What I Learned From My 16-Year-Old

Ann Larson Ericson

by Ann Larson Ericson

For Middle Level

We had an interesting conversation at the family dinner table recently. I was giving a short lecture on the Developmental Designs approach to empowering language and the use of directing language. I cited the merits of being direct with students and using clear, concise, non-negotiating language.

Even though we weren’t talking about soccer, Peder, my 16-year-old son, was actively engaged in the conversation. 

He jumped in with, “But Mom, you never do that at home.”

It made me stop and think about exactly how I use directing language both at home and school.

Peder pointed out that I frequently say things like, “It would be really nice if you went to your sister’s band concert tonight,” or “I would really like it if you mowed the lawn.”

In my eyes I was using polite, respectful language, but in his eyes, I was using manipulative language. He pointed out, “We both know you want me to go to the band concert, so why don’t you just tell me to go instead of giving me the option of being nice or not. If you want me to mow the lawn, just tell me and I’ll do it.”

Good points. If I truly want him to do something, I need to clearly and directly tell him rather than trying to manipulate him into doing something to be nice to me or because I would like it.

The lesson Peder taught me made me think about times when I use manipulating language in my classroom and how I can tweak that language to be more direct.

When I expect students to do something, I need to tell them in straightforward, non-negotiable language.

Direct language doesn’t mean being rude. “Manny, please join us at the demo table” is both polite and direct. The direction doesn’t ask Manny whether he wants to join us, since not joining us is not an option. 

Adolescents want to know what is expected of them rather than wonder if the teacher (or parent) is giving them a choice. It’s easy for me to slip into manipulative language that leaves my children or students confused about what they should do.

It takes practice, but I’m getting better at being clear and direct—just ask Peder when he finishes mowing the lawn!

Does this classroom language sound familiar?

Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than nine years. As a Developmental Designs facilitator since 2011, Ann has helped educators implement the approach in their own classrooms. She is the 7–12 Instructional Coach at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. Before starting this new position, she taught high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy. 

Posted September 2014

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