Decoding Strident Talk

Some messages, I’d tell my students when I taught them to interpret a text, are clearly stated. The author is explicit, comes right out with the meaning. But other ideas are indirect, hidden in the text, implied, and meant to be discovered, teased out. And sometimes what seems explicit has implicit meaning.

Like texts, I found that that the signals my students sent me also needed to be interpreted. Some of their messages at first seemed straightforward enough. But the longer I taught the more I was able to recognize the unspoken meanings under their words.

I discovered, for example, that strident talk, especially, often covers unstated needs. Here are a few typical cover-ups that are often calls for help:

What the Student Says What the Student Could Mean Possible Intervention
I’m bored. This project is too hard, but I don’t want to admit I’m confused. Pair the confused student with a student who is experiencing success with the project.
I can’t understand anything you are saying. All I can think about is my parents shouting at each other last night. I think they’re going to get a divorce. When I was talking to the class I could tell you had something on your mind. Could you write a note to me about what you are thinking? Then I’ll help you later with the project.
I hate school. I want to be cared about and noticed in this room. You know, I’ve been looking for someone to help me set up for the next lesson. Could you come help me at lunch?
I can’t stand anyone at this school. I’ve just lost my best friend, and I don’t know where to sit at lunch today. Ask a group of students to step up by inviting this student to their lunch table.

Successfully decoding student statements can make a marked difference in the emotional climate of the classroom and in the futures of students.

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