The Language of Learning: A Guide for Every Teacher

The Language of Learning: Teaching Students Core Thinking, Listening, and Speaking Skills
By Margaret Berry Wilson
(Responsive Classroom, 2014 – Learn more)

Students enter our school doors with a vision of themselves as learners, filled with hopes and dreams for learning…With them, they bring an innate curiosity and a thirst to discover words, numbers, music, and art; to hear, tell, and make meaning of stories from the past and stories that are yet unfolding; to explore the wonders of faraway planets and uncover the marvels of the one named Earth—and most importantly, to learn all the nitty-gritty details of whatever captures their own interests and helps to manifest their hidden gifts and talents.” (Foreword, Lora Hodges)

Linda-Biondi-120Reviewed by Linda Biondi

The Language of Learning: Teaching Students Core Thinking, Listening and Speaking Skills by Margaret Berry Wilson is a book that cannot be read all at once, but needs to be tasted, savored, and read over a period of time. 

This new book from Responsive Classroom makes you think and reflect about your current teaching and your hopes and dreams for your students. Each page brings new insights and reaffirms quality teaching practices. The Language of Learning is an example of Best Practices in action. When you turn the pages, you hear the music of a well orchestrated classroom.  The book is, in fact, a symphony of teaching strategies based on respect.

lang_of_learning_ lg biondi

Long-time fan of Responsive Classroom

The truth be told, I am in love with the Responsive Classroom concept and have been for over 16 years. Since its beginnings in 1981, the philosophy of the Responsive Classroom has recognized the importance of student ownership and the value in teaching students to listen, speak and think critically.

Over the years, my Morning Meeting repertoire has grown from daily affirmations to lesson plans based on purposeful learning. I adore this book, its premise, the design of the chapters, the ease of applying the strategies, and the deliberate care taken to always keep the child in mind.

Another truth…I used to be a “Let’s skip the Foreword and Introduction” type of reader. I wanted to plunge into the “meat of the book,” not read about the author’s purpose. I wanted to find out what I can do in my classroom immediately. However, as a book reviewer, I have learned that the front matter can give the reader a better understanding of the author’s purpose and message. It’s valuable content.

As I read the foreword and introduction of The Language of Learning, I could feel the genuine intention of Margaret Berry Wilson and her love for teaching. Even before I finished the introduction, I was agreeing with her: “you will walk away with a roadmap for teaching students the essentials of speaking and listening…that put every student on the path to academic success.” (p. 3)

Speaking, listening and the Common Core

This book comes at a very opportune time. Speaking and listening skills are one fifth of the Common Core Standards for ELA. They represent the know-how our students need to interact in intelligent conversations with others.

In the Common Core, every grade level, K-5, includes the speaking and listening standard of “having collaborative conversations about grade level topics and texts…with peers and adults in small and larger groups.” The desired outcome is to have our students engaging in rich academic conversations and presentations that deepen and challenge each other’s ideas.

Each chapter of The Language of Learning helps teachers craft lessons that teach children how to have academic conversations that are clear and coherent, purposeful and well reasoned, conveying curiosity, open-mindedness and respect. The book is well documented and well explained with anecdotes and call-out boxes that highlight questions or comments. It’s also peppered with easy to use sample activities, guidelines, and hints.

Take time for interactive modeling

Wilson

Wilson

Margaret Berry Wilson teaches the whys behind the strategies she shares and stresses the importance of interactive modeling. Teachers model how to write a paragraph or solve a math problem. We also need to model how to think, listen and speak. You may say that this comes naturally because our students know how to think and listen, and definitely how to speak. Perhaps you will reconsider as you learn how this book can assist teachers in helping our students master higher thinking strategies, listen more effectively and communicate clearly.

I am sure your first thought is “how and when.” How and when am I going to fit this into my already busy schedule? I know that was my first thought. However, as I was reading the book, I realized the skills, strategies and activities are not meant to be taught separately but are naturally woven into most any lesson and can be applied to any class. The time is there; we need to change how we use some of it.

A core resource & a real page-turner

After I read a chapter or two, I had to fight the urge to skim and scan the next chapter. After some reflection, I decided that the best reading strategy for me was to use sticky notes and flags to mark important information. Before long, my book began to look like the United Nations as I jotted ideas I wanted to implement and studies I wanted to research.

Ms. Wilson provides a blueprint for implementing the new standards, specifically in Core Thinking, Listening, and Speaking Skills. The strategies are realistic and detailed, supported by examples, tips that address the standards, and by sample letters that can help promote parental support. Easy to read, exciting to apply, a real “page turner,” this book will exceed the reader’s expectations.

Since each chapter follows the same structure, the reader will feel comfortable as he or she begins to learn about a new concept or area to implement the standards. The chapters (Listening Essentials; Speaking Essentials; Asking and Answering Questions; Crafting an Argument; The Art of Agreeing and Disagreeing; Letting Students Shine) follow the format:

  • Common Core connections
  • How to Teach the Skills
  • Giving Meaningful Feedback
  • Addressing Common Mistakes
  • Essential Skills at a Glance
  • Sample Letter to Parents

The book concludes with an appendix offering a Quick Guide to Teaching Techniques; plus a Suggested Timeline and Further Resources

The Language of Learning: Teaching Students Core Thinking, Listening and Speaking Skills by Margaret Berry Wilson is a book I envision teachers pulling from the shelf, sharing with others, and using over and over again. This timely book could and should be in the hands of all teachers so they can make an even greater difference in the lives of their students.  

Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a recipient of several educational grants that infuse a literacy enriched curriculum with an understanding of individual learning styles. She is a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel.

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