Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Evolving Teaching Language to Be Responsive to Kids' Needs

I HAVE LONG BEEN A RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM TEACHER, an approach which proactively seeks to build community and positive learning environments for kids. A key tenet of this approach is the language we use when reminding and redirecting, with the goal of choosing language that fosters independence, reflection, and responsibility. Over the years, I've found that, along with these, there is a need to evolve our language to ensure it is based in an understanding of specific neurodiverse perspectives, such as autism and ADHD. Here are some ways I have been re-framing my teaching language:

*One of the things I learned about kiddos w ADHD is the real difficulty in stopping something they are working on before it’s finished... many other kids experience this as well. I started shifting my language last year from ‘its time to stop doing something’ to ‘we are going to pause this activity until next class’- what a difference! So many of my kids sense the difference in pausing an activity, which seems to evade the finality of ‘stopping’, which can be extremely frustrating for some children. I also use 'pause' instead of stop when I am giving them a time check, need to give additional instructions, etc. 

Evolving teaching language, a blog post. Replacing 'let's stop' with the phrase 'let's pause'

*This has been a big one for me-& one Ive been working a lot on as advocacy in my own district. I spoke to this in my presentation at @CT_COLT on #ADHD The idea that children choose ‘bad behavior’ (& I have a lot of issues w this phrase too!) belies the reality that, especially if the gap between thought & action is only a few seconds, you are not, in fact, choosing to not follow an expectation or instruction. You might see on a behavior chart something like ‘I chose not to be safe in line’… This sends the message that a kid is choosing to ‘be bad’ (& again, I hate this phrasing)-imagine how that feels, especially if the kid hears it over & over again. This negative messaging is extremely harmful to the neurodiverse brain (& really all kids). What is known about impulsive actions is that they often seem like good ideas in the moment, but frequently do not turn out the way a child expects them to. Moving towards phrasing that acknowledges the unexpected nature of an action, eliminates condemnation & can defuse some big feelings that are associated w unexpected outcomes from impulsive actions.

Blog post on evolving teaching language from 'you chose' to 'that wasn't what you expected'

*Understanding & acknowledging that some kids make sounds beyond their control is the first step in realizing that asking kids ‘to be quiet’ when you need their attention doesn’t take into account neurodiversity & isn’t inclusive of kids who make vocalizaciones, need to tap, hum, etc.
I’ve shifted to saying ‘let’s turn off those noises we can control’ in a move to be more aware & welcoming to all students. This also sends a message to all kids that some noises are just part of who we are & they are just as welcome as other sounds.

Blog post on evolving teaching language with 'let's turn off the sounds we can control'

*I have long loathed the word ‘behavior’ to describe what kids do in our classrooms, but struggled to find an alternative I felt worked better until this year. For me, ‘behavior’ most definitely has taken on a negative connotation, especially when we are talking to a kiddo; inevitably it is about something they’ve done “wrong” (which opens up a whole other conversation I’ll take on another time!). 
Instead, thinking about ‘actions’ kids take has the flexibility of talking about all things kids do, both the helpful to community, as well as those which aren’t. 
So, I might say something like “wow, that action really helped us clean up our space!” or I might say, “that action didn’t make your table partners feel comfortable “. Changing phrasing can be powerful, right?

*"You can do better" is a common teacher phrase that honestly is quite judgmental. Whether we realize it or not, what we are really saying is 'what you've done here isn't very good and you need to improve'. The impact of this statement can be a huge blow to kiddos who struggle with self confidence, self worth, and regulation. I can confess that it took a family member to point this out to me; in my mind, saying you/we can do better was merely a call to improve without any value or judgment attached BUT for many with neurodiversity and run into issues on the daily/hourly with being a successful student as defined by school, this statement can be highly charged. Shifting to a non-judgmental phrase like 'let's see what else you can do' or 'This is a great start, let's see what we can add to it' can make a hug difference in supporting a child.

*Many of us use a bell or other instrument to get kids' attention when we need to give instructions, transition to a new activity, signal clean up time, etc. Mostly effective, with modeling & practice, there is always that moment when kids ignore it, or truly do not hear it.

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