Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Listening --- Really Listening: #cyberPD Final Thoughts

"A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students....classrooms in which their are multiple interpretations and perspectives." Peter Johnston (p. 52)

The Event
For the month of July a group of educators have been discussing Peter Johnston's book, Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives (Stenhouse, 2012).  At the bottom of this post you will find many important links related to our 2nd annual #cyberPD event.  Today's final reflection is hosted by Carol Wilcox at Carol's Corner.  Stop by to read, comment, and join the conversation.

What's Next
I've been trying to wrap my head around all of the thinking in Johnston's book.  Thankfully, stopping by blogs of colleagues in this event has helped.  These blogs, however, have also made it necessary to pause to consider different perspectives and new thinking.  As I've been thinking about this post I've been asking myself a lot of questions:

  • What key ideas am I taking away from this book?
  • Can I get what I have learned down to one important word?
  • What teaching behaviors will I try to unlearn?
  • What changes will I make as a result of this conversation?
  • How will our learning community look different this year?

Listening --- Really Listening
Somewhere in my archives of pictures I have a photograph of a chart I made with one of my kindergarten classes years ago.  It was a chart about listening.  It is probably better that I cannot locate it, but it had a huge picture of a student sitting criss-cross on the carpet, hands in lap, eyes forward and attentive.  It said something like "listening is" and then listed a few characteristics: "Eyes on the person talking, hands in lap, sitting criss-cross, mouth closed, and ears listening."  It might not have been that extreme, but it likely was.

For years, actually since that chart, I've been on the journey toward helping young learners in the classroom community really learn to listen to one another.  Every year I get a little closer, but it is not an easy task with listeners whose developmental tendency is to be a bit egocentric.  For me, reading Johnston's book, and participating in the #cyberPD discussion with so many thoughtful colleagues, has provided more tools for helping to support students in learning to really listen to one another by thinking about the words of the friend speaking.

Listening to One Another Learning from One Another
Maybe this is all I need to do; change the way I talk with students about listening to one another.  It isn't the listening I'm so concerned with, though it is essential to the larger goal, it is the learning that happens each day in our classroom.  This year I really want students to understand all they can learn from one another.  I'm hoping to take myself out of the equation a little more.

  • Build learning conversations in share circles.  Johnston says, "We develop a metalanguage for thinking about group processes and establishing their significance as something to attend to. (p. 107)"  Perhaps we could say:  "I learned ____ from ____ when they shared ____.,  I was able to think about ____ because I/we _____."
  • Help students to see the power of learning together.  Johnston says, "A group can have intelligence that can be more (or less) than the sum of its members' intelligence. Group intelligence is related to...the average social sensitivity of the group and how evenly the group distributes conversational turns. (p. 96)"  Perhaps we could say: "____ tell ____ how you did that., When we started thinking we thought ____, but when we talked together we realized _____.,  Make sure each person has a chance to say something so that you're sure you don't miss different ways of thinking about it." 
  • Learn to recognize when our thinking is changed by someone else.  Johnston says, "Listening is the foundation of a conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking. (p. 102)"  Perhaps we could say:  "____ made me think about _____.,  When I heard _____ I thought _____.,  I never thought about it like that before."    
  • Know it's ok to disagree (and how to do that with kindness).  Johnston says, "We expect to have more interesting and powerful conversations when people bring different perspectives and when they disagree.  (p. 103)"  Perhaps we could say:  "Now I'm wondering...,  Could...., Do you think ____?,  What do you think about what ____ said?,  It looks like you might have another idea."
  • Learn to rephrase the thinking of friends:  This is likely going to be something I'm going to have to work to change.  Instead of rephrasing students' comments, have other learners talk about what they heard or find other ways to say the same thing.  Perhaps we could say:  "Can you explain what ____ said in another way _____?,  Would you tell _____ what ____ means?  Repeat what ____ said so we can think about it (p. 27)."
  • Develop skills to be flexible thinkers who build on the thinking of friends.  Johnston says, "They (students) understand that knowledge is constructed, that it is influenced by one's perspective and by different contexts, and that we should expect and value different perspectives because they help to expand our understanding." (p. 57) Perhaps we could say:  "Is there another way to do that?,  Is there a different way to think about that?"
  • Wonder together:  Johnston says, "It is the perception of uncertainty that enables dialogue." (p. 59)  I'm hoping we can set the tone to get comfortable with the unknown, the uncertain, and the unanswerable.  "I wonder..., What are you wondering?  When I heard ____ I wondered ____., I can't figure out ____, what do you think?"  
This is just my beginning thinking, and it may be a little soon to just put it out in the world.  Thankfully I know you will all consider it thoughtfully.  So what do you think?  Are there other aspects I should consider?  Different language?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  

Picture Books
As I read Peter's book and visited blogs I began to consider picture books that might support the community conversations I have to have.  Here are two Listmania lists I have started thanks to this thinking and some of the posts from our #cyberPD community.  These are growing lists.  I can't wait to get into my classroom to get my hands on my picture books so I can add more titles.  Let me know, if you have titles to add.

Paired Readings/Professional Books for Continued Conversation

Event Links

A huge thank you to Laura Komos and Jill Fisch for helping to create such an amazing event.  Thanks to all of the #cyberPD community for sharing your thinking, making me reflect, creating new resources, and collaborating in this professional learning conversation.  I know I will be able to continue to count on all of you to help me in my learning journey.  


  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in this study. My thinking has expanded beyond anything I could do on my own by reading the mindful reflections of all of you. I am trying to piece my new learning together and look forward to implementing the ideas and suggestions from the book.Thank you for the booklist. I have many of the books - and had pre-ordered Nora the Mind Reader based on Mary Lee's recommendation. And as they say, now it is time to dive in!

  2. Cathy,

    What a significant shift from "listening to one another" to "learning from one another". That really does encapsulate the thinking in this book.

    I loved how you connected your goals with the language that you will use to reach each goal. That will be the most helpful type of "cheat sheet" ~ that way you are always keeping the goal in mind. Then you can also begin to add your own language the will help reach the same goal.

    I also loved your booklists. I may have to transfer them to my Pinterest pages so I can put them on hold quickly and easily at my local library. I will share the links with you when/if I have time to add more books to the lists. Thanks for putting together such great lists already!

    Thanks also for co-hosting this event. I can believe how much it has grown and how beneficial it is to my thinking and learning.


  3. For many of us, applying the theory to our practice is a difficult task. For me, applying theory to the primary division is still tough going. I simply don't have the first-hand experience with the resources to easily make those connections. So, I really appreciate the lists of books you took the time to think about and create. I am thinking of creating separate bins for books like the ones on your list to add to the book room. In this way, as I work with teachers and we talk about the language we use with our kids, I will be prepared to support them.

    In June I purchased Choice Words and Opening Minds only because I stumbled upon them, and I was immediately taken with their central ideas. I could not have known then that I would be reading possibly the best professional books to date. I could not have known then that I in the midst of so much professional change (that is another story), I would be profoundly changed. I could not have known then that I would be launched into a cyber professional development environment. Have you ever read Jan Burkins' letter to Peter Johnston regarding the profound impact Choice Words had on her? It is amazing, and I completely get why she had to, had to write that letter. Thank you for all of this, all of it.


  4. Evening Cathy!
    I was actually here a little while ago, then had to leave and think about your post. I can't even believe all the synthesis and application you have already done. Wow, wow, wow! I still feel like I am trying to line up wet spaghetti noodles. Think I'm going to make another run at my notes, starting with the questions you asked yourself as you read. I'm wondering if they might bring some new clarity of thought (because I sure don't have much right now!)

    I know we are supposed to be getting away from saying "I like" but there were soooo many things I liked, no maybe I should say loved, about this post. For starters, I LOVE the idea of learning from one another, as opposed to simply listening. I also like many of your other bullet points, I can see them being great mini-lessons, some very early in the year, and some later, as kids become more skilled at learning from each other. I also love many of your language frames, I am soooo going to steal these, if that's ok (I promise I will attribute them to you!). I can really tell that you have spent a lot of time listening to kids and you know how their minds work.

    I have been trying to think of books also. A few that come to mind for social imagery-- Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, and Sister Anne's Hands. I think lots of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books might work too, and maybe The Pigeon wants a Hot Dog. Also maybe Bussing Brewster, although I'm not sure I would use it with first graders.

    Thanks so much for this oh so brilliant post, and for your leadership in hosting and organizing this summer's #cyberpd. I've learned, actually am still learning so much!

  5. Cathy,
    I knew I wouldn't be able to make it through this without adding books to my shopping cart! :) What great suggestions... and what a powerful way to put Johnston's theories into practice!

    I was really moved by your change in thinking to "learning from one another." I'll be chewing this over for a while. It really creates a visual in my head for what that looks like and helps me to think about how that is very different from listening to one another.

    I'll be borrowing many of your questions/sentence stems to add to my "prayer cards" before the year begins. Another one that I've been thinking about is "What would happen if..."

    Thank you so much for co-hosting this incredible learning journey and for always giving me so much more to consider.


  6. The shift from listening to each other to learning from one this language! This is very important thinking.... I love your thinking stems. Reading your reflections has helped me so much in thinking about this book and it's implications for my classroom. Thanks for summing up your important take aways so well!

  7. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for extending my learning once again! Throughout the book, I thought about changing the way I prompt turn and talk to frame it for students to "find out" about what another student is thinking. I like how explicit the end goal of learning from one another would be if I use the cue, "Turn and share. Learn what..." or "Listen to see what you can learn from your partner(s)."

    Wow! You leave me much to aspire from! Your students will be communicating with eachother in such engaging, meaningful ways this year! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sentence stems.

    Also, thanks for sharing your Listmania. Ish might be a nice addition to the Growth Mindset list.

  8. I just wanted you to know...that even though this event ended in August and it is now January...that some of the wonderful comments left on my blog and read on other blogs still linger with me today. In fact, one of your comments inspired my One Little Word for the year. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and leaving a handprint on my teaching life. (In fact, I wrote about it on a recent blog post :)

  9. As I read your posts on this book, I can see this is a must-read! Thank you for sharing about it. I've made notes!