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The Impact Of Asking “Could” Instead Of “Should” In The Classroom

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When Solving Problems, Think About What You Could Do, Not What You Should Do is an interesting new article at the Harvard Business Review.

Here’s an excerpt:

There are a lot of ways to apply this in the classroom.

Classroom management is one obvious area. I have asked students countless times “What should you do?” or “What should you have done?” after they have exhibited inappropriate classroom behavior. Using the word “should” carries the clear message that I am judging them. Obviously, I am. However, using the word “could” instead communicates the message that there is not just one answer, and there isn’t one. “Could” clearly would promote a less adversarial tone.

It reminds me of a piece from Doug Lemov on “formative writing.”  He points out how a teacher used this prompt:

“How might Alice Walker’s experiences sharecropping have influenced her writing?”

The use of the word “might” helped students feel more comfortable about writing and less worried about being wrong.

I was also struck by another part of the HBR article:

some tension is a positive thing, because it can help get people to move past should to could. When we experience conflict, research finds, we generate more original solutions than when we are in a more cooperative mood. 

I agree with this on a number of levels.  You can read more about my perspective at Why school reform (and other) debates get nasty, which is by Daniel Willingham, and The Washington Post published my response near the bottom.

I’m adding this post to:

The Best Posts & Articles About Providing Students With Choices

Best Posts On Classroom Management

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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