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Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives

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"Introducing a spelling test to a student by saying, 'Let's see how many words you know,' is different from saying, 'Let's see how many words you know already.' It is only one word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known." — Peter Johnston Sometim "Introducing a spelling test to a student by saying, 'Let's see how many words you know,' is different from saying, 'Let's see how many words you know already.' It is only one word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known." — Peter Johnston Sometimes a single word changes everything. In his groundbreaking book Choice Words, Peter Johnston demonstrated how the things teachers say (and don't say) have surprising consequences for the literate lives of students. Now, in Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter shows how the words teachers choose affect the worlds students inhabit in the classroom, and ultimately their futures. He explains how to engage children with more productive talk and to create classrooms that support not only students' intellectual development, but their development as human beings. Grounded in research, Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives shows how words can shape students' learning, their sense of self, and their social, emotional and moral development. Make no mistake: words have the power to open minds – or close them.


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"Introducing a spelling test to a student by saying, 'Let's see how many words you know,' is different from saying, 'Let's see how many words you know already.' It is only one word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known." — Peter Johnston Sometim "Introducing a spelling test to a student by saying, 'Let's see how many words you know,' is different from saying, 'Let's see how many words you know already.' It is only one word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known." — Peter Johnston Sometimes a single word changes everything. In his groundbreaking book Choice Words, Peter Johnston demonstrated how the things teachers say (and don't say) have surprising consequences for the literate lives of students. Now, in Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter shows how the words teachers choose affect the worlds students inhabit in the classroom, and ultimately their futures. He explains how to engage children with more productive talk and to create classrooms that support not only students' intellectual development, but their development as human beings. Grounded in research, Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives shows how words can shape students' learning, their sense of self, and their social, emotional and moral development. Make no mistake: words have the power to open minds – or close them.

30 review for Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kate Hastings

    Children who have a fixed-ability mindset believe they are not capable of change. If they can't do something right away, they think they aren't good at it. If it comes easy, they think it's because they are smart or good at it. We want children to understand that effort leads to change. We can teach them this by pointing out their progress so that they can begin to notice how they have changed. We can also reassure them of changes that will happen and where they can expect to be in the future. Whe Children who have a fixed-ability mindset believe they are not capable of change. If they can't do something right away, they think they aren't good at it. If it comes easy, they think it's because they are smart or good at it. We want children to understand that effort leads to change. We can teach them this by pointing out their progress so that they can begin to notice how they have changed. We can also reassure them of changes that will happen and where they can expect to be in the future. When we comment on student performance, it needs to focus on their process instead of on them as a person. Share your observations of their work "I noticed that you..." Or neutrally observe the thing that needs to be changed "This room is very loud." Another part of this change mindset is making sure we do not over-praise. We should comment on their effort-- "You worked really hard. You figured it out, can you think of another way it would also work? Using "good job", "you're good at this" or "i'm proud of you" focuses on the person instead of the process and students will value the outcome more than the effort. A student used to hearing person-centered praise will encounter more frustration during a difficult task and may choose to stick with "safe" tasks they already know. Commenting on process is usually preferable to commenting on effort because sometimes effort isn't enough (even if it is commendable). Both are better than person-oriented comments. We can still be positive without praising. This helps students self-monitor and makes them less dependent on our judgement. "I LIKE THE WAY YOU..." turns an observation into a judgement of their work. Their goal is not to please you. Instead, say "LOOK AT HOW YOU..." Now reading the section about creating dialog in the classroom. The teacher is the facilitator and works to cultivate social imagination (what life looks like from another point of view). Students share their thoughts with each other and learn how to take turns in a conversation. They learn to look at different perspectives to form understanding and an opinion of their own. Listening and being able to articulate what others think and how it affects their own thinking is important. This book has so many ideas. Like Choice Words, there is much to absorb and try in our classrooms.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Franki Sibberson

    Another amazing book about the language we use with children by Peter Johnston. When I read Choice Words, I could see more clearly the messages my language gave to the children I worked with. I have gone back to that book over and over in the last several years. It has been one of the most powerful professional books I've read. In this new book, Johnston adds more layers to what he understands about the language we use with children and how it impacts them beyond the walls of the classroom. A ve Another amazing book about the language we use with children by Peter Johnston. When I read Choice Words, I could see more clearly the messages my language gave to the children I worked with. I have gone back to that book over and over in the last several years. It has been one of the most powerful professional books I've read. In this new book, Johnston adds more layers to what he understands about the language we use with children and how it impacts them beyond the walls of the classroom. A very powerful read and one that I will reread and revisit often. Lots to think about in terms of what children deserve.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shana Karnes

    I would love to have lunch with Peter Johnston and just pick his brain. He is brilliant. I loved this book possibly more than Choice Words...which is hard!!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meghan Arthur

    WOW! What a powerful 125 pages! I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches or parents or values democratic society. Johnston makes a compelling argument about the power of the way we talk to one another and the importance of thinking about not only what we say but how we say it. A must read as far as I'm concerned. WOW! What a powerful 125 pages! I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches or parents or values democratic society. Johnston makes a compelling argument about the power of the way we talk to one another and the importance of thinking about not only what we say but how we say it. A must read as far as I'm concerned.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    I read it very slowly but it is a very easy and captivating book to read. Perfect for professional development but not only. I found that would be really interesting for parents too. I'm really happy to read educators who have in mind a holistic approach to education and teaching and even more excited when this is connected to values of democracy and building all together a fair society. Highly recommended. I read it very slowly but it is a very easy and captivating book to read. Perfect for professional development but not only. I found that would be really interesting for parents too. I'm really happy to read educators who have in mind a holistic approach to education and teaching and even more excited when this is connected to values of democracy and building all together a fair society. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kaia

    Recommended for all teachers and parents.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Greco

    As a high school teacher I was worried that the target audience (elementary school through 8th grade) might make this book a non-starter for me. However, I found that the book provided a number of powerful ideas that I can take into my secondary classroom. It is true that I found myself wishing through the book that my students would come to me with a foundation of dialogic learning in their earlier years; it can be very difficult to shift a mindset of a teenage or adult student. That doesn't me As a high school teacher I was worried that the target audience (elementary school through 8th grade) might make this book a non-starter for me. However, I found that the book provided a number of powerful ideas that I can take into my secondary classroom. It is true that I found myself wishing through the book that my students would come to me with a foundation of dialogic learning in their earlier years; it can be very difficult to shift a mindset of a teenage or adult student. That doesn't mean that I can't try - and I can certainly use the ideas in the book to adjust my own language choices in interacting with my students. I fully recommend this book to teachers and parents.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Nero

    Read and reflected with an amazing group (#cyberPD) Much to think about the power of language we use in the classroom and at home. It's a book that I will read again to continue to open my mind to changing the opportunities and beliefs that my students have in and out of the classroom. A great read (minus the research info), but loved the classroom narratives. The continued discussions via blogging and Twitter deepened my understanding, and also left me with much to continue to think about as wel Read and reflected with an amazing group (#cyberPD) Much to think about the power of language we use in the classroom and at home. It's a book that I will read again to continue to open my mind to changing the opportunities and beliefs that my students have in and out of the classroom. A great read (minus the research info), but loved the classroom narratives. The continued discussions via blogging and Twitter deepened my understanding, and also left me with much to continue to think about as well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This is the third time I have read this book. The first time, I read it to revisit the author's advice about language in the classroom from Choice Words. The second time, I read it to better understand how our language can actually change students' lives. This time, I read it to better understand critical literacy. Each time, it it like I am reading it for the first time because I am viewing the text with a new lens. What will I gain from this text when I read it the fourth time? I realize that t This is the third time I have read this book. The first time, I read it to revisit the author's advice about language in the classroom from Choice Words. The second time, I read it to better understand how our language can actually change students' lives. This time, I read it to better understand critical literacy. Each time, it it like I am reading it for the first time because I am viewing the text with a new lens. What will I gain from this text when I read it the fourth time? I realize that the book doesn't change, but I do.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lexi

    As a sequel to the first book Choice Words, I thought this book gave educators, parents, and coaches wonderful examples of why it is important to choose your words carefully around children. Having a background in psychology was helpful for this book, as there were a lot of studies that were passed off as reliable but really needed more evidence to support them. I think that with more research and the more teachers that read the material presented by Johnston, there will be more supporting evide As a sequel to the first book Choice Words, I thought this book gave educators, parents, and coaches wonderful examples of why it is important to choose your words carefully around children. Having a background in psychology was helpful for this book, as there were a lot of studies that were passed off as reliable but really needed more evidence to support them. I think that with more research and the more teachers that read the material presented by Johnston, there will be more supporting evidence and information that makes teachers believe why they should change their words.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katie Oglesby

    This was one of the best educational theory books I have read in a while. Changed my complete outlook on how my language in the classroom can affect students. I even was privileged enough to hear Dr.Johnston speak in person. I cannot recommend how important the work in this book truly is. Absolutely fantastic. Ill be reading his previous book Choice Words next.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Absolutely stunning research and commentary on using language and equipping students with a mindset for life! Every teacher should own this book! It is a fantastic reminder of how all the little things add up and make a world of difference in our society. This will be one I will keep near me at all times this school year for reflective practice and growth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    A great reminder of the power teacher language can have to either open up a growth mindset or perpetuate a fixed mind set in students as they view both other people and their own potential to learn, grow, and change.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary Drayer

    The author shows how words can shape students' learning, their sense of self, and their social, emotional, and moral development. All teachers and parents should READ this book, it will change your views! Check it out. I have a link where you can read it for FREE, just e-mail me back The author shows how words can shape students' learning, their sense of self, and their social, emotional, and moral development. All teachers and parents should READ this book, it will change your views! Check it out. I have a link where you can read it for FREE, just e-mail me back

  15. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Jenkins

    I read this for one of my education classes and really enjoyed it. It has a lot of ideas about the language used as a teacher to make a better, more inviting classroom community.

  16. 5 out of 5

    CTEP

    For September book club, I chose to read a book suggested by my supervisor, Opening Minds by Peter H Johnston. This book argues the importance and influence of precisely how teachers use language in the classroom on how students think about themselves and others, interact with the material, and apply concepts to their personal lives. The author mainly chooses to focus on youth classes, although some of the research references college-aged students and adults. One main concept covered was fixed-p For September book club, I chose to read a book suggested by my supervisor, Opening Minds by Peter H Johnston. This book argues the importance and influence of precisely how teachers use language in the classroom on how students think about themselves and others, interact with the material, and apply concepts to their personal lives. The author mainly chooses to focus on youth classes, although some of the research references college-aged students and adults. One main concept covered was fixed-performance versus dynamic-learning frames. An example of this difference would be seeing a student misbehave and either assuming they will always be like that and are a 'bad' student versus seeing them as having the ability to grow from their choices and make new choices next time. In a fixed-performance frame the goal is to 'look as smart as you can,' which oftentimes sets students up for feeling a lot of academic pressure, competition, and failure, whereas in a dynamic-learning frame the goal is to 'learn as much as you can,' which more frequently finds students understanding that failure is a part of the learning process, seeing themselves as capable and responsible for acquiring knowledge, and helping others do the same. Framing challenges as engaging and not stressful, understanding information from a variety of perspectives instead of maintaining one fixed opinion, and learning to cope with uncertainty (in environments, plans, or people) by accepting a lack of closure instead of needing determined answers were some other interesting points brought up in different chapters. Another really interesting point the author brought up was how to structure criticism and praise as objective and not personal. This helps students to not internalize their academic success but to attribute it to actions that can be adjusted as needed. Anytime someone has to learn a new skill, there is usually a learning curve that involves a lot of trial and error. As a CTEP in classrooms with widely varied technology background and ability, I am sure I will come across a lot of students who are engaging this process with differing mindsets. This book helped remind me how much power the language we use has and to be aware of how I use language to frame constructive criticism and praise with students. It also showed me how I can help empower people to feel capable of growing and learning more, especially in technology, which can be an area that many adults feel wary of ever being able to be sufficient in because of the rate new technology is introduced and upgraded. Personally, I think this framework can be tricky to apply if belief systems favoring the fixed-performance mindset are already in place. However, the benefits of the dynamic-learning framework, including deeper appreciation and respect for diversity, motivation to stick with challenging tasks because of the learning and growth, and ability to deal with change in a healthy manner seem worth putting in the effort to use different language in the way I teach and interact with students and others. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to better understand classroom and teaching dynamics. Each new concept was followed by several good examples to demonstrate and compare the use of different language in various classroom contexts. There are also some helpful tables to simplify and break down the differences in outcomes from the two main frameworks discussed. The book was also written with a wealth of research and statistics to support its ideas, which I appreciated. I found it to be insightful and thorough, so it was helpful to read as I am moving into teaching soon.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    "Teaching is planned opportunism." This is one of my favorite quotes from this excellent book for educators. The words we speak profoundly influence how a student feels about themselves, their potential, and ability to learn. We plan for learning opportunities, then guide our students with words that emphasize the dynamic nature of education. This book deals with academic learning as well as classroom management in a positive way. If you have noticed your students becoming more helpless? The aut "Teaching is planned opportunism." This is one of my favorite quotes from this excellent book for educators. The words we speak profoundly influence how a student feels about themselves, their potential, and ability to learn. We plan for learning opportunities, then guide our students with words that emphasize the dynamic nature of education. This book deals with academic learning as well as classroom management in a positive way. If you have noticed your students becoming more helpless? The author explains how our current emphasis on standardized testing emphasizes a fixed-performance mindset which causes students to be helpless and defensive rather than engaged and taking risks. My only critique is that I wish he would have gone more in-depth regarding fixed-performance mindsets not centered on standardized testing, but more as response to the structure and nature of schools and the culture they attempt to push on students.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen Yelton-Curtis

    Johnston's book is a great companion for Choice Words, which I had read a few years ago. As I made my way through Opening Minds, it occurred to me that my high school is operating in a paradox: the International Baccalaureate program places emphasis on developing the whole student but also tasks participants to meet expected standards for high-stakes assessments. As Johnston notes, in dialogic instruction the focus is on thinking and the ensuing conversations -- helping students develop the coll Johnston's book is a great companion for Choice Words, which I had read a few years ago. As I made my way through Opening Minds, it occurred to me that my high school is operating in a paradox: the International Baccalaureate program places emphasis on developing the whole student but also tasks participants to meet expected standards for high-stakes assessments. As Johnston notes, in dialogic instruction the focus is on thinking and the ensuing conversations -- helping students develop the collaborative problem-solving skills that 21st century workplaces require and value. Yet, the IB assessments in my course (Language and Literature) are individual in nature. Somehow, our school needs to marry these two concepts strategically in order to best serve our inner-city population; helping students become day-to-day peer teachers and drivers of the internal assessments.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah Smith

    Fantastic read! Quick and fast-paced (finished in 3 weeks) and immensely applicable. I started implementing different strategies the day after I started reading it and immediately saw a reaction in the classroom. When I told a 4th grade student “thank you for sharing” instead of “good job” for a response to a discussion question, you could tell that it gave a feeling of respect and eliminated the “right-wrong answer” spectrum so inherent to a classroom. I highly recommend this book for all teach Fantastic read! Quick and fast-paced (finished in 3 weeks) and immensely applicable. I started implementing different strategies the day after I started reading it and immediately saw a reaction in the classroom. When I told a 4th grade student “thank you for sharing” instead of “good job” for a response to a discussion question, you could tell that it gave a feeling of respect and eliminated the “right-wrong answer” spectrum so inherent to a classroom. I highly recommend this book for all teachers. You will certainly find something to revamp what you do as an educator. Wishing I had read it years ago!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elie

    This book doesn't have much new information to offer if you've ever read about or been trained in growth mindset. It's also severely lacking in practical ways to achieve these goals in one's classroom, and the examples focus far too much on primary grades, which I didn't find entirely useful as a middle school teacher. What I took away was this: Give my students a voice. Help students focus less on me as the teacher and more on themselves by encouraging different opinions and reflections while d This book doesn't have much new information to offer if you've ever read about or been trained in growth mindset. It's also severely lacking in practical ways to achieve these goals in one's classroom, and the examples focus far too much on primary grades, which I didn't find entirely useful as a middle school teacher. What I took away was this: Give my students a voice. Help students focus less on me as the teacher and more on themselves by encouraging different opinions and reflections while discouraging hand-raising when appropriate so that comments don't filter through me first.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I loved this book! It was recommended by Thomas Newkirk (whose book Embarrassment: The Emotional Underlife of Learning I also loved), who was spot on that it's applicable for teaching all grades, even though it's geared toward K-8. I've thought a lot in the last few years about the narratives we create in class that help students to think of themselves as learners working toward mastery; I wish I'd read this book back when I was starting that exploration. I imagine that I'll reread this book mor I loved this book! It was recommended by Thomas Newkirk (whose book Embarrassment: The Emotional Underlife of Learning I also loved), who was spot on that it's applicable for teaching all grades, even though it's geared toward K-8. I've thought a lot in the last few years about the narratives we create in class that help students to think of themselves as learners working toward mastery; I wish I'd read this book back when I was starting that exploration. I imagine that I'll reread this book more than once in my teaching career.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I found this book only slightly less insightful than Choice Words. There's some repetition, but this book also does a nice job providing a more in-depth look at the impacts that our words can make over the duration of a learner's life. In particular, it focuses less exclusively on educational impacts and looks at how people's whole self-understandings and lives might change in relation to how they are taught and addressed. And, as with his previous book, though the focus is on elementary educati I found this book only slightly less insightful than Choice Words. There's some repetition, but this book also does a nice job providing a more in-depth look at the impacts that our words can make over the duration of a learner's life. In particular, it focuses less exclusively on educational impacts and looks at how people's whole self-understandings and lives might change in relation to how they are taught and addressed. And, as with his previous book, though the focus is on elementary education, there's a lot to consider here for educators and mentors at all levels.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Jablonsky

    I learned so much in this book. I will read it again and again. It expanded my own ability to be growth oriented about myself, personally and professionally. It shone lights of understanding on some of the things that I as a teacher know are important, but don't consistently implement. I feel more equipped to be the change I wish to see in the classroom than ever before. Actionable, morally and academically persuasive, compelling and accessible. A must read for anyone who works with or rears you I learned so much in this book. I will read it again and again. It expanded my own ability to be growth oriented about myself, personally and professionally. It shone lights of understanding on some of the things that I as a teacher know are important, but don't consistently implement. I feel more equipped to be the change I wish to see in the classroom than ever before. Actionable, morally and academically persuasive, compelling and accessible. A must read for anyone who works with or rears young people.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Myers

    Anyone who regularly interacts with children (or anyone really) should read this book. Basically it breaks down the subtle ways in which the words we use can help a child develop a growth mindset. It gives a lot of specific examples from classroom interactions with great teachers. I love that it really encourages a lot of group discussions in classrooms. Even if you think you are already applying growth mindset praise, you should still read this book. It is seriously in everything we say!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Arlie

    This book has already had an effect on some of what I do (or aspire to do) in the classroom. And I've brought it into a lot of conversations. Highlights - how fixed frame affects perceptions of stereotypes and perception of "others", the research on cooperative learning and humans as social beings, the importance of moral development, knowledge as a fixed body vs a body of multiple perspectives This book has already had an effect on some of what I do (or aspire to do) in the classroom. And I've brought it into a lot of conversations. Highlights - how fixed frame affects perceptions of stereotypes and perception of "others", the research on cooperative learning and humans as social beings, the importance of moral development, knowledge as a fixed body vs a body of multiple perspectives

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I am not as sold as Johnston is on Dweck’s research, but the common sense approach to learning, that people must feel valued and must value others in order to maximize their learning potential, is beautifully explained. A great book about how teachers model and promote a positive growth mindset for students.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heather Chan

    I think this is better to read if you're a parent or a teacher because it was definitely aimed towards them. I thought the book was able to go in-depth on how to speak/treat a child in order for them to grow in the best way possible, so it did its job. I think this is better to read if you're a parent or a teacher because it was definitely aimed towards them. I thought the book was able to go in-depth on how to speak/treat a child in order for them to grow in the best way possible, so it did its job.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ella

    I appreciate the theory, but there was simply too much mumbling over the same stuff. It sends my head spinning. Very pitiful amount of practical advice. Good for raising awareness I suppose.

  29. 5 out of 5

    MKQ

    Gave this book 2 chances and I couldn’t finish it. I like the topic of the book, but the writing wasn’t engaging and has complex vocabulary.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    An excellent discourse on affecting students' worlds through words, conversations, and critical thinking. An excellent discourse on affecting students' worlds through words, conversations, and critical thinking.

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