Talking Straight to Children

By Lilian Katz, November 2013

imageNot long ago I went to my physician for my annual check up. You all know what that’s like—not exactly fun!

I must have been about the 12th woman he had seen by that afternoon. As he entered the room, he said to me: “Well, Mrs. Katz, do you get a chance to get out of the house sometimes?” Not exactly the question or comment I was expecting! I calmly pointed out that I had just returned yesterday from Washington, DC, and last week from Houston and the week before that from Northern Ireland, and so forth!!!

The incident made me think that probably all occupations that involve human interactions develop clichés or standardized and routine phrases to be used during the day for regular tasks, and that these come with the job. I was reminded of that by one of my grandsons who worked for a while at his local supermarket and complained that he said maybe 1,000 times per day “Did you find everything you wanted?” and told me that by the 20th time, he really didn’t care!!

As I visit and observe teachers of young children in many different kinds of programs around the country, I am always dismayed by how frequently they move around the classroom and say to children things such as “Awesome,” “Good Job,” “Keep going…”, “That’s going well…”, and so forth.

Other clichés that come with the job are directions given to children such as “You need to sit still,” “You need to turn around,” “You need to listen,” and so forth. But children’s needs are not relevant in these kinds of situations; the teacher is trying to convey his or her wish that the child behave in a certain way. It would be more honest and meaningful, as well as realistic and clear, to say something such as “Please sit still” or “Please turn around” and then move on with the really important content of the moment.

It worries me that so few teacher-child contacts are continuous interactions. Recent evidence suggests that such meaningful continuous contingent interactions from very early in life throughout the first five or six years stimulate very important neurological development that must be accomplished by roughly about the age of 6.

So, as teachers of young children, let’s take occasional opportunities to remind ourselves that the children need informative feedback with real meaning—not every five minutes, but as appropriate occasions arise, in contexts that can provoke continuous exchanges called conversations. Sometimes a participant in a conversation just nods or smiles as the sequence continues. But it is clear to all participants what the others mean. Engaging in such intentional interactions may mean that we have to keep the total amount of interaction lower to enable more real and informative responses rather than clichés.

So let’s keep in mind that frequent and empty phrases may just be a risk of our profession that we should watch out for.

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Conversation Starters to Grow GROWTH MINDSET

Sometimes kids (little ones and big ones) have resistance to our direct efforts to grow their growth mindset. That’s when questions that are actually conversation starters, can help.

Conversation implies all kinds of POSITIVES:     √ Respect for students’ perspective and problem solving abilities    √ Interest in what they think and feel and deal with     √ Engagement with their values, their priorities     √ Trust in students’ intentions     √ Listening, really listening

Listening is most important

When kids receive quality attention, on a regular basis, to express themselves – especially with regard to their challenges – they get to directly experience that they matter. When they feel that all-important sense of mattering, then the effort it takes to overcome challenges is much more likely to matter, too.

Of course, listening to endless, random complaints and whining doesn’t have much value for anyone.

Complain - meh! Problem solve - YEAH!
Complaining is very different from intentional problem solving.

But respectful conversations that start with respectful questions … now that’s a different story.  Try it, and let us know how it goes. We’d LOVE to hear your experiences.

 

Growth Mindset and the MAGIC WORD

Most teachers and parents understand that when we step in and solve children’s problems we’re not doing them any favors. Not really. Not in the long run. But when kids’ frustration builds and they get close to quitting, sometimes it just feels easier to get everyone (including us) past obstacles and into solution territory.

Rather than solving kids’ problems, if we’re truly committed to preparing them for a lifetime of challenges (problem-solving opportunities), we should commit to helping them build growth mindsets.

There are many ways to encourage growth mindset. Unfortunately, there are also many ways to discourage growth mindset.

To make sure we are doing all the right things to encourage perseverance in our students, our children, and even ourselves – let’s get clear on what growth mindset is.  According to psychologist, Carol Dweck who popularized the term in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people [of any and all ages] with growth mindset …

“… believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

How do we nurture kids’ perseverance? Well, we could follow Yoda’s approach by being really good examples – which, of course, is never a bad idea. Check out this video:

Yoda's instruction to Luke Skywalker, interpreted through the lens of GROWTH MINDSET.
Yoda’s instruction to Luke Skywalker, with a contemporary interpretation. (Thanks to Linda Lewis)
We should definitely avoid these common mistakes
  1. Praising effort alone: “Great effort” has become the consolation prize for children who aren’t actually learning. In other words, “Great effort” translates to “ineffective effort,” which sends the totally wrong message.
  2. “Try harder” is more empty feedback.
  3. “You can do anything” does not magically make it so. Students need knowledge, skills, strategies, and resources to solve their problems.
  4. “You’re so intelligent” and “You’re so smart” are actually counter-productive messages. (Many teachers have known this for decades, and instead use more specific statements: “You really stuck with that math problem until you figured it out. Wow.”)
  5. Scolding and shaming for not persevering and learning effectively. OUCH.

Excerpted from Edutopia article by Carol Dweck

So … what’s so magic about the word “YET” when seeking to nurture growth mindset?

It’s not just what we say … it’s how we say it.

“Yet,” when spoken with genuine respect for effort, can lighten the crushing effects of accumulated frustration. Acknowledgement of effort – when it’s REAL, rather than empty, consolation prize praise – helps to keep minds + attitudes open for learning new strategies.

Hard work is still ahead. “YET” provides a ray of hopeful sunshine to keep on keeping on.

Being "seen" when making an honest effort helps to neutralize frustration.
“YET” is a magic word, but only if we say it with genuine acknowledgement of observed effort.