A few weeks ago, I was observing a student teacher. In our debrief, I said, “When you’re asking students for answers, you put those answers into your own words much of the time. What might that say to the students?”
We then had a conversation about the possible implication that changing the students’ words could be perceived as correcting them – that what they were saying wasn’t good enough to be repeated as stated or written on the board verbatim during class notes.
My thinking has been that such switching of language could lead to decreased participation from students:
When I speak, she changes my words. This must mean that my answers are wrong. I should stop speaking so I don’t sound stupid.
I challenged the student teacher to make an effort to repeat answers as given and start writing them on the board verbatim.
As I read the second essay in Eleanor Duckworth’s “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. I’m starting to question this thinking. Discussing the work of one linguist, Duckworth writes:
If the children were asked to repeat a sentence of a form that did not correspond to their grammar (for instance, “I asked Alvin whether he knows how to play basketball”), they repeated the sentence, but with their own grammar (“I asked Alvin do he know how to play basketball”). It was not the words they retained, it was the sense. Then the sense was translated back into words, words that said the same thing but were not the same words.
That sound you might be hearing is my brain bubbling with questions:
- If we accept that children’s retention of meaning, but discarding of words is a valid communication of meaning, does the same hold true for teacher’s repetition of children’s words?
- Given the power structure of the classroom, does the teacher’s re-phrasing of a student’s response mean something different (or negative) than a student’s re-phrasing?
- When do we decided re-phrasing student responses is teaching and when do we decide not to in favor of letting students know they’re free to share and expand on ideas?
I don’t have answers here, and would definitely benefit from hearing how other people think about how they accept student answers.
What does this look like in your practice?