Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

by Diane Powell, Primary Trainer

I just finished Peter Johnston’s latest addition to the world of education – Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives.  Published recently by Stenhouse, and just like Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, it was a page-turner as he helps us think more deeply about how the language we use in classrooms not only shapes children’s lives in school but also how it impacts the ways they view themselves and others in the greater world as adults. He speaks about the ways we continue the praise of children often to a disadvantage as they grow. He also puts out a charge to us to focus on educating the “whole child” – not just the academic one. There are links to the language of parenting as well.

A few quotes (and there are hundreds) I’d like to share to nudge your thinking include the opening quote found on page 1, “Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said.”

In chapter 3 on page 28, “…learning takes time and work, but intellectual change happens. The more you learn, the smarter you get.”

Opening chapter 4, “’Good Job!’ Feedback, Praise, and Other Responses” on page 35 these quotes caught my eye: “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”(by Norman Vincent Peale) and “If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.” (Unknown).

From “Taking Moral Development Seriously” page 91 comes this one: “Unfortunately, the more high-stakes testing pressure is applied to teachers, the more authoritarian they become and the less inclined they will be to invest time in social problem-solving.”

And finally, in Johnston’s closing paragraph on page 124 come these words of wisdom: ”Ultimately, we have to generate a more productive vision for society than the one that has been guiding schooling, and we must equip children with what they need to construct that society. Given what we know, failing to attend to students’ civic, social and broader cognitive development in school is not only academically short-changing children, it is criminal. Well, now you know….”.

I would encourage everyone who was struck by the power of Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning to rush and get a copy of Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives and dig in. This text has the potential to spark a variety of interesting book club discussions in your school.  Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

  1. Hi Diane! Thank you for reminding me that Peter Johnston’s new book is out. I just ordered my copy. Stenhouse is actually providing free shipping (savings of $5) with the code 4R until April 30, 2012. 🙂 Patti

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  2. Love your post, Diane! Peter’s work has inspired so many of us over the years. This sounds like a “must read” and I will be ordering it today. Thanks.

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  3. Thanks to our principal, my co-teachers are reading and discussing Peter’s Choice Words and thinking about how to utilize his ideas in our everyday teachings

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