Language to Convey Choice Versus Assignment

language-of-choice-versuslanguage-of-assignment

Have you noticed how every classroom has its own set of sayings and mantras? In my role as a literacy coach, I visit many classrooms. I’m always noticing the phrases and words that are used in each space. For example, in one classroom a teacher I work with calls reading partners “buzz buddies,” and in another classroom they are called “sets,” as in, “Okay kids, time to get with your reading sets.”

As a teacher, I make choices about language every day: Will I call the kids “Students,” or “Scholars, or “Friends?” Will they call me Ms. or Mrs.? By my last name or first name? Some of these decisions happen by default, and others are made intentionally.

One thing is for sure, though. Once you’ve gotten in the habit of saying certain phrases, it can be a challenge to switch. In one school where I worked, the phrase, “Today and every day…” at the end of every minilesson became so routine, so predictable, and perhaps a tad overused, that every time I modeled a lesson using the phrase everyone either rolled their eyes or started snickering.

There are many things we can’t control in the classroom: the amount of time we have, the number of students, the size (and sometimes temperature) of the classroom space. But one thing we can control is the language we use that conveys choice, versus language that conveys assignment.

Choice Assignment
“One thing you might try…” “Today you will…”
“One thing I do as a writer…” “I want you to…”
“Make a plan for your writing today using this list/chart/checklist for ideas.” “Make sure you do everything on this list/chart/checklist.”
“A strategy for doing this is….” “You have to…”

The subtle difference between “One thing you might try…” versus “Today you’re going to…” is an important shift. Suggesting that kids give something a try, and that it’s just one of many things they could try is very different than mandating the same strategy for the entire class.

I caught myself just the other day saying, “Today you’re working on…” I heard the words come out of my mouth and realized that to most kids, it sounded like I wanted them all to just work on one thing, the same thing. That’s not what I meant at all. I corrected myself immediately, saying, “Wait. What I meant to say is that today you COULD try this. But don’t forget, you also know the other three strategies, and you could even invent your own strategy for doing this.” Then I pointed to their anchor chart to remind them that they had other strategies to choose from.

Lately, I’ve been ending minilessons by saying to kids, as if I’m letting them in on a big secret, “Listen, it honestly is okay if you decide not to use this strategy today. The strategy is a choice. But what is NOT a choice is that you must keep writing. As long as you are writing the best you can write, then you are doing your job in writing workshop.”

So I’ll end this post on that sentiment. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how you make it clear to students that they have choices to make during writing workshop–but the fact that they have choices is at the heart of what makes it a writing workshop.