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Self-Talk

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

(This article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. Watch for prepublication offer. Coming soon.)

Did you know that the words you use to talk to yourself are like seeds you plant in your mind? Do your students know that? Do they put that knowledge to use?

"If I don't pass this test, I'll be in trouble."
"If she calls on me, I won't know what to say."
"I'll never be able to find what I need in the library."
"If I don't get to sleep, I won't do well in the game tomorrow."

Isn't it just incredible how accurate students are at predicting their future? Perhaps you can use your teaching voice to help them make more positive, emotionally healthy predictions.

Do your students talk to themselves? Of course they do. Kindergartners talk to themselves. Fifth-graders talk to themselves. And high school students talk to themselves. In fact, all students talk to themselves, and they do it often.

Eighty percent of talk is self-talk. The remaining twenty percent is directed at others. Since all students talk to themselves, it seems it would be beneficial to help them become conscious of what their internal talk is and the effect it's having on their school performance and their lives. It appears that in many schools teachers invest more time getting students to stop talking aloud than helping them examine how they talk to themselves when they're not talking aloud.

Self-talk is programming that affects students' minds. It is one of the major ways in which they create beliefs that influence their actions. When they tell themselves, "I probably won't like this new chapter," they are programming themselves for failure. If their inner dialogue is, "No one is going to like my speech," they are setting themselves up to do poorly.

As educators, we often design lessons to teach students what to say when they are giving their speech to others. Rarely do we help them learn how to talk to themselves before, during, and after their speech.
Do you teach your students about the importance of self-talk? Do you tell them, "The words you use to talk to yourself are like seeds you plant in your mind"? Before a test, do you ask them to pay attention to what they are saying to themselves? Michael Olson does.

"What did you tell yourself?"

The first time Michael Olson passed out a social studies test to his seventh-graders he asked them to leave it face down on their desks for a few moments. Students were expecting that their teacher would soon be giving them the signal to turn it over and begin. They were in for a surprise.

"We're not going to take this test right now," Michael informed his students. "We are going to do something else instead. I want you to pay attention to what you were telling yourself as the test was distributed. Get in touch with what you were saying to yourself. Were your thoughts positive or negative? I'll give you three minutes to write some of those thoughts on the back of your test paper."

After the three minutes had passed, Michael called time and asked the students to share aloud some of the thoughts they had written. Their contributions included:
I should have studied more.

This is not going to be pretty.
I hope I get a good grade.
I can do this.
I don't want to do this.
I don't like tests.
I wonder if it will be hard.

Many students were surprised at how many negative messages they gave themselves. Some could not recall telling themselves anything at all.

As part of his lecture burst on this self-talk lesson, Michael told the students, "The words you use to talk to yourself are like seeds you plant in your mind. They sprout quickly, take root, and grow strong. Be careful what you plant. It will affect what you harvest in the future." Following his lecture and a discussion, students were challenged to think positive thoughts about the test.

Many times during the semester Michael stopped and asked students to examine their inner dialog. He challenged them to say positive things to themselves with the following Teacher Talk.

"Where is what you're saying to yourself right now leading you?"
"Is the self-talk you're using creating the kinds of beliefs you want to develop?"
"Is your self-talk helping or hurting what you are trying to accomplish?"
"What would you be saying to yourself if you were choosing it on purpose right now?"

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children: Practical Strategies for Parents and Teachers to Help Children Manifest a Better World. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com