The Method of Grandmother

Chip Wood recently shared a link on the Yardsticks blog to TED talk by Sugata Mitra, an educational researcher who’s done some compelling research on child-driven education and technology. Midway through the video, Mitra describes what he calls “the method of grandmother,” a strategy that reminded me of what the Responsive Classroom approach calls “reinforcing language.”

Mitra talks about how he enlisted a caring adult to work with a group of children who were using the internet to learn about an unfamiliar, challenging topic. He asked the volunteer to “stand behind them and admire them all of the time,” sharing words of encouragement such as “That’s cool!” or asking questions such as, “Can you show me some more?” He reports that with just that simple encouragement, the children’s learning increased.

Reinforcing language is also about admiring children’s efforts. For example, in a classroom I recently visited, I watched as a group of energetic boys heatedly discussed a math problem related to rounding to the nearest hundredth.  After they’d debate and disagreed a bit over who had the right answer, their teacher leaned over and softly said, “You guys are doing some great thinking. You’ve almost got it. Keep working.”

When the boys finally came to consensus, their excitement was palpable.  One boy jumped up and shouted out, “We’ve got it!  We’ve got it!”  Their teacher gave a big thumbs-up and said, “I knew you could figure that out.  You really worked together on that one!”

It’s amazing that such a simple practice of admiring children’s thinking, behavior, and growth can be such a powerful learning tool.  But the “method of grandmother” really does work!

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: Encouragement, Reinforcing Language