One of the things we all struggle with at one time or another is being able to communicate with the children in our lives in positive, productive and respectful language once things get frustrating, heated or hurried. Most of us have also been exposed to methods of engaging with kids that are focused on getting a quick result rather than on building a vocabulary of navigation, self-awareness, dignity and respect.
Several years ago, we came across the work of Tom Drummond, a professor emeritus who has generously shared his teaching portfolio with the rest of us, now that he is retired. There is more there than I will ever be able to fully appreciate, but his work on effective, respectful, joyful communication, titled Enterprise Talk, has been, to quote one of our teachers, revolutionary!
He first offers, rather provocatively, three prohibitions:
no directions (nobody likes being told what to do all the time, including children. Furthermore, they learn little about self-management or constructive decision making when not given the space to practice either.)
no questions (not really NO questions, just no questions for the sake of getting kids to perform and no questions that are really directions repackaged into questions. “What are you supposed to be doing right now?” isn’t so much a question as it is a message of manipulation and disapproval.)
no praise (again, no empty-calorie praise…things like “cool” or “awesome” or “good job” usually have little depth or sincerity – better to try one of the suggestions to follow!)
And replaces them with six guides –
Description (Giving information about what is happening or what needs to happen casts the child as a participant rather than a subject. “I’m almost done making dinner, and we’ll be eating soon. In a few minutes we will need to set up the table for dinner.”)
Narration (“You have been really busy making a big block city on the table for your panda bears to explore. I’m going to get the napkins and silverware while you are finishing up their adventure.”)
Subjective talk (Modeling with the bonus of appropriate observational vocabulary for future use “I’m going to start picking up the blocks that fell down here on the floor because we have to put away these toys before we can set up for dinner.”)
Non-verbal recognition (A smile, a wink, a high-five, giving one of the toy pandas a kiss good night as you place it on the storage bin. Sharing a moment of gratitude, companionship and collaborative success.)
Intrinsically phrased recognition (Noticing, out loud, the naturally occurring feelings that come with perseverance and constructive behavior.)
- Enjoyment “Racing to sort all those blocks was fun wasn’t it?”
- Competence “You didn’t drop a single one.”
- Cleverness “You had a great idea.”
- Growth and Change “You’re sure getting strong!”
That is five of the six. The last one is the Descriptive Cue Sequence and you’ll have to click through to find it – I hope you enjoy exploring his work as much as we have.