotations that ‘work’ brings with it and make learning the real, tangible core purpose in your classroom.
Raise your students’ words.
Plan an interpersonal starter task and fill your classroom from the very start with your students’ words and not your own. It is critically important for students to verbalise their thinking and to become consciously aware of their own ideas and learning processes. You can offer sentence starters or question stems to support high-quality learning conversations.
The language of self-efficacy
Convey, through your use of words, your complete faith in all your students; your belief that they can and will learn and grow. Self-efficacious students will attribute both success and failure to things within their control, rather than blaming external factors and will recover quickly from setbacks. Teachers can boost self-efficacy with credible communication – choosing words deliberately and truthfully:
“You underperformed in your assessment today because you have misunderstood this…”
“To improve your performance you need to work on…”
“I know you revised for this test, which is why you did really well…”
“Can you show me where you learnt from one of your mistakes this lesson…”
“Tell me what you did in this work which makes it better than yesterday’s…”.
Using words to promote positive behaviour
Building the self-perception in students that they are capable and responsible individuals will help them choose positive behaviours. Using words which convey the belief that children want to cooperate, listen, and do their very best work, while also giving them information about how they can follow through on those good intentions will most likely be fruitful. We communicate our assumptions and expectations, which in turn, shape students’ assumptions and expectations of themselves:
- Name concrete, specific behaviours – your students need to know exactly what they’re doing successfully: “I love that you offered to help me hand out the books – that’s really kind of you…”.
- Find the positive in every student. Recognising the successes and not just students’ struggles will help them to repeat the positives. Students’ lack of social and emotional skills may be a cause of disruptive behaviours – their social deficiencies undermine school rules and behaviour codes. We cannot assume that students will acquire these skills naturally or that they will be taught them at home. Recognising when students get it right promotes future positive behaviours.
- Give students choice – choice ensures that coercion is minimised. Rather than trying to “make” students behave by using rewards and sanctions, which is a fragile behaviour management strategy, teachers build positive relationships, managing their students and their behaviour without oppression. Coercion never inspires sustainable change or quality.
- Focus on the learning – it’s our core purpose:
“do you have everything you need to start learning?”
“what can I do to help you focus on your learning and progress?”
Using words purposefully can create and maintain a positive environment that promotes teaching and learning. Teacher language is a proactive intervention. Is it time to pledge a re-focus on your use of words in your classroom?
Caroline Sherwood @Caroline_Alice_ teaches English at South Molton Community College in Devon, and is Pupil Premium Champion and Teaching and Learning Lead. Caroline is also a Specialist Leader in Education with the Dartmoor Teaching School Alliance and is Project Director for Women Leaders in Education in the South West.