Monday, December 26, 2011

Facilitating EXCHANGES and Challenging EXPECTATIONS

Typically we think of the classroom experience as the teacher relaying information to students, and, for better and for worse, that is often the case.  And, while teachers must relay new information, in my experience the best learning comes from exchanges: exchanges between student and teacher, between student and student, and between student and given materials.  These exchanges can and should occur in the classroom, at home, and in the world around us, and are particularly effective when they challenge or extend existing expectations.

The essentials for successful exchanges:
  • listening - listening for opportunities to take learning further, listening for questions regarding levels of understanding, listening for comments of challenge [challenging existing levels of understanding is often a very good thing], listening for nuances;
  • motivating
  • encouraging self-confidence in the ability challenge existing states of knowledge and understanding
  • encouraging risk taking in your child's thinking and problems solving
  • promoting respectful dialogue :
    • Pose open-ended questions
    • Allow your child to respond to your questions, pausing before responding yourself or, if you're a teacher, before calling on a student.  This allows them to process the question and retrieve and formulate meaningful responses.
    • Encourage different perspectives to questions and comments, accepting divergent opinions (without having to necessarily agree with them).  When you hear divergent opinions, try to help direct, guide, and facilitate discussions.
Let me share some examples of positive (and negative) exchanges: 
      • This Looney Toon is all about listening, risk taking, and encouraging Bugs (and Daffy) to think out of the box - something Bugs does regularly but Daffy does not....
      • There is a wonderful exchange in the book Frindle by Andrew Clements.  It is the beginning of fifth grade for Nick Allen, who is convinced that he can distract his Language Arts teacher (a fanatic about dictionaries and dictionary usage) from assigning homework.  So, just as she is about to relay that night's assignment, Nick raises his hand and asks her, "What makes a word a word?"  The problem (initially at least) for Nick is that sahe throws the question right back at him, saying that is a wonderful question and in addition to the class assignment, he must 'research' his question further.  He does the research and realizes exactly what makes aword a word, and proceeds to coin his own.  He learns ALOT more about words and language than he ever expected from this simple exchange, from listening to various literary sources, and from challenging existing expectations.  
      • Another exchange happened to me in the airport. I was waiting at the gate for my flight (which was delayed) and just watching the people around me.  There was a little boy "Daniel" who must have been about five years old, who had gone through his mom's stash of chips, her box of apple juice, and her patience as well.  The planes out the window were no longer a novelty and he and his mom were 'losing it.'  And, there was still the flight to take.  At some point the mom looked at me and I suggested a game to play, "I SPY."  She had never heard of it and so I explained the game:  One person privately selects an object within sight and generally describes it, "I spy with my little eye, something (or big, or smelly or any other adjective you care to give it)" and the other person has to guess what it is you spy by asking questions or just by guessing.  When the item is guessed, the players switch roles.
      The problem, once I explained the game was that mom kept picking small items or items Daniel could not see well.  Through their exchanges, though, she learned adjust her selections so Daniel could easily guess them.  The other problem, was when it was Daniel's turn to spy an object.  He, being a five year old, and very excited about the game would say, "I spy with my little eye something blue" and then immediately share what that object was with his mom -without her having the opportunity to play or guess. 
      What was so special about this exchange was that aside from distracting and entertaining Daniel, both mother and child learned how to adjust their choices and responses to the game. Furthermore, Mom was happy Daniel was occupied, Daniel was thrilled with his new game, he was learning and practicing adjectives and vocabulary, and what was about to turn into a shouting match, turned into a productive exchange between parent and child.
      • I observed another exchange between mother and child that did not work out well when riding on a train.  It was a summer Sunday afternoon and mother and son were returning from a day at the beach.  They were tired, the train was crowded, and mom had to navigate one large suitcase, a large overstuffed tote bag, and a cranky child.  She propped the suitcases against the window (a mistake) and sat her son between her and the suitcases.  He cried and fussed and she would not allow him to climb over (or simply move) the suitcase to look out the window, or allow him to walk up and down the aisle, or even read a book to him.  Instead she screamed at him to "shut up" and if others tried to help with advice she shouted "he's a two year old, they scream and cry - that's what they do...."  This woman had one expectation - her two year old cried and screamed - and she did not care or try to adjust that expectation.  She also did not care to exchange, motivate, or distract her child - she just let him scream.

      With 2012 approaching, let's raise our expectations, renew and enhance exchanges and become better listeners and motivators!

      Here's to a great 2012!!!! 


      1. hey im your new follower! i enjoyed your blog and hope you can follow me back at

      2. thank you for this! i agree! I just wrote an email to my sons 6th grade teacher telling her what a great job she as doing! I am a new follower..pls follow back if you can

      3. Great post!

        Passing through & following for the Reflexions hop :-)

        TToria @

      4. This post is fully loaded and packed with motivational stories. Thanks for sharing and for linking up to Get Connected Tuesday Blog Hop. Following you.

      5. In homeschooling, my kids and I have so many more of these useful exchanges (adjusting for one another) than when they were in school. Back then, I couldn't get my son to talk until it was bedtime (literally: in bed) and then he wanted to chat (as I sat nodding off beside him). Now we have "pick up" conversations several times/week--and we are both awake! He also has to adjust to me--talking about video games--so ratcheting down goes both ways.

      6. Indeed - as a primary school teacher I know the importance of quality exchanges - I have benefitted myself from such comments from my pupils.

        ABC Team

      7. Must say, though, that for all the shots he took, Daffy's pretty indestructible!

        ROG, ABC Wednesday team

      8. Great post. Listening, really listening to the other person is really important.
        So often our hidden agendas get in the way of what's really being said.
        I used to play I Spy with my boys when we traveled and then did it with my Granddaughters. We passed many a mile gazing out the window, searching for the clues.

      9. I always "expected" kids to "exchange" comments and ideas in my classroom. And I was always open to new games where we could incorporate our learning - yes, I learned, too! Wonderful post, as usual, and I (almost) wish I were still in the classroom. However, I'm enjoying tutoring and all the exchanges that go on right at my dining room table!

      10. I played I spy when I was a kid. Then I played it with my own kids, and my kids in school.

      11. Inspiring post for X,.

        X-mas or Christmas, which one do you approve of? May you have a prosperous new year!

      12. a great post...

      13. Great info! New GFC follower from hop :)

      14. That was really good info, thanks for sharing. I'm a new follower from the blog hop. :) Looking forward to exploring more of your blog.


      15. I'm your newest follower. Would love a follow back.

      16. Through my years of home schooling I learned as much from my children as the got from me. Now it is my grand daughters turn to teach us all! Keeping an open mind to learning keeps us all young and active!

      17. nice to see those positive exchanges

        happy new year

        ornamented joshua

      18. Love it. I've been teaching Kindergarten for 10 years now and I need to be reminded of this...thanks for a great read. I'm a new follower from Tiggerific Tuesday! Blog Hop...or Bounce. I hope to see you back at Yes, full time teacher and full time Disney vacation planner. Yes, that crazy! ;)