Johnston Opening Minds Chapter 1: Choosing Words, Choosing Worlds

Johnston, P. H. (2012). Opening minds: Using language to change lives. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.


Chapter 1: Choosing Words, Choosing Worlds


Summary: In this chapter, Johnston outlines a rationale for his book and for the power and importance of language. He claims that the language we use with others and especially with children can impact the ways in which they view their world and their abilities within that world.

“In classrooms, events happen, but their meaning only becomes apparent through the filter of the language in which we immerse them (p. 2).”

A Moment of Teaching

“Errors usually happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are stretching into new territory – when we are learning (p. 3).”

“Teaching is planned opportunism. We have an idea of what we want to teach children, and we plan ways to make that learning possible. When we put our plans into action, children offer us opportunities to say something, or not, and the choices we make affect what happens next (p. 4).”


Teaching for Now and for the Future

Johnston uses the phrase “the value of difference” to argue that our language can teach children how to value difference and engage in argumentation. When they disagree, children see this argumentation as a learning opportunity rather than a personal attack. He uses the phrase “dialogic teaching” rather than argumentation.

“Changing our talk requires gaining a sense of what we are doing, our options, their consequences, and why we make the choices we make (p. 7).”

The language we use contributes to the learning environment and children’s academic and social experiences in that environment.

He shares a comic on p. 7 to illustrate his point.