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Classroom Language

I recently attended two awesome conferences.  The first was the National Reading Recovery Conference and the second was the Dublin Literacy Conference.  A major theme at both of those conferences was classroom language and the way we talk to and questions kids.

The first session I attended about this topic was with Peter Johnston who is the author of Choice Words and Opening Minds.  He went line by line through a classroom conversation of 2nd and 3rd graders around the book The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.  The conversation the kids had were more mature than some adult conversations I've heard recently.  Peter then talked about how the teacher's questioning and presentation in the classroom had created this environment. I've read his books but I wonder if I'm just now ready to hear what he has to say.

Two and a half weeks later I attended the Dublin Literacy Conference where Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Kristen Ziemke, and Amy Ludwig Vanderwater all spoke about asking open questions of students instead of the closed questions we already know the answer too.  Bringing this again to the forefront of my mind has made me hyper aware of my questions for students.

I've started asking questions like:

What did you notice?
What surprised you? (Kylene Beers and Bob Probst gave me this one)
Why is this important?
What do you wonder?

The conversations in my classroom changed immediately.  The kids love being able to talk about books in this authentic way.  Because we've learned to politely agree and disagree about books this has transferred back into their social interactions too.  Today I heard a student say "Blue and yellow are my colors, I like Michigan." If you know anything about Central Ohio you know "those are fightin words" but the student next to him said "I disagree with you red and gray are the best colors." Then they both moved on.  How many adults in this town can have that kind of conversation and still be friends?

What is the questioning like in your classroom?  Has it changed over time?  What does it look like?

I'll be revisiting Peter Johnston's books this summer with a whole new perspective.


  1. I'm so jealous to hear you saw Peter Johnston and interesting both conferences had similar messages. It must be something we need to think about, more. I love how you ended this piece with a snippet of your classroom. Authentic talk is important.


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