Friday, July 27, 2012

Opening Minds: Chapters 7-9

I have enjoyed participating in cyberPD as a means to reflect to participate in a collective response/reflection/conversation about Peter Johnston's Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives. Laura Komos is hosting the last section of the book. The conversation is already well underway as it started Wednesday. Johnston's thoughts are also featured on Stenhouse's summer series this week. I highly recommend his post as well as the others in the series.

My thoughts on chapters 7-9...

Development Links
While reading the book I have been thinking a lot about implications for my 6th-8th grade classroom as well as college courses that I teach, specifically a development class that I will be teaching this fall. Last fall as I was teaching it for the first time, I began to align some of the previous assignments with InTASC Standards as play a role in our university's re-accreditation process. In Standard #1: Learner Development, the following areas are highlighted: cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical. One obvious shift in wording is the lack of specifically highlighting moral development. I am not sure why that is the case, but as a result, I brushed over it rather than going in depth with it.

I have been thinking about it a lot this year though, wondering if it was one of those areas that just because the standards do not specifically highlight it does not mean that I should not focus on it in class. I think that the rationale might be that it is woven into some of the other areas; however, it also seems like having it under umbrella terms rather than its own specific category can deemphasize the importance.

While reading chapter 7, Moral Agency: Moral Development and Civic Engagement I continued my thinking about this aspect a lot. When talking about the current context of education emphasizing academics, Johnston stated, "Whether we like it or not, children are acquiring 'character' and dispositions toward civic engagement (or not) as we teach them about history, literacy, math, and science. Their moral development doesn't just stop because we choose not to think about it" (p. 81).

Reading the book has come at a perfect time as I have been reflecting on how I will shape the development course this fall, what to keep, what to change, what to improve from last fall. Johnston's words have really helped me think about the course. I mentioned in my initial reflections that I would be reading aloud some excerpts to my class. I will definitely be sharing aspects related to moral development, such as:

  • "Morals are largely normative. We learn what to attend to and what to ignore--what we value--and how to act. What we choose to discuss with children and how we discuss it shapes these norms" (pp. 82-83). 
  • "Routinely raising for discussion issues of fairness in the world and in the classroom establishes a norm: It is something that we care about in the community" (p. 83). 
  • "[...] but the extension to equity and race played an important role beyond helping the children to generalize and remember. It increased their moral reach--the breadth of individuals to whom our moral commitments extend" (p. 84). 
  • "[...] the teachers's response framed as a request with a logic emphasizing the consequences for others, offers a more symmetrical relationship. While not eliminating the teacher's authority, it offers a moral choice that relies less on subordination" (p. 87). 
  • "We tend to view conflicts in the classroom as simply distractions from academic learning, so we try to eliminate them as quickly as possible by invoking our authority as teachers. This might get us back to academics more quickly, but at the cost of reducing the moral authority and commitment of the students" (p. 91). 
Of course, there were other quotes that stood out to me, and I will be reading them in the context of a bigger section, but the quotes above provide a snapshot into what I thought was so powerful about his thoughts. Students in my development class this fall will continue on to a practicum and coursework in the winter and spring, both including a classroom dynamics course each term. Development really lays the foundation for how teachers set up the classroom community and the decisions they make. I want them to have Johnston's words tumbling around in their minds as they move forward in the program. 

Teacher Links
As a teacher, I continue to think about implications for better understanding my students and the impact that the words I choose and the way I set up the classroom has on them. Of course, everything that I mentioned above as being thought provoking for pre-service teachers has implications for my own teaching. The conclusion of chapter 7 stated, "These are the threads that we are morally bound to weave into classroom life. They are a foundation for democratic living" (p. 92). I like that image once again of threads, of thinking about how over time we set the tone for what we value. In chapter 6, I also appreciated that Johnston talked about the threat of stereotype impacting students who tend to envision themselves through a fixed mindset when it comes to testing. 

I loved the emphasis in chapter 8 on the power and role of thinking together. Through reading different workshop resource, I have already been thinking about the power of oral rehearsing and social interactions more in depth for the last few years of my career. Johnston once again extended my existing thoughts. As with other sections of the book the way that he wove in research studies to illustrate points was powerful. He has a way with sharing studies and highlighting why the findings are so beneficial. Needless to say, in this chapter, I have many notes in the margins. 

In chapter 9 I noted how Johnston is always thinking about the long-term, the impact of how we set up our classrooms on the futures of our students. This is so vital in education, supporting a vision for looking beyond standardized test scores into thinking about what really is important. Reading Johnston's words reaffirms the importance of this mindset. I especially loved Johnston's thoughts about inspiring students to be teachers in their worlds and how this links back to democratic thinking. He stated, "Imagine the implications of twelve (or eight) years of this instruction as these children become parents and teachers" (p. 112). I found the section Teaching for Economic Survival as particular powerful (starting on page 113). Once again this links beautifully with workshop mindsets, such as the saying teach the writer, not the writing. Johnston's words made me think of another layer of teaching students as people vs. content area. 

Concluding Call To Action
I smiled when I got to the last line of the book. I thought of the implicit ...What are you going to do about it? As such, he helped me to continue my thinking about my role in the grand scheme of the world of education, thinking about how my day to day actions will impact much more than my students lives as readers and writers. 


  1. Amanda,

    I loved the last line of the book, too. Since I finished the book, I have not stopped thinking about what I am going to do about it. The book has my mind spinning. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Funny, I just smiled when I read Peter's last line and had a similar reaction to your comment about the implicit, "What are you going to do about it?" So true. Putting all of this thinking, learning, and conversation to use in the fall will be the real challenge. There has been so much to consider and reconsider over the course of our conversations.

    The conversation you could have around the 5 quotes you pulled out for your development class will be powerful.