How I got over my “I notice . . .” blues

Years ago, as a beginning Responsive Classroom practitioner, I became determined to stop using the phrase, “I like the way . . .” to control children’s behavior. For example, I’d been saying, “I like the way that Sam is listening quietly and raising his hand before he asks a question,” when what I really meant was, “I need everyone else to be like Sam, and if you are, I might point out your good efforts, too.”

What a paradigm shift it was when I realized that if my intention was to recognize Sam, I should do so in a more authentic, direct way! It took practice, but eventually I learned how to quietly, and in a one-on-one way, to say, “Sam, I notice that you are sitting quietly and raising your hand before asking a question.”

Before long, I started to get the hang of this new way of communicating, and I started “noticing” many more positive behaviors of individuals and groups. This way of recognizing and celebrating times when children met expectations felt right for them and for me, but still—something was not quite right. The way I sounded seemed a bit off.

I felt as if I started so many sentences with “I notice” or “I see” that those phrases had begun to sound stale. I wanted to use reinforcing language, but I also wanted to sound authentic and genuine! Prefacing all my reinforcing comments with those words was undermining that goal.

I explained my concern to another consulting teacher, and she suggested that I try a simple adjustment: I could just name the positive behaviors without prefacing them with “I notice,” or “I see.” It worked! Simply saying, “Sam, you are sitting so quietly and remembering to raise your hand before asking a question,” conveyed the information in a more genuine, direct way.

Today, I still use the starter phrases, “I notice” and “I see” to reinforce positive behavior, and I use the technique of simply describing positive behaviors, too. These and other techniques related to reinforcing language are described in Chapter 5 of The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about teacher language.

“I notice” that for me, teacher language is a topic there’s always more to learn about! How about for you?

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.

Tags: Reinforcing Language