Have you read Choice Words by Peter Johnston? Peter is one of my idols, and I got to meet him and hear him speak at a conference recently. When I first read his book, Choice Words, more than a decade ago, it raised my awareness of the power of the words I was using with children. Now, as I reflect on Peter’s wisdom, I apply it to the work I am doing with teachers. The same principles apply.
One of my lasting take-aways from Choice Words is the practice of noticing and naming. Noticing and naming raises awareness; it involves an explicitness, an intentionality, and an opportunity to articulate developing understandings. Noticing draws to consciousness something that otherwise would have slipped away.
Pausing to Notice
When we notice, we recognize when something is present so we can decide what to do with it. Initially, the coach may be the noticer and namer. We sense there is something going on that we need to pay attention to. We detect it and put it into specific words. As we raise awareness about these certain things, we open the space for conversations.
“You know what I heard you doing when you conferred with Liza? You asked open-ended questions to deeper her understanding.
“I see you know about rhetorical reading. When you asked the class to look for the patterns Cisneros used in her description, you helped them to read like writers.”
When we notice and name, we make explicit both the practice and the purpose behind the practice. In the examples above, the practice is coupled with its outcome, what happened because you did this.
When we call out things that are going well, our noticings should not be the obvious. They should be the leading edge of what is going well – something that is only occasionally or partially present. Think of the concept of ZPD. It is those developing practices that need noticing. Drawing attention to these incremental successes by naming and noticing them increases their incidence.
Depending on our relationship with the teacher, we might also notice and name practices we want to dissuade. Having insufficient wait time and naming who will answer before asking the question (“Johnny, could you tell us….”), for example, are practices that limit participation.
Helping Teachers Notice
Our noticings help teachers notice what they are doing well. When we notice and name, awareness increases, and teachers will be more likely to notice the next time. We can ask questions to nudge this process along.
“What were you noticing?" or “What were you noticing....” (during a specific part of the lesson.)
“What are you noticing about this work?” (when reviewing formative assessments)
“Anything else?” (yes, I repeated that on purpose!)
Questions like these invite teachers to make sense of what happened by looking for patterns. They keep figuring out what is working and what isn’t. Naming what isn’t working for themselves takes away the power of the negative practice. They are no longer unconsciously responding. They are calling it out—so there! By naming, teachers are more likely to recognize when a practice is present so they can decide what to do with it.
Teachers can’t afford to be dependent on the seldom-present coach to do the noticing. The practice of noticing invests teachers in their own learning, so it’s a practice we want to cultivate. We want teachers to see themselves a noticing kinds of people, which Johnston says is a complementary trait that may become part of their identity.
Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children's learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
Noticing and naming with primary students during a read aloud:
Open-ended conversations that promote reflective learning during coaching:
Sentence combining as a tool for grammar instruction:
Can I quote you on that? Snippets to inspire coaching conversations:
Why we should cultivate curiosity:
That’s it for this week. Happy Coaching!
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