Book Review: Choice Words by Peter Johnston

Words are powerful.  This is a truth.  An absolute.  The language that makes up the daily discourse in our classroom not only defines who we are as people and educators, but also sends a powerful message (intended or otherwise) as to who we think our students are as well.  In the book, Choice Words, by Peter Johnston you will be able to reflect and define exactly where your words either foster or flaw what students believe in themselves.

Five Things About Choice Words:

1) In an era of education where we need to build intentional discussion in our classrooms, this book provides an outline for various types of questioning to pull from students those deep thoughts and ideas that we so desire to build upon.

2) For each of the question stems or statements provided, the book also summarizes the intention behind that question or statement, and what it can do for students in terms of learning.

3)  Through the research conducted for this text many classrooms were visited, and those experiences are written out in the text to give real examples of what intentional talk looks likes in classroom.

4)  Considerable time is spent analyzing how our words often communicate a message of some sort regarding how a kid should label themselves.  Through these words they develop a fixed mindset to the type of learner they are–not good at math, a bad writer, a level L reader, etc.  Once a child has put such a label on themselves it takes tremendous effort to undo that.  This book helps us to consider language that allows students to reflect internally and determine on their own who they are as a reader, writer, mathematician, etc., rather than that coming from the teacher.  In so doing, students feel validated in the work they have done and develop a strong desire to keep up the continual effort required to move forward.

5)  Peter Johnston not only focuses on how words affect our students, but also actions and thought processes.  This books takes the reader full circle to consider what we want our students to be in the world, and what we are doing during their short time with us to either build or collapse that vision.

“…making major change in our language is difficult without having other supports in place.  Most important, unless what the children are doing in school is meaningful, that is, relevant to their immediate lives and goals, they will easily help us shift back to unproductive language.  As Vygotsky pointed out, meaningfulness is what makes it possible for children to interact in productive ways, and to be in control of their learning, integrating connections among their thinking, acting, and feeling.”–Peter Johnston

When we develop literate children–that is effective readers, writers, speakers, and listeners–we develop a community of thinkers, not only in the ways of which they see the world but also in the ways of which they see themselves.  These are the steps to a society that honors humanity, honors individuals, and honors the conversations that bring diverse groups of people to the same table.  How are your words impacting that movement, that vision?  Pick up this book to take a closer look at that intimately personal question for each of us.

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