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The Big Fresh September 1, 2018 Listening to Children

Brenda Power

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

                                                                                      Stephen R. Covey

I was enjoying one of those magical moments of teaching, the kind of moment that all teachers live for. I was sitting at a table with some of my first graders and we were writing together. Occasionally, someone would read a line aloud and we’d admire how beautiful it was. Someone else would share an idea and we’d agree that it was brilliant. Or someone would ask a question and we’d generously share our wisdom with our fellow writer. The child who was sitting right next to me stopped, put her pencil down, looked up at me, and said, “Mrs. Frost, how do you make babies?”

I quickly examined my options. What should I say? What should I do? How could I explain it? Should I explain it? Should I suggest that she ask her mother when she gets home? Should I try to distract her, maybe send her off on an errand to sharpen pencils or get more markers? While I was grasping at straws for my next move, the child on the other side of her leaned over, looked at her paper, and said, “Change the /y/ to /i/ and add /-es/.” The child who asked the question thanked her classmate and continued writing. I let out a huge sigh of relief and tried to continue with my writing, too.

This incident occurred decades ago, and I have recounted it many times, always to the complete delight of my audience. Looking back on it, I now see it for what it truly was – a real teaching misstep. A child asked me a question. My first inclination was to give her an immediate answer. It is a rather antiquated view of teaching – the teacher as the all-knowing dispenser of knowledge.

The situation called for more listening, not answers from me. I could have said, “Hmm . . . say more about that,” instead of rushing off in pursuit of the answer. Listening is the most powerful tool in our teacher’s toolbox. Unfortunately, it is often pushed aside for its noisier, more demanding counterpart. Even in situations where the prospect of providing an answer doesn't induce discomfort, we often charge full steam ahead.

I just wonder, how many times have I rattled off answers, instead of allowing children to find their own answers? I wonder how many of “my answers” were quickly forgotten because they came so quickly. How many opportunities were lost for a child to discover something for herself?

This week we look at foundations for literacy learning. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Shari Frost
Contributor, Choice Literacy


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Stepping back to think about the design of quality instruction is essential for any teacher building a strong foundation for learning. Heather Rader looks to brain research and tried-and-true practices to lay out lesson components:


Deb Gaby helps students transition back to school with minilessons and mentor texts that give children a strong sense of the purpose of literacy workshops:


So many wonderful collections of picture books were contributed to the August Picture Book 10 for 10 celebration. This is a fun board to browse as you are thinking about everything from book tubs for your classroom library, to the best books for read aloud early in the year:


Early bird specials end next week for our upcoming online classes on building family connections with Jeninfer Schwanke, working with English language learners with Stella Villalba, and dealing with coaching disasters with Ruth Ayres. These self-paced courses include three-month memberships to Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy and personal responses from the instructors. You can view more details at this link:



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Ruth Ayres explains why we can't assume children who have experienced trauma understand the foundations and routines of how school works:


Jen Schwanke gets berated by a tire shop repair guy for ignoring routine maintenance needs on her bike. That gets her thinking about what needs routine maintenance in elementary classrooms:


Bitsy Parks teaches the foundations of first-grade classroom life through minilessons early in the year:


In this week's video, Gigi McAllister helps fourth-grade reading partners evaluate their success and areas to work on in their partnership:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.