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Responsive Classroom Strategies

Using Language to
Encourage and
Empower Children
Part 4

In this four-part series, Ruth Sidney Charney discusses the language of the Responsive Classroom, explains the structures that support encouraging and empowering language, and provides practical examples of each.

The third structure teachers using the Responsive Classroom approach use to support encouraging and empowering language is to redirect.


Using Language to Encourage and Empower Children

Part 1: Encouraging and Empowering Language
Part 2: Exploring the First "R": To Reinforce
Part 3: Exploring the Second "R": To Remind
Part 4: Exploring the Third "R": To Redirect

We use redirecting language when children really are off track. We redirect with words and actions. Jeffery continues to talk to his neighbor during a quiet work period after a previous signal to stop. "You need to sit next to me now," his teacher tells him.

It is important to make sure our tone of voice when using a redirection is firm, but also respectful. Our tone of voice also must be direct and specific -- to recall the positive expectations, such as "hands are in your laps; pencils are for writing; your job is to listen now; everyone is in his or her own seat now."

As always when we redirect, we first stop the incorrect behavior before returning to the task. A child running in the hall, calling out, annoying neighbors, whispering instead of listening, drumming markers, must stop before anything else happens.

The next step requires an immediate action. "I'll hold the markers," the teacher might say, "Let me know when you're ready to use them to illustrate."

In that scenario, the limits are restated, choices reviewed, and the student given the opportunity to regain and demonstrate controls. Different situations demand different responses. How we respond in the midst of a lesson will be different than encounters in the playground or hallways. Safety and concerns for the integrity of the group are factors to consider. Because it is essential to maintain the momentum and focus of a lesson, it is also important that the distracting behaviors are stopped immediately while the time to review appropriate behaviors may occur later. Thus, you might move the child who is calling out answers to a safe position next to you or even away from the group until later, when you go over with the student the ways to raise a hand and keep answers in your head even if you "are very, very excited to share what you know."

Other examples of redirecting language include:
It is lunch time, but the room is a jumble. "I notice our room isn't ready. I see books on the floor. What else do people notice? What do we need to do to get the room ready to leave? Go to it!"

The children are passing a handshake around the circle. One child is squeezing too hard. "Show me your gentle handshake now."

A student makes a face talking to her teacher. "I don't listen when you make faces at me. I'm happy to talk when you are ready."

A student races across the room to get to the pencil sharpener. "You need to sit. When you are ready to use your careful walking steps, you can try again."

A student grabs a glue stick from a classmate. "I'll take that now," the teacher says, then returns it to the other student. "Tell me what you do when you need to use things in our classroom and someone else is using it." Student does. "Okay. That works. Now take a short break and let me know when you're ready to use your good words."

A student is not following the rules for a game. "Come stand with me. Let's watch together and see how the rules work in this game. Let me know when you think you understand the rules and are ready to use them to play the game."

Two children are chattering away and not doing any of their work. "Now you need to sit separately. Maybe tomorrow you can work next to each other again. "


Our language is a tool. It probably is one of the most essential tools in our tool kit. It is saw and hammer, chisel and nail. It helps to build and secure our community. It helps us develop and sustain a safe and respectful learning environment. It encourages children's best efforts and empowers them to use their controls. Hopefully, the examples illustrate some of the ways encouraging and empowering language mediate this learning.

Remember the examples are by no means definitive or exhaustive. Also remember that in the middle of a teaching moment, we are bound to be reactive. What comes out of our mouths might be spurred by frustration and anger, rather than based on well-crafted phrases. It takes practice to make this teacher language automatic. It is okay to rehearse, to stand in front of the mirror, make tapes, and even walk down the street mumbling to yourself, "Show me...Tell me... I notice that...Remind me"


It is important to differentiate encouragement from general praise. Encouragement is intended to be highly specific. "I notice wonderfully bright colors in your illustration," rather than "It's beautiful" or "You are such a great artist."

In the Responsive Classroom approach, we try and stay away from "I like"

We hope to help children develop internal controls and critical thinking and not to do things primarily because it pleases the teacher.

The next set of articles will focus on reactive discipline and on some of the ways to employ logical consequences when simple redirection is not enough.