Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opening Minds ~ Chapters 4-6

The conversation about Opening Minds by Peter Johnston continues today. I must say that I have really enjoyed the conversation so far. It is fascinating to read all of the posts and comments to see what parts of the book have made an impression on others. Thank you to all who are sharing their thinking in this conversation. Reading all of these posts causes me to change my own thinking again and again. Thanks also to Cathy Mere for hosting the conversation last week and to Laura Komos for hosting the conversation next week.

This week's chapters were filled with many deep and thoughtful ideas about how to use language to change the classroom environment. I have chosen to think about how I can use four of these ideas to change my teaching and the way I speak to my students.

I teach at Renaissance Elementary Magnet School (a public school). We are an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound school. Rather than trying to explain what that means, here is a list of words that we use often at our school: inquiry, discovery, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, service learning, real world issues, case studies and fieldwork. The ideas in Opening Minds completely connect to all the things that we are trying to accomplish in our school. So this is not really a change in my thinking but a reminder of what I believe in and a push to do it better. I am not an expert in Expeditionary Learning yet but reading books like this inspire me to work harder at my goals.

"It is the perception of uncertainty that enables dialogue. Dialogue, in turn, sustains uncertainty. If there is certainty, or only one view, there is nothing to discuss and nothing to learn. Uncertainty is the foundation of inquiry and research." p. 59
Exactly! This is where I really need to continue to work in my classroom. Last year I read Math Exchanges by Kassia Wedekind and began to change the way my students thought about math. I wanted them to see that there were many ways to solve problems or think about numbers. It was hard work but they gradually improved at talking and listening to each other about the ways that they solved problems. I want to continue to work on this in the coming year and I want to continue to expand this type of thinking to other content areas.

Another way that I want to encourage comfort with uncertainty is to do the activity mentioned on page 60 and 61 of Opening Minds. I want to create a collection of unknown or random items. In the book they used a polygraph pen, a hair dryer attachment and a piece of a dog's chew toy but it could be anything. During morning meeting several times a month, I could pull out an item and ask the students to think about what this item could be used for. This will encourage creativity and openness to new ways of looking at objects and ideas.

"...the more process talk becomes part of classroom conversations, the more strategy instruction will be occurring incidentally, without the teacher having to do it." p. 40
I love this idea of having strategy instruction occurring incidentally in the classroom. One way that I will try to increase this in my classroom is by continuing to use the iPad app ShowMe. I tested this app out with my students this past school year and I was very pleased with how it went. At first, I put the app on the iPads and asked students to figure out how to use it (this was mainly because I didn't have time to figure it out myself but an added bonus was how empowered the students felt by being given this task). After we all knew how the app worked, students created ShowMes to "teach" other students math concepts that they knew well. These ShowMes were then posted on the students' blogs for all to see.  While I like the sharing and learning and assessment (I could see just what each student knew and was able to do) that went on with these, I want to take them to the next level and do some deeper thinking and sharing. I want to move more into problem solving rather than just basic math content and I want to expand the use to other content areas, too. I am also re-framing my own thinking about these ShowMes as a way for students to articulate their own strategy use and that will increase their sense of agency. Below is an example of one ShowMe created by a student last year:

I also love the idea of using the term "feedforward" instead of "feedback," because we are all trying to move forward as a result of this information.

Teacher Language
"The hardest part for most of us is then keeping our mouths shut and not judging what children say." p. 76
I have a little homemade notebook that I have in my classroom and it is filled things I want to remember while I am teaching.

One section of my notebook is for language that I gleaned from Peter Johnston's first book, Choice Words, that I want to remember to incorporate into my own language. I need to add a page now for language ideas from Opening minds. In addition to remembering to talk less, I want to add:
  • yet p.11
  •  "You found a good way to do it; could you think of other ways that would also work?" p.38
  • "Hmmm....." p.57
  • uncertainty markers: maybe, perhaps, I wonder and other ideas from the chart on p.56
  • mental verbs: imagine, feel, believe, wonder, want, like, need, know p. 76
So, as Peter Johston would say, "What are you thinking?" p. 76

(After writing this post, I continued to read other blogs with their thoughts on the first section of this book. Katie Keier wrote about the "cheat sheets" she used to help her learn the language from Peter Johnston's other book, Choice Words. Check out her post for more on this idea: Opening Minds: Summer Cyber PD.)

Please Join the Conversation
There are several ways to join the conversation. You can add a comment to this post or to the Opening Minds Wallwisher. You can write a blog post on your own blog and add the link to the comment section of this post and I will create a list of linked posts in this post as they come in - it is never too late to start. Cathy Mere will also add each post to the Opening Minds jog - a collection of all of the posts from this whole event. You can also comment and share with others on twitter using #cyberpd.

Check back here often to see the list of posts by others. You won't want to miss out on all that is shared.

Next week (July 25th) the final part of the conversation will be hosted by Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-A-Lot.

Participating Blogs
Laura Komos from Our Camp Read-A-Lot shares her favorite quotes in Opening Minds Part 2. This week she reflects on how we discuss our reading with each other as adults and how we should allow students to have the same opportunity.

At Thinking Stems, Tracy shares her vision of how her inquiry workshop will work this year in her post, Opening Minds...Cyper PD... Part 2. Her idea of providing a special time for inquiry gives us all something to think about.

Maria Caplan reflects at Teaching in the 21st Century. This week she reflects on how she makes inquiry, dialogue and wonder important parts of life in her classroom in Opening Minds Ch. 4-6.

In her post, #CypberPD - Opening Minds Using Language to Change Lives  by Peter H. Johnston, on Literacy Toolbox, Dawn Little reflects on her thinking chapter by chapter pulling favorite quotes in along the way. She finishes with a thoughtful list of things she would like to accomplish this year.

Stop by Literate Lives to read Karen Terlecky's thoughts in Opening Minds #cyberPD - July 18. Karen shares her doubts about the language that she had been using in the past and reflects on the changes she plans to make in the future.

Amanda at Snapshots of Mrs. V reflects on feedback in her post, Opening Minds Ch. 4-6. She points out that the goal of feedback is to create lifelong teachers as well as lifelong learners.

LitProfSuz finds a unifying theme in this week's reading at In The Heart of a Teacher is a Student. She points out that the overall focus of the chapters is shifting the responsibility for learning away from the teacher and on to the student in her post, #CyberPD Opening Minds Chapters 4-6.

Drop by Cathy Mere's blog, Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community to read her thoughts on feedback in Changing My Frame: Opening Minds #cyberPD (Part 2). Cathy also shares her lists of quotes, questions and language for the classroom.

On her blog, Inspired to Read, Amy Meyer takes a look at the language she uses in her feedback in her post, Opening Minds Chapter 4-6. She has already begun practicing her new language on her daughter and shares her process with us.

Mary Lee Hahn makes a connection to a upcoming picture book in her reflection, Cyber PD -- Week 2 on A Year of Reading. You should definitely check this out. The cover art, title and Mary Lee's review make this book sound like a must read.

#cyberPD Opening Minds: What am I saying?!?  is Tony Keefer's reflection on atychiphobia 2.0 this week. His title says it all as he reflects about the language he uses and the changes he needs to make. His voice in this post makes this post enjoyable to read.

Katie DiCesare of creative literacy considers her use of praise in Opening Minds #2 #cyberPD. She charts the changes she plans to make in her language. A helpful offering for all of us.

Over at Wondering Through 2012, Barbara Phillips focuses her reflection on the inquiry and uncertainty sections of the book in #CyberPD Opening Minds - Part 2. She points out that students have many things that they wonder about and we just need to focus in on those to engage them.

Valerie Ruckes from The Sensibly Savy Teacher realizes that while she is not where she wants to be yet with her language, she is on the right track. You will want to stop by her post, Teaching Them to Teach: Opening Minds - #CyberPd Part 2 and check out the Wordle she created using language from the book.

The blogging duo of Amber and Lisa at FOCUS: Clarity through Collaborative Reflection share another thoughtful post, Bring on the Neauralyzer! Feedforward Here We Come! With a title like that, you just know that you have to read it for yourself.

Rose Capelli of Mentor Texts with Lynne and Rose shares the aha moment she had while reading this section in Reflections on Opening Minds Chapters 4-6. Perhaps it will lead to an aha moment for you. (It did for me.)

Over at Carol's Corner, Carol Wilcox shares how Opening Minds is impacting her as a teacher, as a literacy coach and as a parent in her post, Cyber PD. She also shares one bit of skepticism that provides some good food for thought.

Julie Johnson shares her thoughts about this week's reading in Opening Minds #Cyber PD Part 2 on her blog, Raising Readers and Writers. She leaves us with her list of goals for the upcoming school year.

In Opening Minds...#CyberPD...Part Deux on Miss Sticker, Jacquelyn Sticca shares her three new project ideas based on her reading for this fall.  Her light bulb moment makes this a must read.

Michelle Nero of Literacy Learning Zone shares her dream of having a classroom where students have conversations without her in #cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 2. She also shares her cheat sheet and other ideas to help make this dream come true.

Over at Two Reflective Teachers, Melanie Swider reflects on the language she uses as a teacher in Opening Minds CyberPD Part 2. She, too, is working on a cheat sheet of language that she wants to incorporate into her teaching days.


  1. Jill, Thank you for hosting! It has been a wonderful chance to read thoughtful posts that continue to challenge my thinking after the book has been closed. I keep "reopening" the book!!! :)

    "Feedforward" is such a powerful term that focuses on the next step!

    My thinking also focuses on inquiry and post is at

    Thanks for sharing (and hosting)!!!!

  2. Thank you for hosting this week. I wanted to read Chapter 5 when I got the book but stayed the course and didn't read ahead. Loved the verbs: inquiry and dialogue. Here is my link:
    Thank you for collecting all of our thinking.

  3. Jill,

    Thank you for hosting this week! I've really enjoyed participated in CyberPD and I'm learning so much. I, too, would like to get better at uncertainty. I really liked the activity as well, marked those pages to go back to, and then failed to mention them in my post. That particular activity is really inquiry at its best i think. It will certainly lead to critical, creative thinkers.

    I really like how you keep a notebook of things you want to rememer when you are teaching. As I've been reading the book and participating in CyberPD, I've really been wondering how I'm going to remember it all. I think that having a notebook of some sort, or cheat sheet would be really helpful. I think I will work on that myself.

    Finally, thank you for sharing the ipad app ShowMe. I think I actually have the app, but haven't played around with it yet. You've just gven me the push. Thank you.

    Thank you for an extremely thoughtful post!


    My thoughts can be found here:

  4. Hey Jill,
    Well thought out, practical and inspired...both you and Peter Johnston! My favorite part at first blush is the idea of "feedforward" as that is exactly what the conversation between teacher and student...and I would go so far as to say person to person ought to the instance of teacher to student...a chance for teachers to learn about and lift their teaching, and a chance for learners to learn about and life their learning. Thanks all for the chance to think about this stuff.

  5. Hi Jill! Thanks so much for being the hostess today for the #cyberPD tour!! Here is my post:

    I will head back later today to read everyone's reflections and leave comments.

  6. Hi Jill,

    I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate that you are hosting a place for us to be able to learn from each other.

    I posted about the chapters here:

  7. Jill,

    I enjoyed all your artifacts embedded in your post. Thanks for hosting. Here's my thoughts:

  8. Jill,
    Thanks so much for hosting today! Your reflections and comments gave me so much to ponder. I'm still quite intrigued by your school and the concept of expeditionary learning.

    Focusing on "feedforward" is powerful, isn't it? And Jonah helped me think forward in his "ShowMe" demo. I liked how he wrote the symbols first and then circled them as he counted each coin. Neat little trick I need to share with my first graders! (Everyday Math has us circle the letter when we draw it.) I also need to explore that app further.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your notebook. I think this will be a powerful new tool for me in the new school year.

  9. Jill,
    Thank you so much for hosting today's event. It's a big job keeping up with all of this thinking --- but well worth it. Like you, I was struck by Peter's words about uncertainty. Uncertainty is not something that feels comfortable, and I'm quite certain in my K-12 years it was rarely valued. College taught me to become a little more comfortable with not knowing, but it is something I'm always working on each day. Uncertainty is necessary for inquiry and continued conversation.

    I enjoyed your link with Peter's and ShowMe. I hadn't even started to think about apps that might support a dynamic-learning frame. I've started thinking about picture books, but now you have me thinking about apps and other learning opportunities.

    I struggled with my post quite a bit. There is so much information tightly pushed within the three chapters we read. You can find my thoughts here:

    I will be back later this afternoon and again late this evening to gather posts for the Jog.


  10. I have a text-to-text connection this week at A Year of Reading:

    I can't wait to cruise the roundup and see what everyone else was thinking!

  11. Jill,
    Thanks for hosting this week. It was affirming and thought provoking to read your post today. Thanks for sharing the ShowMe example. That little app is such a great tool, we used it in our classroom as well this year. I am trying to figure out a way to use it less as a production tool and more for rehearsal or thinking. You example gave me some ideas to consider.

    The link to my contribution this week is


  12. Hi Jill-
    Can't wait to read your thoughts and thanks for hosting!
    Here is my link:

  13. Jill,

    Thank you for hosting this week. Here is my reflection:

    How lucky that you teach in an inquiry driven school.

    When you incorporate the the unknown objects, you might want to try doing a See, Think, Wonder. My kids love using this strategy last year.


  14. Hi Jill,
    Thanks so much for hosting this week. Here is my link and I look forward to reading your reflection and those of others.

  15. Jill,

    Thanks for hosting! Johnston packed these chapters with information that got Lisa and I really thinking and talking. (I'm not sure that it distracted her enough from being a day away from her due date, though.) We decided to start thinking about what may be on our "cheat sheet" that will help us internalize the language suggested by Johnston come the fall. We posted our thinking at

    Thanks for posting the quote about uncertainty. It was a point that slipped a bit under my radar during my reading, but is a powerful concept that supports our learning quest.

  16. Jill-
    Thank you for hosting. I am new at this so I hope it works. The link to my blog is


  17. Jill,
    Thank you for hosting along with Cathy and Laura. I purchased the e-book over the weekend and finished reading chapters 1 & 2. I read your post here and look forward to learning more at each of the links you have shared as well.
    I watched the video of your student using show me app. I am going to explore the app as well! So much new learning to be done here!

    1. Amy,

      I am so glad that you are joining us. You are right - there is so much to learn here from each other. It has been a wonderful experience so far. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  18. Better late than never, I guess! I'm thinking about how Johnston's work impacts me not only as a teacher, but also as a literacy coach and parent. Thanks much for hosting!

  19. OK, now that I finally got something posted, I went back and read your post. Two things especially intrigued me. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED listening to that little guy teach his classmates about money. He narrated his process beautifully, and I can't help but think that his peers would listen much more carefully to him saying, "You count the biggest coin first."Plus, as Johnson suggests, teaching other people probably solidified the process for him.
    I also loved your notebook of things you want to remember. I wanted to see more closely. I think I want to start one of those! Thanks for sharing these great ideas.

  20. Jill, I LOVE your ShowMes!! We have the app ExplainEverything, and I'm going to see if we can use it in a similar way. Thanks for getting my cogs turning in a new direction!!

  21. Jill,
    I love all of the words that you chose to focus on: inquiry, uncertainty, and feedforward. It's was helpful that Johnston showed how these ideas work in all content areas. I especially like your notebook for writing down ideas you have while teaching. I think I'll add a section to my journal for keeping track of the language from the book too. That's a great idea!

  22. Hi Jill! I'm looking forward to reading everyone's thinking. I'm a little late (as usual), but my reflection can be found at Thanks for hosting!

  23. Finally caught up! (It's been a crazy busy week!) And these three chapters were jam packed with so much to think about! My thoughts on Part 2:

    Thanks Jill! Be back some time to catch up on the reflections (and then on to reading more "Opening Minds).

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. My thoughts for part 2 can be found here:

    Thanks for hosting this week!

  26. Thanks for hosting this week Jill. Slowly getting my head wrapped around everyone's thoughts and responses to this week's reading. Wow, so much great thinking in one place. Your choice to focus on four ideas makes the chapter manageable...inquiry, uncertainty, feedfoward, language...I can hang on to this. I think it's time we put all of our language changes in one place.