How to Talk so Kids can Learn at Home and School

I recently read How to Talk so Kids can Learn at Home and School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book provides insightful examples and strategies on how teachers can resolve communication conflicts that will leave the student empowered rather than powerless and ashamed. According to the authors, there ‘is a direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave. When kids feel right, they’ll behave right. How do we help them feel right? By accepting their feelings’ (p.23). As educators, we need to strive to cultivate an environment that encourage students, invite cooperation, and build natural desire to learn. I really enjoyed chapter 4 – Solving Problems Together: Six Steps That Engage Children’s Creativity and Commitment. This chapter provides teachers a step-by-step strategy to create a community of learners. By establishing this community, students will feel empowered and it will establish a safe space where each child is valued. Below are the six steps to create this community:

  • Listen to your students’ feelings and needs.
  • Summarize their point of view.
  • Express your feelings and needs
  • Invite the class to brainstorm with you to find a solution.
  • Write down all ideas – without evaluating.
  • Together decide which ideas we plan to use and how we plan to implement them.

By reframing conversations that focus on solutions rather than problems, teachers guide students to desirable behaviours that empower them. Student-teacher conversations will nourish a respectful learning environment where both the teacher and students can flourish. Moreover, instead of evaluating what a student has done, you should describe it. For example, when a student succeeds at an assignment, task or activity, rather than evaluating using words such as ‘good job’, etc. describe what the student did correctly and how they succeeded. This encourages the student to strive in learning, and builds their confidence. Furthermore, the authors assert that teachers should not label academic ability (above average, mediocre, brilliant, etc.) but rather every child needs to be seen as a learner and encouraged to experience the joy of intellectual discovery and the satisfaction of making progress – however slow or fast’ (p.212). The essence of teaching is the relationships we develop with our students, and language is a powerful tool to cultivate these relationships. As this quote from the book illustrates – ‘the difference between the words that demoralize and those that give courage; between the words that trigger confrontation and those that invite cooperation; between the words that make it impossible for a child to think or concentrate and the words that free the natural desire to learn’. To end, I am going to leave with a quote to why this book is an essential read for teachers:

“As teachers our goal is greater than just passing on facts and information. If we want our students to be caring human beings, then we need to respond to them in caring ways. If we value our children’s dignity, then we need to model methods that affirm their dignity. If we want to send out into the world young people who respect themselves and respect others, then we need to begin by respecting them. And we can’t do that unless we show respect for what it is they feel.”


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