Say What? How is Language Used in Your Classroom?

“What makes you say that?” Using language to shape a culture of thinking…

This simple, but meaningful thinking routine activates our minds to build explanations from what we see or know. Saying “What makes you say that?” instead of asking “Why?” invites learners to share their opinions and interpretations. It encourages flexibility in their thinking by teaching learners to consider multiple perspectives.
Mary's CSI about futsal, which also includes the thinking routine What Makes You Say That?

Mary’s CSI about futsal, which also includes the thinking routine What Makes You Say That?


The forces that shape culture

One of the chapters in Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison, delves deeper into the concept that certain forces determine if a culture of thinking is actively promoted and made visible within an educational setting. Based on Ron Ritchhart’s research, there are eight cultural forces that “provide a leverage point for teachers to use in creating classrooms where thinking is more than an add-on activity or part of a single lesson.” These forces help us learn more about the context in which specific tools and strategies, such as thinking routines, enable learners to make their thinking visible. Take the time to read through the eight forces that shape a culture of thinking and consider the following:

What connections could you make to the learning that is taking place in your classroom?


Words mediate, shape, inform and solidify experience

The cultural force of language influences the classroom culture in profound ways. Ron Ritchhart describes six uses of language in the classroom that can shape the learning taking place. Using a language of thinking gives learners the vocabulary to describe and reflect on their own thinking (Ron Ritchhart).

There are four uses of language from Ron Ritchhart’s research that I would like to highlight:

  • Language of Knowing (Conditional vs the Absolute) – Is the language used in your classroom fixed or seen as evolving? For example, consider how you frame your questions in class: “What is the answer?”, “Who can tell me …” informs the learner that there is one correct answer. This decreases the opportunities for learners to share their thinking for fear of getting the answer wrong. Whereas, “What is another perspective?”, “What could be …”, “In what ways …” invites learners to share multiple ideas and opinions on the topic under discussion.
  • Language of Noticing and Naming – Teachers have the power to name and notice the thinking learners are demonstrating and in turn, provide learners with the vocabulary to describe and reflect on their thinking: “That’s an interesting connection.”, “You’ve generated some new ideas.”, “That’s a new theory.”
  • Language of Identity – When learners take on the identities of scientists, writers, authors, mathematicians, thinkers, athletes, etc. we communicate that learning is something we do and not something we learn about.
  • Language of Personal Agency vs. Rescuing – Teachers can empower students who are experiencing difficulty by communicating to students that they have an active, decision-making role in their learning process: “How are you planning on…”, “What are you wondering about?”, “What steps could you take next?” Or teachers can step in and rescue students by making the decisions for them: “What you need to do next is…”

As you read through some of my posts, how is language shaping the thinking that is taking place?


How could learners construct meaning?

According to Vygotsky, “The child begins to perceive the world not only through its eyes but also through its speech. And later it is not just seeing but acting that becomes informed by words.”

I wonder, what language is used in your classroom? How could the cultural force of language be used to actively promote and nurture a culture of thinking among you and your students?

Grade 8 students participating in the thinking routine Chalk Talk

Grade 8 students participating in the thinking routine Chalk Talk – a routine to reflect, generate ideas and check on learning through silent discussion


Final thoughts… Using the eight cultural forces in a professional learning setting

Check out how this educator uses the eight cultural forces to evaluate a professional learning opportunity.

MTV Blog

Using the eight cultural forces to evaluate

How might we do this for similar professional development opportunities? How could this exercise in evaluation shift our thinking in new ways?

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