Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tricky Teacher? Or Thinking Kids?

"You're trying to trick us!"
"I'm going to try to trick you--watch me closely."
"Be careful, they are trying to trick you here."

All things we've said or heard in our own classrooms and in the classrooms of others, right? I know I used to say things like this all the time in an effort to get kids to notice when I made a mistake or to get them to attend more closely to what we were doing. And they loved it--the idea of catching me as I tried to slip one by them.

But I've been rethinking this. Over the past few years, I've been invited by many teachers to come listen to and watch a struggling reader or group of readers to help figure out where things were getting muddled and help them sort it out. And you know what? Over and over I heard kids say things about the teacher trying to trick them or the author trying to trick them. I even had one boy look up at me once he was utterly mixed up and misreading and comment, "these things [books] are so hard...they never make any sense!"


So I began to think about it and realized that maybe I should rethink how I was trying to get kids to notice and attend closely. Of course, kids do get confused and mixed up all on their own, but maybe, just maybe I had been unintentionally causing them to think that I (or their books) was out to get them. I knew that was not the message I wanted to send--but what was?

What I really want is to have kids notice things, to monitor what they are doing (whether it's reading or math or whatever), and to figure things out. I need them to be engaged thinkers. That means a change in my language so that what I say matches what I am really trying to get.

So at the start of this year, when I first heard a gleeful, "you're trying to trick us!", I stopped the group immediately.
"No," I replied, taking time to make eye contact with each child, "no, I am not." Confused, somber silence. I went on. "My job is to help you learn to think--to notice things and to think. I am not trying to trick you. I am trying to make you think about it."

I was met with skeptical looks. They needed some time to mull that over. "Let's try again," I suggested, "and I bet this time, you'll notice something here we need to figure out." And they did.

Now I don't hear about teachers trying to trick kids, but I hear at least a couple times a day that I'm trying to make them think. I love it. Imagine hearing excited voices saying, "you are making us think!" and then settling in to do just that. Beautiful...and exactly what I had in mind.


  1. I love the way you wove the narrative through this post. Great food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

    BTW -- I quoted your last post on TWT today. ;)

  2. gulp... this reminds me of the book "Choice Words". I need to be more careful of the language I use and how I say things. I forget that they can be interpreted and connected to something I had not intended. Thanks for the reminder!