Wonder Language- Pt 1: The Art of saying “No”…

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. My PhD research is focused on inquiry- in that I am looking for ways to not only inspire my own students with questioning more about the languages and cultures they learn and experience, but also ideally, to help other teachers get on board with this concept. Many books have been written about curiosity in general, for a brief list, see below. However, one thing I haven’t seen much written about is this whole concept of “wonder language”. I don’t know who has come up with this term originally, and after doing a quick search on Google, nothing interesting (short of figurative language like smile’s, metaphor, etc) came up.

However, I then did a quick search on google scholar, which has become my new best friend since the start of my PhD, and indeed there a few research articles on wonder language, in various contexts, but of course none for WL teachers. And let’s be honest, what language teacher NOT pursuing a higher degree having to do with research, is going to read these?

Boredteachers.com published an article on “10 ways to say no to students when they are wrong” and guess what- inquiry is right up there. The thing is, we want our students to ask questions, and make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. We want other students to listen to those questions and answers that were wrong, and WONDER about why that is. We want to encourage active listening, and active WONDER. We want to encourage students to keep asking questions, and not be afraid to get something wrong.

When kids do answer wrongly- how do we respond? Every single question involves risk taking- Think about the last time you raised your hand to ask a question among a group of colleagues, peers, or even to your next door neighbor while at community meeting. I know as an expat- I’m constantly asking questions that locals think I should already know the answer to- but I don’t, so I ask. I don’t care if “I am supposed to know” already, I’m an adult- so I know it’s ok. However our adolescent kiddos haven’t gotten there yet- and they may be scared to raise that hand.

It is important that we can establish a safe environment inviting and cultivating a classroom of wonder and questioning. Here are some general ideas for that. But let’s get back to WL shall we?

How can we say no, without screaming to the student’s internal critical calculator “No YOU ARE WRONG (AGAIN!)-

1- Remind them of a previously learned concept that could lead them to figuring out the right solution. For example- A frequent warm up activity I like to do, is take some random incorrect sentences the students have written from a recent writing activity, and have them correct them. I will tell them how many errors there are to each sentence, but they have to figure out how to correct them. I never give them more than 5 sentences, since I don’t want to spend more than a max of 10 mins on this. They start thinking out loud- brainstorming with each other, and then we go over it together- they end up correcting each other- learning from each other- I just facilitated it. All I did was remind them of what they have learned already. If I have to remind them of the correct conjugation of a certain irregular verb, or of a certain grammar rule- fine- they all just get that reinforced.

2-PEER HELPERS. So this one piggy packs on the idea above- after all, we are in a classroom community. A general rule I have in the CR is that they have to ask at least 3 other classmates before asking me. This way, not only do I reduce a constant asking me about something x30, but encourages them to work as a community- they are all learning and in this language process together.

3-Value and thank them for the question– Explain how I knew that some kids would have forgotten a certain grammar rule, or exception- and signal that this is normal- so that’s why we need to re-look at it. I am glad that this student raised this issue so we all have a chance to learn from it. THANK YOU for another learning opportunity. Don’t praise a certain question- stay away from “That’s a great question” because chances are the next question you may forget to say that, and then that kid may think they have a stupid question. Instead…”that’s an interesting thought”- hold on to that so we can come back to it…

4- show a video/resource we’ve seen, or haven’t seen- can they figure it out from there? Music and videos help a lot- they tend to be repetitive which is what we want for that comprehensible input and language acquisition. For example- if a student forgets the 3 Donde’s, which ones are which- perhaps show a still from SeƱor Wooly’s Adonde vas (or audio clip), another clip of Basho’s Botas perdidas, which leaves the last donde “de donde”…which I haven’t found an amazing video, but here is something to use. But probably, you don’t need to get that far, they will have remembered or figured it out by then.

5- Swith your pronouns. If you say something “You are wrong”, or “YOU” anything- it can sound accusatory when the end of that sentence isn’t on the positive side of things. Instead, switch it to “I was thinking of something else- or “we had seen/looked at something else the other day- now what was that?…”Let’s think along the lines of…” – so Invite them to think from a different perspective, taking away any blame or accusation or risk they may be feeling. Let’s not accuse anyone for getting anything wrong.

6- Empathize. “I understand why you may/would think that- however let’s think about this…” And when we empathize with students, let them know we do validate their opinions, their questions, their contributions- let’s just focus on what we need to look for.

7- Sound and Tone– Don’t forget to use your voice, your hums, your, hands, to show you are thinking about what the student said- before moving on to what you will actually say. Our first reaction, our tones, the sounds we emit, our actions, is what they see, leads them to how they will feel.

What are some ways you say “no” without saying “no”? Please leave a comment. Also going the FB or LinkedIn Group: Cultivating Curiosity in the WL Classroom for more ideas.

Books on Inquiry

Here is that list of Inquiry related Books for educators (or not specifically, but definitely thought provoking)

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