Can I use the disagree one with you?

As I finished up the last couple chapters in Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds, I was continuously reminded of the importance to be fair with you students.

Johnston (2012) discusses social reasoning, caring and social action in chapter 7. The quote on page 87 stood out to me as I reflected on our guided reading flex grouping.

“Discipline that foregrounds the emotional consequences of a behavior or intended behavior expands both children’s level of sympathy and their prosocial behavior.”
“The logic strengthens the relationship that is the basis for the student’s compliance, and when teachers are seen as caring, students are socially and academically more motivated.”

This past month we started flex grouping the second grade students during guided reading. We had to assign the students to groups based on their MClass Decoding scores as well as their comprehension scores. This was a long process which I am noticing is changing weekly. For the first few days, we spent our time learning the procedures for guided reading, how to walk into the classroom and what our expectations were to be a successful group.

This is the first time this year that I have worked with a small group that is composed of 4 different classrooms. It was also the first time I saw the difference in the behavior of the students. The students wait outside the door to enter the classroom and this is why the above quotes stand out to me.

Student 1: He called me dumb and told me to shut up
Student 2: Nuh uh. I didn’t!
Teacher: Did you tell him that you did not like that?
Student 1: No
Teacher: Tell him that you did not like that he called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 1: I did not like it when you said those things to me.
Teacher: Tell him that you did not like that he called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 1: I did not like that you called me dumb and said shut up.
Student 2: Sorry.
Teacher: No you need to say that you are sorry for calling her dumb and saying shut up.
Student 2: Sorry for calling you dumb and saying shut up.
Student 1: It is okay.
Teacher: It would hurt my heart if someone called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 2: Yea that would not be very nice. (smiles and hugs the teacher) 

Well I am not saying that this example is correct or that is the way to have the students interact with one another, the point that stood out to me was the way student 2 changed his feelings about the situation. At first he was very defensive and then after the teacher expressed that he cared he was smiling and hugging the teacher.

Another piece that stood out to me is how students need to be guided with sentence starters throughout the day, Student 1 needed prompting several times to tell Student 2 that she did not like the words that he used. She was not specific enough and needed to be reminded of the strategies. I also notice that so many times students are prone to tattling to get the other student in trouble, but then never really solving their own problems. This leading to a problem in the long run.

Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of social problems on page 91 “Social problems offer concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives, understanding and managing emotions, learning strategies for negotiating social conflict, and asserting a commitment to fairness.” Students need to be exposed to different social problems; problems that they are part of as well as problems that can solve together. Education is not just learning information from books but rather how to be successful in the social environment.

One part of my classroom that I have encouraged this year is the use of “argumentation strategies” (Johnston, 2012). I have given my students sentence starters to encourage conversations where not all students agree. At the beginning of the year I introduced a topic for discussion. I stood in the front and my students saw me as the leader and they were going to listen. I have to admit that the lesson did not go as planned. I then introduced the sentence starters similar to Johnson’s on page 88. I have noticed that my students use the sentence starters with one another, during group work, when we are discussing background knowledge or introducing a new topic, but my absolute favorite is with me. They are starting to see themselves as the teachers.

This past week, a little girl asked “You know how we use those sentence starters to agree and disagree with our friends. Can I use the disagree one with you?” I was so happy to see a student that wanted to share what they knew and knew how to argue in a respectful and responsible way. I cannot say I even remember what she disagreed on (most likely she was right) but I was just so happy to see the growth in my classroom and the independence that my students are showing!



3… 2… 1… Action

At the end of summer, as teachers get ready for school, students go supply shopping and final summer plans are executed, there is an excitement in the air. Students are anxious about starting school and teachers are looking forward to a new year with new students. When the first couple weeks of school go by, children are asked what they have learned. Some students new to the school might talk about the rules, their new friends and the positive changes, some students might list the new content that they have been exposed to and then there might be some children who might respond with nothing.

The first couple weeks is known was the time that teachers build community in the classroom. Students learn about and become acquainted with their new peers as well as their new environment. The first couple weeks are spent on growing the students socially and using this growth to continue to improve the student’s academics throughout the year.

Peter H. Johnston refers to this development as “Social Imagination” in Chapter 6 of Opening Minds. Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of a student’s social development as “the foundation for intellectual, emotional, and physical health”. These are some of the main points of importance for my classroom instruction.

Mind Reading

Many students are not taught how to read other’s faces and gestures. Students need to build these skills to look each other in the eyes, make eye contact and listen to their partner. This is a skill that many of my students need constant reminders to continue as well as feel comfortable doing. There have been many discussions about how the idea of eye contact is not required in all cultures and if it is necessary to make part of the classroom environment. We ask students to code switch when coming to school and this could be an important code switch for social development.

Social Reasoning

Some students spend more time watching television than conversing with other peers or adults. Social Reasoning is “the ability to imagine and reasons about other’s actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives (Johnston, 2012). This ability is developed when students are exposed to a variety of feelings, actions, etc. and then they are encouraged to have conversations after the event. Children can experience multiple perspectives through read alouds, classroom discussions and opinion activities.

Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of different perspectives through inquiry, dialogue, uncertainty and differences in Chapter 5 of Opening Minds. The chapter discusses how teachers and students need to be on a level playing field in order to learn from one another. Johnston encourages teachers to encourage conversation between students and as the teacher sit on the sideline. Students should be encouraged to discuss differences by defending ideas as well as actively listening to one another. This strategy of differences can increase the students social reasoning and as well as the process of understanding one another.

Taking Social Imagination Seriously – Self-Regulation

As a student’s social imagination increases the student starts to imagine other’s feelings, emotions, and motives in order to manage their own feelings. When adults encourage students to talk about how they feel, how others feel, then the students are able to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

Talk and Social Imagination AND Social Problem Solving

When students are given opportunities to problem solve by talking to one another and taking responsibility for their actions, the students are developing their social imagination. Giving students the responsibility is only productive when students have seen modeling of the appropriate social interactions, practiced with a peer and then been successful when interacting in the classroom. Students need to be able to advocate for themselves, but they need the skills and practice to be successful.

Well all of the above are important practices to use in the classroom; the students will only be successful if these practices are used throughout the year. Many years start with the teacher expecting the students to practice social imagination, but then they taper off as the months pass. These practices are as important the last day of school as they are in the beginning of the year.

I will leave with this quote, an idea that all teachers should reflect on constantly throughout the year.

***”Classroom management depends substantially on children taking into account other’s feelings and interests”***

I forgot

“Changing our talk requires gaining a sense of what we are doing, our options, their consequences, and why we make the choices we make.” (Johnston, 2012)

Each year I leave a space under my SMARTboard/ whiteboard for a “growing” set of words. This area is named the graveyard, it is a place where words are put that our class decides are considered “graveyard” words. This practice started my first year of teaching. My students were using words that were hurting the classroom community and I needed a concrete way to show that these words were no appropriate in the classroom.

This year I have continued my graveyard words area and have had to add a new word this past month. The phrase we added was I forgot. My students take the graveyard words very seriously that I am continuously reminded that I cannot use the word. When a student (or teacher) uses a graveyard word, the response in the classroom, from either a peer or the teacher, is “Can you think of another way to say that?”. It is surprising to me how well my students respond to the feedback, but then I remember that we are all in the position to grow together. I am both giving and receiving the feedback.

Peter Johnson (2012) writes about positive feedback, praise and other responses in Opening Minds.“We have to remember that we are not just giving students feedback; we are also teaching them to provide it.” This quote made me think about the numerous conversations that I have with my peers at school. We discuss how a child might behave in the classroom, how they might react in certain situations and their learning process through the year. We stop a couple times to discuss the child’s interactions and behaviors, but never stop to think about our interactions with the child, or the child’s home interactions. For some students school might be the only place that they provided “instruction” in receiving and giving feedback. We as teachers need to insure that we provide feedback that focuses on the aspects of process, effort and strategy, rather than focus on the person.

In Chapter 2, Johnston refers to the fixed-performance frame and the dynamic-learning frame. This reminded me of the book study we completed two years ago by Carol Dweck. We read the Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck focused on the idea of the growth mindset in the classroom. I continue the growth mindset study and integrate the idea into my “graveyard” words. Johnston discusses the fixed-performance frame as children viewing ability or intelligence as a permanent born trait. The dymanic-learning theory understands intelligence or ability as something that grows with learning.

Each year we start off discussing our brains. Each child uses their hands to create a brain (it looks like each child is hold an imaginary ball in his/her hands). We then move our hands back and forth (like we are molding clay) still holding the ball to show that our brains are growing. We discuss how our brains are growing each year and we have to be actively involved in the learning process each year.

Last year, our word graveyard had 2 sections, our growth mindset words and our fixed mindset words. We backed the growth mindset in green and the fixed mindset in red. The students were then accountable for their own words, and were given an opportunity to change their responses in the classroom. We all hold each other accountable for our responses, but instead of calling each other out, we respond with “Can you think of another way to say that?”


Johnston, P. H. (2012). Opening minds: Using language to change lives. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.