What NOT to say!

It seems that the blogosphere- well the one that I’m in- seems to be a bit preoccupied with the things we shouldn’t be saying in the classroom and reading these posts got me wondering!


Check out this post from I Speak Math: Don’t Say That! and this one from The Cornerstone: Unhelpful Things I’ve Said to Students

The first one- Don’t Say That- is specifically about the things teachers say when teaching mathematics concepts.  You see, understanding mathematical language is an important part of learning mathematical concepts and processes.  When we misuse mathematical language we lead students to form misconceptions about those mathematical concepts.  Put simply, when teachers introduce a new process they may pass on their own misconceptions.  Some teachers, in an effort to simplify a difficult process, will teach the students a trick or avoid using the  specialised mathematical language required to understand the concept.  Students who only learn shortcuts end up with an unstable foundation of knowledge and this leads to confusion later on.  No teacher would do this on purpose!  But many teachers do it all the same.

The second- Unhelpful Things I’ve Said- is more about the phrases that are often said in frustration.  The focus is on the things teachers say when responding to negative student behaviours.  No teacher wants to be unhelpful, but every teacher says unhelpful things at times, because we can’t possibly be perfect!  Teachers are human and it is impossible to be the most reasonable, patient, responsible or even helpful person in the classroom every minute of the school year.  We are in the classroom an awful lot you know!

So, What?

It is impossible to delete what we’ve said.  Correcting misconceptions in any subject can be a long and difficult process (possible but difficult).  Repairing a bruised relationship is hard work.  The things a teacher says in a day can have a huge impact on how the student feels and what they believe/ understand when they  leave the classroom. So, why do we talk so much?

We can’t write a perfect script for what we will say in the classroom, because stuff happens.  An effective classroom is by nature dynamic and students are certainly an unstable ‘property’ of the classroom equation.  We can (and should) plan the words we will use to explain new concepts and consider how our words could lead to misconceptions.  Responding to student behaviour is a whole different story; you can’t possibly plan for what might happen when emotions are involved. You can have a plan for managing your own behaviour and your own words; you can reflect on the situations that you managed well and the ones that you wished went better.

Reflective practice is the key to being a better teacher.  Reflecting on what we said and even what we didn’t say will help us do it better next time. Sharing our reflections helps our colleagues become better teachers, too!

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