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Opening Minds  

Using Language to Change Lives


By Peter H. Johnston, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine, 2012, 152 pp. with index,
$14 softcover

Words surround us wherever we are, but in the education world, words seem even more powerful at times. In Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, author Peter Johnston asserts that the words used in the classroom by both teachers and students can literally transform the attitude toward learning and life-long commitment to education.

Johnston’s mantra throughout the book is that educating the “whole child” happens in a democratic classroom where the conversation is “dialogic” rather than “monologic” and in one where the teacher is a participant in the dialogue rather than a power broker in the classroom. The words used in the classroom either promote a dynamic knowledge frame, where children have the opportunity to grow, change and learn, or promote a fixed knowledge frame, where facts, agreement and test scores determine who is smarter.

Opening Minds includes enough anecdotal evidence to pique the reader’s interest, yet references a variety of studies. Both the notes and the bibliography provided allow the reader easy access to the quoted research studies.

This is definitely a book that will cause the reader to reflect on his own teaching or learning experiences and wonder whether the language in that classroom made a difference in a child’s life. Campus leaders looking to move from a focus on the test-oriented classroom to one that will enhance student and teacher learning for a lifetime should read Opening Minds.

Reviewed by Vickey M. Giles, superintendent, Sheldon Independent School District, Houston, Texas


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