Raising the Bar

Chapter 4 of Opening Minds was all about feedback. We, as teachers, give kids feedback daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute. But I wonder how often students feel like the person in this cartoon. “Good job on what?”, “Challenge yourself as a writer how?”, “I’m proud of you – why?” – these are just a few of the questions that I can imagine popping into students heads when their teacher uses one of a million types of generic feedback. Johnston talks about the importance of giving feedback that “focus[es] attention on specific features of the performances” (pg. 36). This is the responsibility not only of teachers but of students as well. I often feel frustrated as a teacher when I cannot get to everyone to provide constructive feedback right at the moment when would help most. Johnston promotes an intentional solution in reminding us that “much of the feedback children experience comes from their peers. We have to remember that we are not just giving students feedback; we are also teaching them to provide it” (pg. 36). This is HUGE! Learning how to give constructive feedback and in turn teaching our students to do the same can have lasting impacts on our classroom. I am excited to “raise the bar” by adopting a new mindset geared toward using intentional specific feedback without praise and helping my students learn to do the same.

Chapter 5

What is the same about all three of these photos? They are all taking place in a classroom. They all involve people talking. But I think most important is that all are taking place without the presence of a teacher. These images represent the essence of a dialogic classroom – “one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students [… they are] classrooms in which there are multiple interpretations and perspectives – classrooms in which facts are considered in different contexts and in which people challenge each other’s views and conclusions” (pg. 52).

One of the parts I gained most from in this chapter was Johnston’s focus on the students, rather than the teacher, playing the key roles in and facilitating the conversation. He provides some helpful steps that a teacher can take to make this happen (pg. 55):

1. Ask open questions.

2. Give enough wait time for students to respond.

3. Do not judge children’s ideas.

4. Don’t specify who will be allowed to respond.

5. In each response, show that you take their ideas seriously and are listening to them.

6. When you want an idea to be considered, use tentativeness markers (“I’m wondering if…” “Could he…”) to show a degree of uncertainty and reduce positional authority.

These practices, along with teaching students to manage turn taking without a teacher’s direction are some goals that I want to work through in the last quarter of the year with my students. I think that by starting early – with my students only being in 1st grade – students will hopefully learn the marks of a dialogic classroom so that they can go on to express their ideas clearly and know that it’s okay to disagree. It’s time to raise the bar on our classroom dialogue.


3 thoughts on “Raising the Bar

  1. Dialogue and discussion were a goal of mine at the beginning of the year and somehow they got away from me. I envisioned my small reading groups to be a lot like the photos you shared, but they aren’t there yet. I am inspired by your post to continue working towards this and to follow the steps that Johnston wrote. Again, I wonder if by slightly tweaking the wording if they would work as an anchor chart so that we are all held to the same expectations. Thank you for your post!


  2. A commonality I noticed in both of your reflections above (Ch. 4 and 5) is how productive a task, assignment, or endeavor can be without the presence of a teacher. As teachers, I think we frequently (but likely mistakenly) feel that the most productive teaching is happening when we are present to witness and be a part of it. You bring up good points in remembering that students can give feedback to one another and that, in dialogic classrooms, student-led discussions are encouraged and important. I love how you describe your goals in both of these arenas (feedback and dialogic classrooms) as “raising the bar.” I feel like we may do these things in our rooms, but making it more purposeful will raise the bar. I commend you, too, for starting early. I love how Johnston says that this can be done for even the youngest of students. Great post, Lisa – thanks!


  3. Lisa, I really like the images that you included here. Students of every age can have meaningful conversations with one another without the teacher leading the whole thing. I really like the section about giving students the opportunity to provide feedback. This is a goal of mine moving forward. If I get really brave, I might even let them provide constructive criticism on my own writing! Yikes! Another great post Lisa, thanks for sharing!


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