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The Effect of Teacher Language on Creating a Productive Learning Environment and Shaping
the Identities of Children in the Elementary Classroom
Kristen Janski
Vanderbilt University


My capstone essay focuses on the importance of effective teacher language in the classroom and its affect on shaping positive student identities. Specific language, tone, attitude, and behavior that focus on positively reminding, redirecting, and reinforcing students are essential factors that influence the intellectual and emotional development of a child. First, I will focus on learners and learning by exploring how theories concerning the development of children correspond with the language teachers’ use in the classroom. Interactions between children and adults fundamentally shape and mold children’s identities as learners. Positive, caring language which strengthens individuals and builds a community creates a safe and productive learning environment. Specifically I focus on the importance of the teacher’s tone and behavior which not only serve as a model for appropriate behavior, but also emphasizes genuine interest and concern for the well-being of each individual. In curriculum and instruction, I call upon researchers whose findings emphasize the importance of instructing children using reminding, redirecting language. Finally, my paper focuses on alternative, authentic assessment which allows students to present knowledge through different learning styles and modalities. Through positive feedback and observation teachers should emphasize the process of learning rather than the final outcome of a test.

Dialogue…connects us to each other and helps to maintain caring relationships. It also provides us with the knowledge of each other that forms a foundation for response in caring. Caring (acting as a carer) requires knowledge and skill as well as characteristic attitudes. We respond most effectively as carers when we understand what the other needs and the history of this need…Continuing dialogue builds up a substantial knowledge of one another that serves to guide our responses (Noddings, 1992, p. 23).

Language is one of the most essential tools known to man. It connects us to people halfway around the world, produces countless different dialects, and gives individuals the opportunities to not only shape the lives of others, but express themselves freely. In my life, dialogue is an element that continues to mold and shape the person I want to be. As a young, eager elementary student, I found myself constantly seeking verbal approval. Kind words from parents, praise from teachers, and of course compliments from peers were of extreme importance to me. However, I did not realize the importance of language until I graduated from elementary school. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Messec, harped on specific words and phrases she felt were imperative in the human language. When asked “Can I go to the bathroom?” she would respond wittingly, “Can you?” After a while the puzzled faces went away and each of us always asked, “May I please go to the bathroom?” She taught me the importance of the way you say things and the drastic change one word could make.

The next year my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Linscott, exploited an alternative use of language in the classroom. Constantly demeaning the class, pointing out the faults of individuals, and specifically telling me that I needed to stop being a “know-it-all” was a daily occurrence. The bus ride home in fourth grade induced crying and running into the arms of my mother feeling like a helpless failure at school. It was at this moment I realized the impact language can have on shaping the identities of children and the importance of carefully crafting your words, especially in the classroom.

As an aspiring teacher, it is my desire to instill knowledge, values, and a sense of self-worth in each individual that enters my class. During my time at Peabody, particular teachers and situations have infused similar characteristics in me through inspiring conversations and classes. The use of thought-provoking projects and insightful experiences are valuable in diverse classroom settings. One teacher in particular welcomed me to a new school and new town with open arms. She took me in, made me feel safe, and encouraged me to embrace my new surroundings and grow to the best of my ability. This teacher was my nurturer and exemplifies what I believe all teachers should exhibit. Teachers are nurturers whose mission is to develop the well-being of children. Regardless of the age, it is the responsibility of a teacher to plant a seed in each child at the beginning of their educational careers. With time, love, and care these seeds should begin to sprout characteristics of knowledge, intelligence, confidence, and determination. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that the seeds are able to grow and flourish in their setting. The best way to ensure the care of each seed is through communication. It is the relationship and communication I have experienced between professors and students over the past year that allows me to formulate my own opinion about the words I will utilize in my own teaching profession.

Over the past six months, my presence in two specific classrooms has greatly influenced my thoughts about the role and specific duties of the teacher, more specifically, my thoughts on teacher language. Teacher language refers to the use of words, phrases, and tone to help students engage in active learning and create positive self-identities. It incorporates aspects of authenticity, directness, faith in children, action, and brevity (Denton, 2007).

In my first practicum placement, my teacher grabbed her student’s attention by yelling or screaming. She frequently threatened them with calls home to parents or behavioral consequences such as “silent lunch.” Her common phrases included, “You know you are never going to get anywhere in life if you act like that!” and “If you do not get back in your seat in two seconds I am going to call home!” It seemed the students were unaware of her expectations and only responded when screamed at. This clearly caused them to fear and resent their presence in the classroom while simultaneously helping them create a poor self-image. Students felt inadequate and helpless in the classroom. They were fearful of upsetting the teacher rather than excited about learning. The teacher was destroying their developing identity as an intelligent, inquisitive explorer.

On the other hand, the teacher in my first student teaching placement utilized practices from Love and Logic. This emphasized shared control, shared thinking, balancing consequences with empathy, and maintaining self-concept. The rules include using enforceable boundaries, providing choices with limits, and applying consequences with empathy (Fay, J. & Fay, C., 2002). My teacher focused on encouraging the child through open-ended questioning, positive reinforcements, and creating a safe environment where students felt liberated to speak freely. By observing the differences between the uses of teacher language in the contrasting settings, I realized the importance of specific language in the classroom and direct actions of the teacher with regards to its affect on shaping students’ identities.

My comprehensive essay will address learners and learning, the learning environment, curriculum and instructional strategies, and assessment in the content area of teacher language in elementary education. Specific language, tone, attitude, and behavior that focus on positively reminding, redirecting, and reinforcing students are essential factors that effect the intellectual and emotional development of a child. The purpose for this paper is to examine how teachers utilize these factors in the educational field and the effect they have on a child’s intellectual and emotional growth in the classroom. Through extensive research, I will show the connection between specific theories of effective teacher language and my current understanding of teacher language and the implications it will have in my educational profession.

Learners and Learning

Developmental Theory

When researching the impact of teacher language on learners and learning, it is essential to first consider the development of young children with regards to language use. What do we know about the development and learning of young children? In what situations and with what contexts do children best respond to information? Because as teachers, our language will inevitably effect and shape the type of learner each student becomes, it is essential to understand how their minds work and how they will respond to the world of education. According to Slavin (2006), Vygotsky’s theory of learning focuses on two main ideas. First, we understand intellectual development in terms of historical and cultural contexts in which children experience. Second, development relies on a sign systems that help children communicate and solve problems. Incorporated into a sign system is a culture’s language and writing style. In opposition to Piaget, Vygotsky believes that cognitive development links to input from others and the self-regulation of a child is dependent on the communicative interactions between child and adult (Wertsch, 2008). This theory directly relates to the idea that children develop and grow through the interactions they have with other human beings and society as a whole. While interactions with others absolutely include their peers, the interactions we will specifically focus on in this paper are with teachers.

Vygotsky’s theory suggests that a child’s learning precedes development meaning that learning relies on interaction from others which allows for the transfer of knowledge and growth of the child through mastering skills. The four main ideas include self-regulation, private speech, the zone of proximal development/scaffolding, and cooperative learning (Slavin, 2006). Unlike Piaget, there are no levels to be “accomplished” or tests to pass. Development and growth solely depend on a child’s ability to comprehend and internalize information with regards to relationships built amongst individuals and interactions with language in society.

Shaping Positive Attitudes

When students enter a classroom on the first day of school, it is imperative that teachers understand the idea of how children develop, not only to get to know their students, but to assist each child’s journey towards identifying themselves as a learner. Teachers need to understand the words they use affect how that child changes and grows intellectually and emotionally. First and foremost, language in the classroom is a way to identify each unique individual and celebrate their differences. Teachers must know their learners and build relationships in order to ensure teacher language is available for practice. Thus, if a teacher does not build a respectful, trusting relationship with each student, the child will have no concrete reason to listen to the teacher. According to Johnston (2004) language is not merely representational but it is also constitutive meaning that it has the power to actually create realities and encourage unique identities. Labeling a child by saying “You are so smart” is extremely different from saying “You are so thoughtful.” One labels the child as permanently existing at an intellectual state that may not be able to change, while the other offers a compliment geared towards the affective perspective.

It is the idea that teachers use language to build positive attitudes that enables children to succeed in the classroom. Focusing on direct and authentic language that encourages the child to think independently and creatively rather than simply searching for the correct answer builds a sense of autonomy and a positive identity. Showing faith in children’s abilities and strengths means taking the time to recognize and acknowledge the things they are doing well. Specific observations and comments show a child that not only do we have confidence in them as a person, but we also have confidence in their ability to think and solve problems for themselves (Denton, 2006). Once again it is necessary to be specific and direct when shaping a child’s attitude. Instead of saying “I like the way you did that picture” you give encouraging and open-ended support explaining, “I noticed you are trying lots of different colors and it looks beautiful.” Instead of building the child’s identity through their dependence on your approval, you are demonstrating how you have noticed their strengths and persistence in the classroom. Focusing on developing a child’s attitude through using explicit language allows us as teachers to help the child grow without hindering their independence.

Intrinsic Motivation through Praise and Feedback

When distributing praise and feedback it is once again important to be clear and direct with your words. Ways to praise a child include saying less and asking more. Rather than simply telling a child they did a good job; ask them to explain what they have done, or why they have added that detail. This opens a conversation that allows the student to feel proud of their work, which shapes positive attitudes, and allows them to reflect on their work rather than simply accept a compliment (Miller & Tovey, 1996). As teachers, we give either fixed praise or malleable praise. Fixed praise focuses on intelligence as a trait that exists while malleable praise highlights the possibility of change and progress in learning (VanDeWeghe, 2003). In our language as a teacher, we must emphasize malleable praise by focusing on building a child’s confidence through positive feedback. Rather than highlighting faults and distributing bad grades, which suggests that they have failed because they are dumb, we must encourage a child to continue problem solving which will build their confidence in their own abilities. Through praise and feedback that encourages intrinsic motivation, teacher language helps create positive attitudes and shape identities of learners in the classroom. How students perceive their teacher’s ability to communicate effectively is a direct representation of students’ intrinsic motivation (Noels, Clement, & Pelletier, 1999). Many times, students enter school intrinsically motivated because they are excited about learning and curious about the world they live in. However, as time goes by this feeling slowly diminishes. As teachers, the language we use in our classrooms should incite the curiosity of young children and create an inert passion for exploration. Manipulating our words in a positive way results in intriguing a child’s curiosity. “Let’s see how many color words we can find” or “How many different cloud shapes can you see in the sky?” allows us to spark a child’s interest by simply changing our words. Instead of demanding that a child write the names of all the colors or identify the names of clouds and shapes, you are teaching with the use of playful games that help them see learning as an enjoyable and exciting task rather than a demanding chore (Marshall, 1987).

Language motivates the child inherently and emphasizes performing for no other reason than to feel good about yourself and the satisfaction of completing the action (Noels, Clement, & Pelletier, 1999). Focusing the attention on the child and accomplishing the task simply for their own pleasure encourages intrinsic motivation. Finding ways to intrigue the children with your words and engages them in learning. In Dr. Hofwolt’s SCED 3250, we discussed the importance of the learning cycle. The first phase, exploration, explains that the job of the teacher is to use exciting, authentic, engaging language to grab the student’s attention and spark their interest. Describing a disastrous problem in the environment that only the students can help solve, or posing a conundrum the children must investigate helps create curiosity within the learner. It is with carefully planned words that we can help shape these essential characteristics in growing learners.

Like Vygotsky, I believe children’s intellectual and emotional development is dependent on interactions with peers and especially adults. In practice, I feel that it is necessary to recognize the importance of your role as not only a teacher, but also mentor, guide, and role model. Everything said in the classroom is going to shape and mold the young minds of our students. As I anticipate my first year in the classroom, I understand the importance of my language in shaping positive identities and encouraging life-long learning. Being incredibly observant and vocal about each individual student is necessary. Noticing that Sally put forth a lot of effort on her artwork and asking her to explain how she drew those butterflies to the class encourages a positive self-image for her. It also relays my confidence in her as a student. Letting students know that you care about each one of them and believe they have the power within them to become exceptional students is how we help create students’ identities.

Likewise, the use of praise and feedback is also critical as a first year teacher. In my own experience, I am more likely to tell students they are always doing a good job rather than being explicit. It is important to tell students exactly what they are doing well and ask them to reflect on their own work simultaneously. Recognizing students’ achievements while deterring them from looking to you for approval is the main goal. Fostering a sense of curiosity and intrigue about school is another way I will craft my language to intrinsically motivate students. Instead of asking children to read chapter five in their science book, I want to take them on a journey through the solar system asking them to ponder what could have possibly happened to Pluto? Was it stolen? Did it disappear? Asking them to become scientists responsible for discovering the answers to mysterious questions keeps education enjoyable as they grow older.
Learning Environment

Tone and Attitude
As part of building the case for showing how teacher language, tone, attitude, and behavior highlight the importance of the learning environment in the classroom, I will call upon Jane Nelson, Jim Fay, and Charles Fay. In what ways does teacher language specifically effect the creation of a classroom environment and community? Are there specific ways to ensure that we foster students learning? Nelson (2002) focuses on the importance of creating a safe environment where the teacher is a nurturer and students collaborate with teachers on decisions. This safe environment inspires student’s excitement of life and learning rather than induce fear of humiliation and failure. Both tone and attitude are essential components when creating a safe and welcoming environment for your students.

Nel Noddings (1992) believes that individual strengths should be cultivated in an environment of caring, not one of competition. Specific ideas are caring for the self, for the inner circle, for strangers and distant others, for the human-made world, and for the world of ideas. Her mission is to show that education created through caring, positive attitudes produces a more effective learning environment. Modeling a warm, caring tone shows your students the acceptable way to talk to one another in the classroom. While there is most certainly a time for a more stern voice, it is important at the beginning of the year to set goals and expectations. The specific tone of voice lets our students know how we are feeling even more than the actual words. For example, if we say, “You are all going to get along” in a matter-of-fact kind of voice, it defeats the purpose of establishing friendship in the classroom. Children are particularly responsive to the different tones of our voice so it is imperative to match the tone of our voice to the objective our words are trying to convey (Denton, 2006).

Similar to Nelson’s philosophy, Jim and Charles Fay (2002) have created their own philosophy which emphasizes the importance of setting limits with enforceable statements within the learning environment and quick and easy preventative interventions that help students own and solve their problems. This is imperative when creating an environment where students will interact and grow throughout the year. The quickest way to lose power with your students is by telling them what to do and acting as the authoritative, all-knowing power in the classroom. With enforceable statements such as “I assign full credit to students who complete their papers” and “I will begin speaking when my class is quiet” set limits that students can follow and give explicit directions rather than vague statements (Fay, J. & Fay, C., 2002). Instead of creating a fearful environment based on demands and unattainable rules, you are placing students in position of power by allowing them to make decisions that affect actions and roles in the class. This once again creates a learning environment of equality and respect which fosters the development of autonomy and self-efficacy in children through a sense of belonging (Deci & Flaste, 1995).

Behavior in the Community

After you have decided as a teacher the ways you will deliver your words, it is important to understand how to use these words to create a safe and welcoming community within your classroom. Specific phrases used to address students can drastically change the way they interact with one another. Teachers should initiate conversation, in a positive and caring tone, that invites children to know each other’s names, take turns, cooperate, work together, solve conflicts, and always use polite and respectful language (Charney, 2002). Once again, modeling these interactions between teacher and student will allow students to learn and begin actively engaging in similar interactions among each other.

Setting expectations at the beginning of the year is essential when creating a learning community and shaping the behaviors of your students. While each community will establish their own expectations, it is imperative as the teacher to follow specific guidelines. One essential aspect is say what you mean and mean what you say (Denton, 2006). Being direct, following through with actions, and the immediacy of your response are elements that relay to your children your words are reliable and meaningful. If an expectation set for the year is to line up quietly or you must sit back down, you must always follow through with your actions. Suzy lines up noisily, you ask her to sit back down. If she does not respond, and you just leave it alone, then students will begin to observe your “flip-flopping” behavior (Brady, Forton, Porter, & Wood, 2003). This causes language to lose meaning, hence diminishing the effectiveness of your expectations and respect built amongst the community. Using direct language and following through with consequential actions increases the validity of our words and response elicited from students.

In addition to creating an effective learning community in the classroom, language also works to develop each individual’s identity within the community. When children feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment, and with one another, they can reach their full potential. Vygotsky defines this as working in their “zone of proximal development,” which is achieved through a positive self-image and confidence in the learner (Denton, 2006). Identities such as explorer, researcher, and assistant are specific roles used for shaping children’s participation in the community. Giving a child responsibility and holding them responsible for their actions develop this sense of autonomy and purpose in the classroom since identity ties to both uniqueness and affiliation (Gee, 1996). Using phrases like “What a talented young artist you are” and “I bet you’re proud of yourself” highlights the role each child is assuming while simultaneously allowing them to reflect on their own work (Johnston, 2004).

Creating a safe and healthy learning environment is one of the most important jobs as a first year teacher. Throughout my time at Peabody, teachers have instructed me about positive ways to set up the classroom, create a community, and set an enriching tone for the rest of the year. Teacher language is the key in the equation of creating this type of classroom. In my first year, I will ensure my tone consistently matches the purpose of my words. While I have always wanted to be the sweet, nice, teacher, I understand that there is a time and a place to be firm. At the beginning of the year it is imperative to convey a sense of love and respect to your students. It is also important to let each child know you are there to nurture and care for them as well as to teach and educate.

Finding a balance is difficult, but attainable through carefully crafting your words. From day one I will always mean what I say. Making sure my students trust and believe that when I say something I will follow through with my actions. Creating a safe and loving community in my classroom is also a priority. I want my students to get along and work well with one another. Extensive modeling through language and behavior will hopefully transfer from my interactions with each student to their interactions with one another. I truly believe students excel academically when they feel comfortable emotionally. Ensuring I relay this sense of trust and comfort through my language is an important goal as a first year teacher.

Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

The Three R’s Behavioral Effect

In my opinion, an ideal classroom focuses on discovery learning where students are at the center and the curriculum revolves around their specific interests. A constructivist approach centers around the idea that curriculum should come from what students are interested in from their direct experiences and questions about their environment (Gutek, 2004). How do we know what students are interested in? How can we ensure that the questions we ask are enabling authentic responses? As part of building the case for showing how questioning, both academic and behavioral, affects curriculum and teaching strategies, I will call upon Denton (2007). He discusses the importance of three essential questioning techniques; reminding, reinforcing, and redirecting. The specific language utilized to enforce these questions can drastically change the response elicited from students.

Expectations exist in daily routines, discovery learning, and special events in the classroom. As teachers, we must ensure that our students clearly understand our expectations which foster learning. Many times, teachers will point out strengths and faults without thinking about the repercussions. With expectations, the language must be direct, explicit, and authentic in order for students to understand what they have done. Effective reinforcing behavior focuses on highlighting a child’s strengths and creating positive self-identities. Many times when a child does something good we simply say, “Good Job!” and move on. However, this is ineffective because it does not tell the child what they have done well, but simply emphasizes teacher approval which actually decreases intrinsic motivation in the long run (Deci & Flaste, 1995). Instead, using reinforcing language focuses on specific behaviors that the child recognizes and can continue to peruse. It is a way to coach children on key behaviors, focus on particular academic strengths, and make children more aware of their actions (Denton, 2007). Using a warm and professional tone while employing key phrases such as “I noticed” and “I see” combined with specific descriptions of the actions will allow students to feel proud of themselves and their ability to achieve in the classroom rather than seeking approval from the teacher, which once again emphasizes positive identities and self-efficacy.

While reinforcing language highlights the good behavior of students, how can we continue to help students remember classroom expectations? How do we remind without repeating ourselves numerous times and losing credibility of our language? Reminding language is most effective when given before students have the opportunity to complete a task improperly or veer off-task. Rather than telling the student what they should be doing, using prompts and clues for them to remember and retell conveys a teacher’s faith in the student to make the right decision on their own (Denton, 2007). Before activities, it is imperative to focus on reminding language so the teacher does not have to interrupt and badger students throughout the lesson. This allows for the child to take responsibility for his or her actions and take preventative measures on his or her own without waiting for the teacher to correct him. Asking a child “What should you be doing” or “What kind of voices and manners should we use” shows the teacher’s faith in the children to make the right decision which develops students’ autonomy and positive self-image.

Another aspect of reminding language focuses on activating prior knowledge (Johnston, 2006). Helping children remember previous schemas in order to help prevent similar problems in new ones is incredibly effective. It opens up the possibility for new connections and prevents reoccurring situations. For example, if a child is about to begin difficult independent work you can say “Think about how you focused last time we did this.” Giving children the opportunity to make independent connections once again builds their self-esteem and helps them hold themselves responsible for their actions rather than relying on the teacher for the answer.

Finally, it is inevitable that children will veer off task and disregard the rules and expectations. In my practicum placement, I observed yelling, screaming, and threats when children were off task. Their esteem was diminished and identities broken because the teacher made them feel inadequate and failures in the classroom. What do we do when a child breaks one of the rules or does not meet our expectations? How do we respond without breaking their spirits? Redirecting language is an effective and positive alternative when addressing student’s mistakes. In the case of my practicum teacher, she caused the students to feel upset for their actions and encouraged self-helplessness. Instead, teachers need to be proactive in helping children practice appropriate behaviors for meeting expectations (Charney, 2002).

For example, if an expectation is for Carol to not run down the stairs and he does, many teachers would respond, “Carol, don’t run in the halls you’re in trouble” or “That’s against the rule, do not do it again.” This highlights the bad behavior, and condemns Carol for her actions. Instead, redirecting allows for proactive language to help identify the expectation and hold children responsible for their actions. Using a firm but still caring tone is essential when redirecting. Teachers should never ask or give the child the option of doing a task such as “Could you sit down now” or “Please stop talking.” Direct, authentic, firm but calm statements allow the child to understand you are addressing the problem, but also still care about their well-being (Denton, 2007). Instead a simple, “Do not run, walk” addresses the problem and redirects the child to the appropriate behavior. This helps encourage students to develop a desire to do the right thing without fear of punishment.

Open-ended Academic Questioning

According to Slavin (2006), Blooms’ Taxonomy serves as a guide when developing the intellectual skills of children. Moving from simple (knowledge) to complex (evaluation) enables children to process thoughts contextually and enhance cognitive development. Open-ended questioning is a form of teacher language that transfers academic responsibility from the teacher to the student building on simple objectives to more complex thoughts. Utilizing effective open-ended questions allows the teacher to assist the child in developing and utilizing higher order thing skills to synthesize and evaluate information (Slavin, 2006).

The responses from children guide further instruction and should move the conversation forward. According to Walmsley & Allington (2006) teachers use their knowledge of literacy development to decide where to go next, when to intervene and when not to, and how to model and explain strategies in ways that children can make their own inferences. The purpose of open-ended questions is to assist your children with developing their own comprehension strategies and becoming independent thinkers. Working within the zone of proximal development and knowing how quickly to move from simple to complex questioning is reliant on students’ responses.

Embedded questions are another form of open-ended questions that offers extra support for struggling readers who need practice in thinking their way through while reading (Fordham, 2006). Embedded questioning helps bridge the gap between the strategies they can use to develop questions as well as help encourage self-monitoring skills. It is the teacher’s job to guide students understanding with questions designed to help them think more effectively (Fordham, 2006). Serving as a guide helps develop self-efficacy and a sense of urgency within each individual student that helps build confidence as a reader and a learner.

In my own experience I realize the importance of questioning both behavioral and academic instruction in the classroom. Before attending Vanderbilt, my philosophy of teaching focused on teachers as always sweet, caring, and kind to their students. That meant never raising their voice, always asking politely, never punishing a child or making them feel bad. While much of my philosophy still holds strong, I found that the way I was actually putting my philosophy in practice was ineffective. Many times I would ask children to sit quietly and threaten to take time off from recess but never actually follow through for fear they would not like me. I was also constantly asking children to do things repeatedly. My language drastically changed after my experience in EDUC 3952 and second student teaching placement. I, along with professors and classroom teachers frequently utilized phrases such as “What is the appropriate behavior when coloring” and “Show me what you need to be doing right now.”

My first grade mentor teacher was one of the kindest, most nurturing woman I have ever met, yet utilized effective, direct, language with a caring tone and authentic direction. Her students loved her dearly, but also listened the first time. If they were off-task, she would pair a logical consequence such as moving back to their desk from the carpet with the phrase, “I’m sorry, your actions have caused you to lose that privilege.” I learned that holding children responsible for their actions not only helped them grow and develop socially and academically, but also increased productive instructional time and decreased interruptions. In my classroom, I will set clear expectations at the beginning of the year and utilize reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting questioning paired with open-ended questions which encourage creativity and self-efficacy amongst students. Although difficult, it is imperative to focus on the phrases we use and the words we choose to speak to our students. As shown above, the tone of our voice or exclusion of a word can make a world of difference. Most importantly, I want my students to know that I care, but at the same time respect me as their teacher. My expectations will be clear and I empower a student’s independence and development of autonomy and positive image of a successful life-long learner.


Alternative Assessments

In an ideal world, assessment should be part of the journey, not the destination. Sadly, there is an incredible emphasis placed on high-stakes testing that has cased the curriculum to become the test (Lindquist, 2002). This forces teachers to move away from discovery learning and towards memorizing information for the test. Instead, teachers should focus on ways to encourage students to learn for their own benefit rather than achieving a specific score. Teacher language is a key element when differentiating testing? With high-stakes testing, the teacher need not say anything because they are simply distributing tests and wishing students good luck. However, with alternative testing and performance based assessments, teachers have the opportunity to allow students to explore and demonstrate their skills and strengths in accordance with their desired learning style. Teachers guide students in their decisions but also need to explain that not every child fits into a single mold.

Alternative testing is an array of different ways students can demonstrate their knowledge without taking a multiple-choice exam (Lindquist, 2002). A few examples of alternative assessment include response journals, group projects, and debates. Each of these formative assessments allows for the teacher to participate in meaningful discourse with the students either in a conversational form with the response journals or positive feedback with a project. These active conversations allow the teacher to guide students in the right way instead of simply branding each individual with a fixed number that matches a grade. Teacher language plays a key role in this practice because it enables students to engage in meaningful activities that demonstrate their achievements without the stress of making a certain percentage or grade. Ongoing, formative assessment allows the teacher to individualize future lessons based on current student understanding and progress (Mueller, 2001).

Assessment should guide instruction, not serve as a cumulative test at the end of the period for a final grade. In my practicum experience, the teacher would constantly bark, “If you don’t study, you’re going to fail, and that’s not my problem” or “You’re never going to succeed in the world if you don’t pass your final tests.” These statements were not only demeaning but incredibly discouraging for the children. Children began to fear tests, which should not be the case. Instead, teachers should focus on presenting and modeling assessment as a continuous journey using specific phrases and positive reinforcement. Emphasizing choice and freedom rather than a specific correct answer is an essential criterion. Showing children that they can express their knowledge in different ways without fear of failure builds their confidence and diminishes their fear of testing. Teachers should also be observing and commenting as a form of assessment. Continuous questioning and observation allows for evaluation of students progress on a daily basis which helps teachers modify their instruction (Reichel, 1994). Because it is inevitable that high-stakes testing is currently here to stay, we must find ways to encourage our students to learn for the love of learning, and demonstrate their knowledge in their own ways. This helps us prepare kids for standardized testing by teaching for the test, not to the test (Lindquist, 2001).

Positive Attitudes for Testing

An essential component of assessment correlated with teacher language is the way we shape students’ feelings and identities about test-taking. Am I smart? Will I be able to pass this test? What if I can I not take tests? These questions commonly plague our students and it is our jobs to diminish these thoughts and build positive attitudes in the classroom to encourage authentic learning and a life-long passion for education. Instilling a sense of determination in our students through explicit statements and constant encouragement can create positive feelings towards assessment. Identifying students as “good thinkers,” “inquisitive learners,” and “hard workers” builds their confidence in the classroom (Denton, 2007). Downplaying the intensity of high-stakes tests and instead focusing on formative, individualized assessment allows children to choose ways to present their knowledge in modalities that help them succeed.

It is imperative to focus on the strengths of children rather than their weaknesses. Instead of “You need to work harder on studying your spelling words because you did poorly on your tests” we should focus on the positives like “Great job remembering to put the vowels together. Let’s focus on this skill next week.” Instead of chastising them for their lack of achievement on a test, you should highlight their achievement which decreases the fear and loathing of tests.

In my own classroom, I will do my best to ensure that students do not feel anxiety towards tests. As an elementary student, I was constantly nervous about weekly tests because I knew they affected my overall grade. Hours of studying and focusing on simply memorizing words and math facts caused me to slowly forget my true love of learning. My hope for my own students is to see assessment as a continuous journey we embark on together. Progressive projects based on individuals interests, constant observation and feedback, and positive reinforcement will drive my instruction. Rather than instilling fear about high-stakes testing at the end of the year, I will try to create an environment where students have positive identities as learners seeing assessment as a way to “show off” what they have learned.

SSED 3250, taught me the importance of making learning meaningful by connecting assessment to authentic situations. Showing children the connection between what they learn and how they can utilize the skills in the real world gives information a purpose and students a reason to listen and comprehend. My guidelines for assessment will focus on observing, providing specific feedback, and making learning meaningful and authentic. I will always try and find ways to help my students demonstrate their knowledge in a manner that helps them succeed and make connections to the real world. Through individuality and purpose, we can diminish the negative stereotype testing has acquired and get back to the important factor, love of learning for the child.

Conceptual Understandings that will Impact my Practice

Thinking about my experience at Peabody over the past year evokes feelings of admiration, respect, accomplishment, curiosity, and fear. While many of these emotions will continue through my first year of teaching, one anxiety is slowly diminishing; my fear of establishing a healthy and appropriate boundary between friend and teacher. As a student myself, I am constantly aware of my teachers behavior, gestures, tone, facial features, and of course language. At Peabody, I finally realized the purpose of a teacher is to nurturer his or her students in a loving environment by requiring mutual respect and admiration for each other and the learning community. Effective teacher language is what primarily establishes and cements this relationship. Conveying faith in your student’s ability to become brilliant, independent, life-long learners is the most important rule in the classroom.

In the process of completing my Capstone, I consistently thought and reflected about my own implications of teacher language in my classroom with regards to learner, learning environment, curriculum, and assessment. I realize how important my presence in the classroom will be, which is terrifying, but also exhilarating. Vygotsky’s theory claims that social interactions between child and adult are the foundation for educational, emotional, and social development. For this reason, I realize that my everyday interactions with my students will personally affect the way they grow. Carefully crafting my behavior, language, and interactions is essential. The fundamental guidelines I have set for myself is to always be genuine and caring when interacting with my students. Emphasizing each child as an individual with unique strengths will also enable me to help create and shape their positive identities. Each child should be working towards self-efficacy and a desire to learn for the purpose of knowledge.

Choosing my words strategically is also a task I have studied and practiced during my time at Peabody. At the beginning, I found myself known as the “nice” teacher with polite language. I would always ask students politely to stop talking and would remind them three and four times without ever raising my voice or posing any consequences. I also continuously praised my children with “good job” and “you are so smart” because I thought this was beneficial to their self-esteem. However, my time spent in relevant and engaging courses and firsthand experience in the field has allowed me as a student to grow and learn from interactions with knowledgeable adults. Understanding the importance of direct, specific, encouraging language paired with effective teacher questioning using the three R’s (reinforcing, reminding, redirecting) has positively influenced my behavior as a teacher. For my future classroom, I understand the importance of creating a safe environment with nurturing words, but also setting clear and explicit expectations combined with logical consequences. Through determination and desire to consistently utilize effective teacher language, I will help guide and transform my children into autonomous, passionate learners.

By following my heart and developing my passion for educating children, my purpose in life is finally clear. I will be an educator and nurturer whose mission is to grow the well-being of children. The knowledge I have gained in the past twelve months has not only changed my perception of the role of a teacher, but has allowed me to develop into the teacher I have always admired and revered. I will strive to make my words meaningful, genuine, and caring when interacting with my students. My purpose is to create a classroom filled with love and respect where language and communication is the key to creating positive identities and life-long learners.


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