Friday, January 20, 2012

Sometimes, Listening is Teaching

As I'm diving deep into the heart of conferring, I'm learning so much about how to listen to kids when I converse with them about the work that they are doing. Every so often, particularly with students who don't demand quite as much of my attention, I'll ask a simple question and the child will freeze. I am then hit once again with the painful realization that they think that the purpose of teacher questioning is to inform them that they did something wrong. What a horrible message to receive.

I had this experience just yesterday with one of my little ones. He was writing a story about playing in the park with his family. I was watching him, just observing and writing down everything I noticed him doing as a writer. When he erased part of a word and changed it, I asked him "Why did you do that?" 

He froze.

He stared at me, with a cross between mild wide-eyed shock and frowning confusion. He seemed to be thinking, "What did I do wrong?" and "What do I say?" Since kids erase for a number of different reasons, I was genuinely curious about his thought process. And in fact, he hadn't done anything wrong. He'd done something very right. I just wanted to know what it was.

Debating how thaw out this frozen moment in the conversation, I rephrased my question. I said, "I noticed that you wrote that word, and then you went back and changed it. I just want to know what you're thinking. Can you tell me what you were thinking?" He then informed me that he was thinking, "...that it was the same as this word (he pointed to a word in the previous sentence). And I already said that." He changed "and we played the played" to "and we played the game", which made perfect sense. I then complimented him for independently going back and rereading his work to make sure it said what he wanted it to say, and I told him how smart that was and that good writers always do that. By the end of our conference, he was smiling and happily writing again. We didn't have time to get to a teaching point, but I didn't care...that was enough.

Sometimes our teaching point is as simple as:

I'm not listening to correct you, I'm listening because I care what you think.

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