Two Voices

I have a Gifted/Talented class I have chosen to run on the socratic seminar format, with less emphasis on research and more on discussion. I have noticed something lately in that class that, because it is a discussion class, I am trying to apply to my language classes.

In this G/T class, I have noticed that the words that I say are less important to my kids than I had formerly thought, but that the way I say those words is most important. This is an insight of great importance to me, something I wish had come to my attention many years ago.

A second new, connected, awareness I have gained in teaching that class is the need to demonstrate to my students my intent to hear what they are saying back to me more and more.

So in this GT class,when I focus less on what I am saying and more on how I am saying it, and if I show my intent to listen more than my intent to be heard, things go better.

Pontificating to kids never works, of course. It’s just that it is not an easy thing to stop doing, perhaps because it is a teaching model that is lodged in the collective unconscious mind of every one of us.

But being aware of what the kids are hearing and experiencing in the class is undoubtedly up there on the marquee of all the coming shows in education. Clearly, the shift is that I must now learn to show my loving intent to attend fully to what my students say in class.

In the future educational world, I must learn to listen and listen well to the words they speak, and to become more and more aware of what they are experiencing as I teach. Showing that intent will most certainly open up new pathways of communication between us, and increase our learning.

I have a big poster in my classroom that asks my kids to be visible for each other, to be present as a listener, and to not talk over each other. I never reflected until now, however, on how important it is that I myself model those behaviors first.

If,  in both my G/T and language classes, I ask my kids to listen with the intent to understand, why indeed should I then not teach them by clearly demonstrating to them my own intention to understand what they are experiencing as they listen to my words? But how to do this?

Teaching while at the same time demonstrating my clear intention to understand what they are experiencing as they listen to my words requires more, much more, than merely a physical/mental voice. It requires an inner/heart voice. The outer voice delivers the information, the inner voice starts the dance.

We think that the outer voice is the most important. The inner one, however, counts so much more in reaching our kids!

 It is the inner voice that prevents the words I am speaking, whether in the G/T class in English or the language classes in French, from slamming around the room, and thus failing to land in the kids’ awareness authentically. It is the inner voice of my being aware of what my kids are getting that conveys meaning, beyond just mere information. 

The physical voice functions at the lower levels of the taxonomy, conveying knowledge, and when the kids hear it and understand it, they convey knowledge and they can pass tests.

But all that is really very boring, and not connected to real acquisition – to the good stuff. When I use the inner voice of loving kindness, higher levels of meaning are reached. We dance, not just learn. We see each other for real, reflecting Paul Klee’s description of creating art: “One eye sees..the other feels”.

This inner voice is very kind. The physical voice, run by our minds, is always less kind. It is the voice of people who deliver instructional services. The inner voice, because it is run by our inner awareness of what the kids are getting, is the voice of real teaching.

The key to the puzzle is simple kindness. All we have to do is to be conscious of, to be aware of, to be present for, to be visible to, and to not talk over our kids. Blaine says, we must listen to their cute answers. The key word in his message is “listen”.

How do we get in touch with our inner voice? Is there an even deeper voice that guides our inner voice? Surely there is, but it can’t be talked about. It is a very personal voice, the one that guides the story along, giving intuitive insights, guiding everything, really.

Our kids will learn much more if we show them our intent to guide our words with loving kindness and to listen to their words with loving kindness and our willingness at each moment in class to wait and monitor and attend to and be aware of what they are getting.


One Response to “Two Voices”

  1. Laura Avila Says:

    I’m enjoying, while it lasts, the luxury of this dialogue. It is to me a forum for reflecting on my practice without the fear of having my “valleys and mountains treaded upon” as Antoine de Saint Exupery said somewhere. The same loving kidness that you talk about needing with the kids is what I see in your efforts with us tprsers out there, and it is that loving kidness that helps us look at ourselves with more love and compasion which is the foundation for growth. Same with the kids, same with us.

    This is my second year with tprs, it is for me the only way to go. The constant search to make it work better is just part of accepting the challenge and feeling very alive at it. Every little improvement is a big learning and brings great pleasure.

    I began tprs with no other language teaching experience, and I was holding on to that story and structures as others hold on to their glossy text books for dear life. Right now I feel so much better not being attached to a script, for me this is the way. However, I haven’t found the right place of control. I know, from simple results, that I can’t let my input guide the story. But I also know that having no idea where the story is going is not good either. When this happens, the talking over and parallel stories override the TL. So I don’t know yet where that balance of control-no control is. Letting the guessing go for too long brings on the disruption, but it takes a while sometimes for some good idea to come up. Wait, wait, but how and how long? This is a training, a feeling, trying to figure out at what point I just have to take the best of what came up, so as to keep the story alive (or get it going), to keep the focus, and not let too many of the “you don’t like what we suggest” comments follow. Related to this is that it is also difficult for me to get the kids to “visit whacky land”. I give ideas of the type I’m looking for and take for the story the most whacky suggested, but those ideas are not there at the tips of their tongs, so to speak, which means having to go with regular a lot. This in turn doesn’t offer as many directions for the story to go in. Perhaps learning to live with the routine.
    Of course, how I react to the kids is a great part of that building. Even if one of their ideas doesn’t make it into the story, if I consider it truly, perhaps laugh at it (when laughable) or just say it’s good but can’t make it in because whatever, then this creates a good feeling not just with that kid, but with the rest that are observing constantly the reactions on my face ever so sensitive to adult “phonyness”.
    Another thing that I’ve started to do just a little more, is put in an idea that may not be that good but that comes from one of those difficult kids. Suddenly he/she also feels part and is now more invested in what’s going on, it’s like a little unspoken “secret” we have going. This is a thin line not to be abused. Then sometime outside of class I’ll praise his/her good effort etc.


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