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  • Writer's pictureDr. V.S. Gayathri

Your Words Matter - What Not To Say In The Classroom!

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

"Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime." -Rachel Wolchin

We all know that words have the power to make or break any relationship, any situation, or even emotions. And, it is more pertinent in a student-teacher relationship where one of learning from the other. As rightly mentioned in the quote above, often words might not mean anything to you, but it can stay with someone forever. And, here staying refers to getting pinned in her hearts and minds which affect their mental health, either positively or negatively. Today, we are going to talk a bit on the kind of language and vocabulary that ought to be used in a classroom and how it affects the students.

In a study it was found that students showed greater interest in completing tasks after having been exposed to teacher's positive talk and that teachers should use positive language in order to successfully accomplish their roles of educators.

The student’s motivation, engagement, behaviour during lessons and attitude towards the subject also increased significantly, in a consequence leading to better results. It was also found that teachers and students perceive positive teacher language as important whereas the negative talk to be a source of student’s discouragement.

The study also concluded that sometimes many teachers do use negative talk, but without being aware of it. But overall, it was emphasized that teachers should use positive language in order to enhance the motivation and discipline of pupils and consequently their school achievements.

We have seen many examples where harsh words from the teachers have resulted in drastic steps taken by students. However, there needs to be a certain level of discipline as well which will you talk about a bit later.

Some things about language to avoid in the classroom:

- Avoid teacher-centric language: Using less of I words like “I want you to tell me..”, “Show me some example..”. Sometimes this can discourage or sharing information among each other and becomes a one-way channel with the teacher.

- Reduce judgements- Avoid passing judgemental statements about any particular student in front of others. One can also include the language of inclusion, if there are students that needs to be addressed.

- Reduce echo talk- Rather than repeating what the students have already said, allow students to express their ideas so that more and more information gets shared.

Educators need to understand that instead of saying something bluntly or in the classical way, there is always a better way to tell them.

For example, instead of ‘be quite’, one can say ‘Can you use a softer voice’; or ‘Do you need help’ use ‘I am here to help you if you need’. Other examples can be ‘It’s okay to cry instead of ‘Stop crying’ or ‘It looks like you had fun. Can we clean up now?’ instead of ‘What a mess’.

There can be many more examples and it also depends on an educator’s personal style. But some of the most important things like controlling the tone and pitch in the classroom, no using unparliamentary language under any circumstances, avoiding words with a negative connotation, and others.

Positive teacher language is not just using the right words to encourage belonging and significance. It also involves careful listening and the skilful use of nonverbal communication via our tone, gestures and body language. It is how we speak to students and families, and how we talk about our students with colleagues.

There is a contradictory view to this as well.

Tim Elmore, founder and leader of Growing Leaders NGO and the author of Artificial Maturity, Helping kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults, believes that frequent use of such positive language in front of adolescents might impact their mental development.

He has stated some examples:

· Students who’ve repeatedly been told, ‘You’re special’ from a very young age can often feel entitled to special incentives or advantages as a result.

· Students who’ve been consistently told, ‘You’re smart’ from a very young age can conclude, ‘If I’m so smart, I shouldn’t have to try so hard.’

So, there can be a different way of putting the point across as well.

· Instead of “you’re special,” what if we said: “You’ve got unique gifts that could be very useful when you see the big picture. You can play an essential role on a team.

· Instead of saying, “You’re smart.” What if we said: “I love how hard you worked on that problem. That strategy and work ethic will be useful on a job one day.”

Basically, educators need to know and understand the class dynamics and use appropriate and effective language in the classroom.

"Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten."

So, choose your words wisely because they matter the most.


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