I am always caught off guard when I hear my words coming from the mouths of my students. It makes me stop and think. What messages am I sending? How do my words sound in the ears of 6 year olds?
Last week I was working with a guided reading group. After reading together, we were getting ready to do a little word work. As my hands moved over the sections of the storage box, fingers dipping in to scoop out the needed letters, I was thinking aloud.
"Hmm...let's see, we want to build the word here, so we'll need h." I plopped a letter h in front of each child at the table. "Oh, and r; we'll need that too." Hands reached out to take the letter. My finger tapped my chin as I thought. "Now let me see...what else? Oh yes--e! We are going to need some of those! Here you are--we have all the letters we need."
A. looked up, his bright eyes beaming right into mine as he cried, "good for you!"
His face was alight with enthusiasm and sincere pride in my accomplishment and he laughed along with me. It still makes me laugh. But it also makes me think.
I am pretty sure I have used that phrase (or some variation of it) every day this year. It is almost without exception accompanied by some sort of specific description of what I noticed.
"You figured that out all by yourself--good for you!"
"I see that you are making your illustrations show what happened--good for you!"
"Good for you--you noticed it didn't match so you went back to fix it."
"I heard you say sorry even though it was an accident--good for you!"
Each day I try to encourage the kids to try, to figure things out, to do the right thing. We talk a lot about how being smart isn't mostly about knowing stuff--it's about noticing and thinking and working hard and learning more. And I try to make sure that I catch them in the act. I think there is power in letting kids know that I notice when they do these things. It's important they get that encouragement--a "good for you!" for not only successful actions, but also for effort or improvement. Not random praise, but specific acknowledgment.
During that reading group, my thinking aloud about what letters were needed was intended to get the kids thinking about the letters in a particular word, but what A. heard was someone thinking through something and figuring it out. And in his mind, that deserved a heartfelt "good for you!"
Hearing my words come from A. tells me that it matters to them that I do this. It tells me that they are starting to notice when someone is thinking and that they recognize it as something important not only for others, but for themselves. And that's a message I'm glad to send. Good for us!