Sunday, September 9, 2012

Summer Reading

Most of you know about my serious reading addiction.  As addictions go... it is relatively harmless.  The biggest casualties are sleep (as in sacrificing it for reading) and money.  And the fact that I can never change my hairstyle because I read magazine articles while I blow dry my hair. I did tell you it was a serious problem.

What better way to relaunch my blog than with a book talk about my favourite summer reads.  I know that we all make decisions about how we use our available time and I make no judgements about that.  I offer the following as recommendations from a co-learner, one who may have more time for reading than you do, one for whom reading and talking about books is pure joy, and one for whom learning starts between the covers of a book.  And, here's where you come in, one who needs to reflect, write and talk about her reading to really understand it.

Best Professional Read of the Summer

Opening Minds, Peter Johnston, 2012 

I can't, and maybe shouldn't, stop thinking about this book.  It was recommended by Regie Routman at a symposium I attended in June.  When Regie Routman recommends a book, I read it.  Like Johnston's
previous  book, Choice Words, this book is about what he describes as our most powerful teaching tool: language.  

The main premise of the book is that as educators our language choices have huge impact on children's learning and who they become.  Johnston describes how language contributes to the development of either a fixed learning frame or a dynamic learning frame.  If you know of psychologist Carol Dweck's research, this may sound familiar to you.  In her book Mindset, Dweck characterizes people as having either a fixed or a growth mindset.  

Both writers describe those with a fixed frame or mindset as believing that you are either smart, or not, able to regulate your own behaviour, or not, able to change, or not.  Those with a dynamic learning frame believe that with effort, practice and strategies they will grow, learn and change.  

Those with a fixed learning frame:
  • Believe that when you do well you must be smart
  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Abandon strategies that previously worked when faced with challenge
  • End result is most important
  • Only worthy when doing well

Those with a dynamic learning frame:
  • Believe that when you do well you must have worked hard
  • Embrace challenge
  • Act and think strategically especially when difficulty is encountered
  • Process is most important
  • Worth not contingent upon always succeeding
After laying out this framework, Johnston poses a question:

How might we encourage a dynamic learning framework?

He has several answers to this question, most focussing on the language we use:
  • How we give feedback.  He recommends using descriptive feedback rather than praise.  We have talked a lot about descriptive feedback in terms of assessment for  learning.  In chapter 4 he makes the case that it affects not only their understanding of the task or process they are getting the feedback on but their view of how learning works and their place within it.  
  • How we frame activities.  Instead of All the Words I Know we write All the Words I Know Now. One small word with huge implications.
  • Give the message over and over that we as people should expect to change.  In order to develop agency, the notion that they have some control over their learning and their lives, children must believe that things are changeable. 
  • Ask questions like, "How did you know that?, "How did you do that?", and "What are you thinking?".  We've been doing this but from Johnston I have learned that it does way more that I could ever have hoped for.
  • Chapters including: 
Any Other Ways to Think about That? Inquiry, Dialogue, Uncertainty and Difference
Social Imagination ( seeing behaviour through fixed and dynamic frames )
Moral Agency: Moral Development and Civic Engagement

Who might want to read this book?

  • An individual or group wanting a book study guaranteed to provoke thought and conversation
  • An individual or group with an interest in assessment for learning
  • An individual or group with an interest in social responsibility or social justice
  • An individual or group with an interest in literacy
  • An individual or group with an interest in inquiry
I know what you're thinking.  
You're thinking, " How could one 124 page book reach that many groups?".  

My answer would be that this book is now in my top 3, all-time, must-read, life-altering (makes me think  about my own kids differently), foundational- to -my -beliefs, books.  

And yes... you can borrow my copy.