Change this one thing…

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Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to.

 “The objective of education is to increase possibilities for the child to invent and discover.” (Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children)

We know that curiosity leads to learning. As teachers, we want to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level. Yet, we kill it slowly, every day.

“What colour is that?” (when painting a picture)

 “What is the name of that insect?” (when looking at a bug outside)

“How many blocks are there?” (when building a tower)

“Is 5+6 really 12?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

In order to maintain the sense of wonder that children have in discovering, listen to them, observe what they do, and nudge them forward with thoughts, and statements of observation. Enter into the wonder yourself.

“Tell me about your picture.” (when painting a picture)

“Look! The caterpillar is munching on a leaf!” (when looking at a bug outside)

“That tower is tall! I wonder how tall it can get before it falls down.” (when building a tower)

“Can you explain your thinking here?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

Therefore, a powerful change to make in your interactions with children is to avoid the temptation of expecting children to give you back what you already know, i.e….

Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to!

Stop! Sit! Go! Do! Eat! Don’t!

We were fortunate to have ‘Teacher Tom‘ at our school last weekend for an Early Years Conference. I  believe that everything we talked about that weekend applies to all ages. A topic that left a lasting impression on all of us was ‘The power of language.’

Imagine you spouse/partner/parent/child/friend commanding you : “Vacuum the carpet!” “Wash the dishes!” “Mow the lawn!” “Make dinner!” “Sit down.” “Eat your food now.” My reaction to that would be to turn around and walk away. You are not my boss! Stop commanding me.

Tom Hobson (aka ‘Teacher Tom’) told us that 80% of what we say to our students are commands. We are constantly directing them, “Do this. Now do that. Go there. Stop. Sit. Eat. Don’t.” etc. We say we want to raise responsible children that can think for themselves, but do we give them an opportunity to do so? It seems like we are always telling them what to do.

Here is something we can do to help us reflect on our own choice of language. Put four pieces of masking tape on your arm labeled “Directive” “Informative” “Questions” “Social Statements.” Throughout the teaching day, tally everything you say to the students.

Directive Statements: when you tell someone what to do.

Informative Statements: factual information (e.g. “It is Music class.” “John is sitting on the carpet.” “We all agreed to be kind to each other.” “We will use our Math notebooks today.”)

Questions: “What do you think?” “Where is your book?” “I wonder…?”

Social Statements:  e.g. How are you? Good morning! Thank you!


Reflect on what you are saying and how you are saying it. Can your directive statements be turned into informative statements?

Teacher Tom writes about the Language of Command  here.  It’s a good read.