Teaching Reading

Choice Words: The Language We Use & The Way We Teach

This week, I had the experience of leading class on my own for the very first time. My mentor teacher had to be absent and left her three classes with me. She later noted this experience as being my “baptism by fire” and it is safe to say that is probably an accurate description of my feelings during leading those classes. Throughout reading Choice Words, I found myself wishing the knowledge from this book was put into my mind a week earlier. Peter Johnston reminded me that as we are teaching students about language and its power, we should also remember that our language has power as well. Now that realization may seem obvious or silly to you, but it hit me hard as I was reading Choice Words because I wish I could have handled my speech in front of my students with more care. Each and every word we use to address our classes has repercussions. As I am reminding my students to note means of persuasion used in Julius Caesar, how am I not reminded about the power my own language holds? 

At every impatient moment (indicated by the chance of tone in my voice), I could have used those moments as opportunities to engage with a student, revisit the situation or question from a fresh angle, invite them to rethink an idea, or pose a question to help spark agency in these students. Johnston’s book hits on lots of examples on how we can make sure our students know their thoughts and opinions are valuable, which is the hold reason many of us go into the teaching field in the first place. Although Choice Words presented helpful tips in negotiating the social signals in a classroom and ways in which to encourage students, it, most importantly, reminded me to revisit and reevaluate the value I put on my own language – the weight it holds in my classroom and the encouragement it can offer to my students. 

 Going forward, I hope to take the practices and advice presented by Johnston in Choice Words as a source of wisdom for when I enter the classroom. I humbly understand that I have much to learn in this field and a long time until I even begin to feel like I’m starting to figure it out, and my “baptism by fire” and Johnston’s words helped move me one step forward and maybe even a little bit wiser for the next time (& each and every time after) that I get to meet with my students.


2 thoughts on “Choice Words: The Language We Use & The Way We Teach

  1. Jamie,

    I really think that you’re thoughts here speak to something that I’ve been noticing while reflecting on “Choice Words” with relation to my experiences in my placement school. So much of Johnston’s ethos regarding effective use of interactive language in the classroom runs parallel to my personal teaching philosophy, but as your “trial by fire” reveals, we’re all learning on the job. I think all of us want to be a part of an intellectually productive learning community in our classrooms, but its tough to be an agentive entity as Teaching Candidates right now in our fall practicum. I have found that in the times I have led small discussions, I can quickly become more explicitly restrictive toward distractive elements going on around me. Even though my intention is to pull students into the community (the goal conveyed by Johnston), it was quite tough to put that into practice. Perhaps we just need some more time to make our proverbial bones in the classroom to implement these techniques effectively. Thanks so much for the insight!

    -Thomas L


  2. Hey Jamie,
    I’m glad I get the chance to read your blogs again. I love your style of writing, it’s fun and creative. Anyways, congratulations on leading classes for the first time last week. I’m so happy and excited for you. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on this post. I agree that I “found myself wishing the knowledge from this book was put into my mind a week earlier”. I truly believe that this book has opened my eyes on how to handle myself in the classroom. Words are powerful. The way teachers phrase things can have impact students more than we know. I love your point that it’s important to “revisit and reevaluate the value I put on my own language”. I think that Choice Words taught me to be careful how I phrase things. Overall, good ideas! I can’t wait to read more of your work throughout the semester! 🙂


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