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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Positive Presuppositions in the Classroom

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


March 25, 2013

What are the qualities of a question that truly mediates thinking? One is using a positive presupposition. Positive presuppositions are very subtle, but very powerful in creating a safe and trusting environment.

Some things we have seen in classrooms have been placed with good intention, but unintentionally, through negative presuppositions, send a different message to children about what we believe about school and them. For instance, the sign that says, “Only 10 more days of school,” might be interpreted as, “We can’t wait for this to be over.” Rules are often posted as “don’ts,” like “don’t bring food to class” or “don’t forget your homework.” The covert message is that we think you are going to do these things.

Instead, we can write or say, “food should be eaten in the cafeteria,” and “remember your homework.” The mind makes pictures of the messages we give, so the “don’t messages,” create negative pictures.

When we use these principles for questioning in coaching, we send a message that we have faith in the capacity of the person.

Compare these two questions:

What would you do differently next time?

What are you learning from this that you want to remember in the future?</b>

The first suggests to the person that you think they need to make some changes. They have to guess at what you might be thinking in order to respond. The second invites them to make their own meaning of the experience and to construct their own insights.

This week listen and look for presuppositions around you, both negative and positive. Monitor what messages you give to children and colleagues in your own presuppositions.

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