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.


3 thoughts on “I forgot

  1. Cara,
    I loved reading about your “graveyard words” and how you and your children engage in this process together! I love how you are modeling how you also have to occasionally rethink how to say something if you used a “fixed mindset” word/phrase. You are truly giving to and receiving feedback from your students! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Cara,
    It was so interesting to see how your “graveyard” words hold kids responsible for expanding their vocabulary and language, what a great visual reminder!
    I also appreciated hearing how as a community of learners, your students positively hold each other accountable for responses with encouraging phrases such as “Can you think of another way to say that?”.
    We also talk about our brains a lot in my class! Just wondering if you are familiar with “kiss your brain”? I use this to reinforce deep thinking, sharing ideas, and for my students to take pride and ownership of the power of their brains!


  3. Cara,

    I appreciate you sharing a great example in your class of how to keep your students accountable for their words and language. The graveyards visual chart is a wonderful way to help students understand the difference in the words that they choose to say. I am very inspired by this activity and so glad that your students are learning this at such a young age. I hope to find something that could be similar with my middle school age students because they definitely need to understand language that they learning how it impacts others and themselves. Thank you so much! Great job Cara!!!


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