Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Opening Minds ~ Chapters 1-3

It is finally time to read Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. I always reread parts of Choice Words (another of his books) every summer to refresh my thinking about the language I use with my students so I was excited to learn he had written another book on this topic. So far this book has been all that I had hoped for. It is a short book but one that needs to be read slowly in order to provide time for the ideas inside to really sink in and become (hopefully) part of my own speech.

The first chapter sets the stage for thinking about the language we use with our students and just how important every word we use can be. I love the idea of shifting from the negative "I can't do this" to the more positive "I can't do this yet" with just the addition of one single word. This one word has the power to reshape the attitude of the person. While I do work hard to apply this when speaking with my students, I realized that I need to continue to work on applying it to myself. "Using this language does not come easily to me yet."

Chapter 2 explains the difference between the fixed-performance frame and the dynamic-learning frame from Carol Dweck's research and subsequent book, Mindset. People using fixed-performance frame type of thinking usually assume that ability or intelligence is fixed or you are born with skills or abilities in certain areas. Those with the dynamic-learning frame believe that ability or intelligence is always changing and is especially influenced by hard work. The language that we use with our students can put them into one frame or the other. Our goal should be to use language that moves students to the dynamic-learning frame because they will feel more control or agency over their learning and more open to doing things to that will help them learn.

In the third chapter, Peter Johnston talks about the value of change and stability. Understanding that we change as we grow and learn helps students see that they have control over what and how they learn. Stability in the form of a routine (that can be changed at times) is good because students need routine and structure so that they can be free to explore and change their thinking.

Things I Want to Remember/Practice in my Teaching
  • Remind myself that "Using this language does not come easily to me yet."
  • Use language that points out the ways that students are changing. "Remember how we did this at the beginning of the year...", "Have you learned a new way to solve this problem?", "Do you notice how we have increased our reading stamina?", etc.
  • Use language that gives students a sense of agency or control over their own learning.
  • Continue to have a regular daily routine and discuss any changes to the routine with the class before they happen.
My biggest hope is that this type of language will begin to permeate all of my interactions with my students. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book and the thinking of others in their blog posts or comments.  Cathy Mere is hosting the conversation today. Please drop by her blog, Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community to join us.

Opening Minds ~ Schedule of Events
We would love to have you read and chat with us. The schedule for the event is:
July 11: Chapters 1-3 Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community
July 18: Chapters 4-6 Hosted by me here at My Primary Passion

July 25: Chapters 7-9 Hosted by Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-A-Lot
July 26: Twitter Chat using #cyberPD - time still to be determined
How to Participate
There are several ways to participate. You can:
  • post your thoughts about each section of the book on your own blog. Then add the link to your post in the comment section of the host blog.
  • simply add your thoughts as a comment on the host blog (or any of the blogs).
  • share your thinking on Twitter using #cyberPD at any time during the month.
  • add your thoughts and comments to Cathy's Wallwisher page on Opening Minds
  • come up with your own way to participate and add to the discussion.


  1. Jill~
    Your mention of Peter Johnsons's words on change and stability reminded me of ~"Predictable Teaching" (I believe this comes from KWR) which allows the kids to focus on the learning and not the tools or methods. In predictable teaching the kids know the how and the routine, now they can focus on the what. I have found time and time again anything I can incorporate into our daily routines and framework the kids grasp on a much deeper level.
    Thanks for sharing! Can't way tho get my book…

  2. I absolutely love your "Things I Want to Remember/Practice in my Teaching" section! What a powerful way to remind ourselves of the important things! I think I'm going to have to borrow that idea and start my own list. It's so important for us to remember that we, too, are constantly learning and changing. By owning that, we have a better sense of what our students go through. I always appreciate having your voice in these conversations, Jill!

  3. Jill,
    Your reflection was an enjoyable read. You bring up so many great points from Peter's book. Like Laura, I enjoyed your "Things I Want to Remember/Practice in my Teaching." I especially liked your first point, "Using this language does not come easily to me yet." I like the reminder that learning is a process for us as well. If we don't give ourselves permission to try, make mistakes, and begin to grow our students suffer in the end. So we'll take it one step at a time.


  4. Jill,

    I, too, told myself "I'm not good at this YET." We'll get there and we are one step closer by becoming more aware of our words and the power they hold!

    I admire the language you shared to point out to students that they are learning and changing! Powerful for students and teachers too! That language would be great to utilize in classroom newsletters/blogs to share with parents. A sentence that captures a moment of learning!

    Thanks for your insights, Jill!

  5. Jill,
    I read the first book (Choice Words) too and I couldn't wait to get my hands on Opening Minds. I agree with you that it's a short read, however, it's meaty and filled with a lot of great information. Like you, I have to read it slowly in order to take it all in. Rereading both books to "refresh" my thinking is going to be a part of my summer routine from now on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Jill,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being one of the hosts of cyberPD. I found myself nodding in agreement with your things you want to remember/practice. One of your closing lines, "My biggest hope is that this type of language will begin to permeate all of my interactions with my students." was very honest and I hope we all can aspire to this hope as well.

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  8. Love how you said "yet"...very dynamic

  9. Jill,

    Thank you for co-hosting. I'm so glad I can be a part this year. I love how you said, "It is a short book but one that needs to be read slowly in order to provide time for the ideas inside to really sink in and become (hopefully) part of my own speech." This is an important point that relates to our teaching as well. Often times, mandates indicate that we must rush through our curriculum in order to "cover" everything. If we were actually able to take the time to slow down and really allow the ideas (or lessons) to sink in, we and our students would be better off, I think.

    I love how you took points from the book to remember/practice in your own teaching. I may borrow that idea, as well!

    Thank you!


  10. Jill,

    I love how you wrapped up our post with bullet points for your own learning. First, I love bullet points, but second, many of your goals match mine. My favorite was: "Use language that gives students a sense of agency or control over their own learning." This will be huge for me; this and the word "yet".
    Thanks so much for co-hosting the #cyberPD again this year!

  11. Jill,

    Thank you for sharing your reflection. I really like how you made a list of things to remember and practice. What a great idea. I think I might go back and make a list myself. Thank you for the idea.