By Antje Mueller

Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2: Being a Teacher

Professor Dennis Francis, Professor John MacBeath Commonwealth Education Trust


Antje Mueller

Why language is important “Children sometimes misquote things you said. Except when it comes to things you shouldn’t have said. In that case they quote you perfectly word for word.” Funny and so true. This quote by the Early Childhood Educators, should remind us educators always on how children think and work. There is no second chance. If we use our language inappropriate we might lose the motivation, enthusiasm or even respect of our children to learn with and from us. Teacher language is a very important if not the most important and most powerful teaching tool of a teacher. Language is used by the educator as well as by the learners to be able to communicate with each other and exchange thoughts, imaginations and feelings. Communication is important to make invisible thoughts and feelings tangible and to express imaginations and experiences towards others. Malaguzzi already introduced us in the 90’ to the Reggio Emilio Approach and the ‘Hundred languages of Children’ and explains the various ways children can express their feelings, explore and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginations. He examines on the narrow curriculum in our schools that neglects the full range of significance of human capacities by separating the mind from the body. (Malaguzzi, 1992) Language of teachers Teachers are able with the careful use of language to support students in their development of self-control, building sense of community and in gaining academic skills and knowledge. (Denton, 2007) For an educator language is the most important way to interact with its children and students and to find a common way of exchange various ideas, questions, thoughts and feelings. Communication can influence students’ way of thinking and even their behavior and reactions. “A challenge of teaching language and values education is to focus on the need for teachers to create warm and supportive classroom environments in which


Antje Mueller

students feel free to express their thoughts and feelings or even experience catharsis, and to be tolerant of different student opinions.” (Brady, 2011) Language of learners Words and language is an opportunity for learners to express their feelings and thoughts in a way that other students and educators can understand and interact with them. Communication and questioning in class can be used as a ball game either like ‘Basketball’ where the teacher ask a question and the students pass the question around before giving the right answer or as in ‘Ping Pong’ where questions being followed by other questions being passed back and forth through the class. (MacBeath, 2014) Students use language to show their empathy or anger, their respect or disagreement as well as needs and wants towards their peers, teacher and their family. Without words and language there is no exchange of feelings, thoughts and imagination possible in the classroom and beyond. How the language of teachers’ can influence students’ behavior Literature discussed various way of using language in class. Denton identified five useful strategies and guidelines for teachers to use communication and language in a positive way to strengthen children self-esteem, let them learn new knowledge and redirect them if their behavior goes off track. Language should be always used to guide children and students positively instead of punish them with words after an inappropriate action. With a direct language students feel, trusted, respected and safe. Our tone can shape children and the world around them. Use a soft tone and polite words to show respect and they will adapt and mimic the same way towards others. Try not to use difficult terms to describe certain situations that children might not understand. It is more helpful to tell students exactly what to do or not to do in a nice and respectful way.


Antje Mueller

Be direct and authentic

Convey faith in children’s abilities

Focus on action

Keep it brief

Know when to be silent

Figure 1: Five general guidelines for use of languages. Adapted from Denton (2007)

As an educator always try to make your intentions and explanations brief and clear as many students have short attention spans and might not be able to follow long strings or words. Silence is the same powerful as the proper use of words or sometimes even more. It allows students to think and to sort their ideas and thoughts before speaking them out loud. Silence also gives an opportunity to rehearse what to say and to gather encourage speaking at all. Mainly children understand better when we speak less. (Denton, 2007) The language children use is suitable for the environment they are in and the context. Therefore words and language of students are adaptable whether they are in certain communities in school or at home with their families. (Francis, 2014) Language usage in my class As a teacher and educator I always try to use language in my class which is easy to understand. By using language my students get a possibility to communicate with me and with each other. Communication is also used as a little reminder if the children’s behavior and actions are not matching with the rules of our classroom or school. Especially in an International school it is extremely important to give students enough time to think and to speak. We have to respect and understand that some children come from various backgrounds

Antje Mueller

with more than one language. Many students joining my German language program coming from English or Asian families and they are only exposed to the German language a limited time of the day or week. Therefore some students are very shy to use the German language and need more time to express themselves. For me it is important to give them this time to think and to understand first before they speak. Indirect language and sarcasm as some teachers might use makes no sense for me as that might create uncomfortable feelings, misunderstanding and even disrespect for me or my class. I have also turned old socks into funny hand-puppets that children use to talk more comfortable with. I introduce every week new songs and rhymes in German language so that children can learn the new vocabulary in an enjoyable way. Role-playing is another great opportunity to expose children to a new language and at the same time to teach social skills and new knowledge including e.g. Solution confrontation or demonstrating sensitivity (Brady, 2011) Main focus for me is to teach language with a lot of patience and fun. “Vygotsky already explains that language acts as a vehicle for educational development that is important for the apprehension and acquisition of knowledge.” (Vygotsky, 1978) “Incorporating the five principles of teacher language into our daily communication with students helps us build a classroom where students feel safe, respected, and engaged. By paying attention to our language and using it to open the doors of possibility for children, we help them become successful learners.” (Denton, 2009)


Antje Mueller

REFERENCES: Brady, L., (2011) Australian Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, Issue 2, Teacher Values and Relationships: Factor in Values Education, University of Technology, Sydney Denton, P., (2009) Responsive Classroom Newsletter, The Power of Teacher Language, The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn, Northeast Foundation for Children [Online] Available from: (Accessed 09 April 2014) Francis, D., (2014) Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2, Week 3, Lecture 1, Commonwealth Education Trust, website MacBeath, J., (2014) Foundations of Teaching for Learning 1: Week 3, Lecture 2, Commonwealth Education Trust, website Malaguzzi, L., (1992) in Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2 (2014), Week 3, Lecture 1, The Hundred languages of Children, Commonwealth Education Trust, website Vygotsky, L., (1978) in Hillman, D. C. A. (1997). Improved coding and data management for discourse analysis: A case study in face-to-face and computer-mediated classroom interaction. Doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge [Online] Available from: (Accessed 02 April 2014)