The first type of language is reinforcing: this highlights the skills or attitudes that the students are displaying. It's important to name the specific behaviours being observed, rather than making comments such as "Good job!", and often this reinforcing language applies to all students such as "Your backpacks have all been put away neatly." This sort of language does not give personal approval - teachers don't say "I like how you ....." but it does reflect the goals and values of the classroom.
Reminding language can often be used to let students know what they need to do before something happens, though it can also be reactive. Again this is based on clear expectations and is done in a calm way such as, "What do we need to remember when we line up so that we can walk out to recess safely?"
Redirecting language can be used when something is going wrong and we want the students to act differently. Again this language is direct and specific and names the behaviour that needs to be displayed. It is brief and always made as a statement, for example "Clean up your desk before sitting on the rug" or "Sit at a table so you can focus on your work."
At the staff meeting yesterday we talked about the power of teacher language using the Responsive Classroom approach. Teacher language helps students to develop their own self-management skills as well as helping them to feel part of the classroom community. There are a number of similarities between this language and the language of coaching. The guidelines for teacher language are as follows:
- Be direct and authentic - don't point out the behaviour of other children who are doing things right as this can lead to students simply behaving in order to win praise from the teacher, or can drive a wedge between the students.
- Show your faith in the students' abilities and intentions - when we show we believe that children want to do well, they are likely to live up to our expectations. In Cognitive Coaching this is called "positive presuppositions". When you notice positive behaviour it's important to name it and comment on it.
- Focus on action - often we ask students to be respectful, but children have a hard time understanding what that means. Instead focus on what action you want to see "When someone is speaking you need to listen." Sometimes it's good to ask a question so that the student can come up with and name the positive behaviour him/herself. Again as in Cognitive Coaching we talk about moving towards the desired state, Responsive Classroom does not dwell on the undesirable behaviour, but shifts towards to positive and shows the student what he or she can do.
- Keep it brief - children understand more when we speak less.
- Know when to be silent - pausing allows students to think.