Inductive language

15th March 2022

Tim Taylor

One of the key tools – perhaps the key tool – of the Mantle of the Expert approach is the use of inductive language. Out of all the different strategies, conventions, and techniques used by the approach the one that makes the most difference is the choice of words chosen by the teacher. The words that draw the students into the fiction and signs to them, this is about working together and sharing ideas.

So, what is ‘inductive language’? Take a look at these two instructions, the first uses the ‘didactic’ code, the second uses the ‘inductive’:

Didactic: “Listen carefully, I want you to make notes while I tell you about…”

Inductive: “There’s going to be quite a lot of information coming your way over the next few minutes, you’ll want to pick up your pen and makes some notes. Let me tell you about…”

What do you notice? For me the difference is of three kinds:

  1. Inductive language puts the emphasis on the work, not the teacher: “you’ll want to pick up your pen and makes some notes” in contrast to, “I want you to make notes…”
  2. Inductive language explains the function of the task, requiring certain kinds of behaviour: “There’s going to be quite a lot of information coming your way over the next few minutes…”
  3. Inductive language is an invitation, not an imposition: “Let me tell you about…” rather than “Listen carefully…”

However, while inductive language is more invitational and less didactic, it is not about asking for permission. The teacher, while still being open and friendly, is signing clearly to the students, ‘It is the work that’s important and it is my role is to lead and to support you in the development of your studies.

Take a look at the difference between these two:

  • “Would it be alright if I tell you about…?”
  • “Let me tell you about…”

They are both inductive, however in the first the teacher is asking the students to make a decision on their behalf, which sounds polite and friendly, but is really not sincere and would in truth be difficult for the students to answer in the negative – “No, it’s not alright” – “How do we know?” While the second, which is still a request, is not asked in the form of a question, but more as a statement of intent: “Let me tell you about…”

Of course, much depends on the tone used by the teacher, it could be a demand if said sternly, or an offer if said in friendly way. If the teacher is serious about using the inductive code, however, they will use the second rather than the first.

Tone, therefore, is important. The inductive code is not just about the words we use but about how we use them. Body language, tone, expression, even eye contact is all part of the process. Examine these two scenarios:

Didactic: The teacher stands at the front of the class and looks at the students. Their body is stiff, they are not smiling, they are looking at the class demanding their attention. They turn and point at the board, “This is…”

Inductive: The teacher stands at the front of the class and looks at the students. Their body language is relaxed, they are smiling, they are looking at the class and inviting them to listen. They turn and point at the board, “Let me tell you about…”

This is quite an extreme example, but you get the point. Let’s look at another, this time a little less binary.

Didactic: The teacher sits on their chair, the students on the carpet. The teacher’s chair is soft and comfortable. The carpet is firm and bristly to the touch. The teacher is smiling and looking at the students, their body is relaxed. They say to the students, “Now, let me see your learning faces.”

Inductive: The teacher is on the carpet with the students. They are on their knees so all the children can see their face. They are smiling and looking back. The teacher says, “Let’s get started.”

The difference is subtle. Both teachers are friendly and communicating a relaxed but business-like manner, however, the teacher in the first example is signalling, ‘I’m different to you’ while in the second, the teacher is signalling, ‘We’re all in this together.’ 

This is important, inductive language – both spoken and unspoken – is about ‘us’ not about ‘you/me’. Look at the difference here:

Didactic: “Show me…”

Inductive: “Let’s see…”

The choice of words here will make all the difference, particularly if the teacher is smiling and inviting the students to participate. 

Examine this scenario: the class are studying the Second World War and are aiming to create, enactively, a series of photographs taken by newspaper reporters after a night of bombing on a city. 

Didactic: “Everyone stand up. I want you to get into groups and show me a photograph of the air raid.”

Inductive: “Please stand up. Let’s have a look at some of the photographs taken that night.” 

The didactic code is a command, and all about the teacher – “I want you to… show me…” – while the inductive is a suggestion, and all about the work – “Let’s have a look at…”

 ‘Let’s’ is doing a lot of work here. It’s an everyday term, but how often do we stop and think about what it means? It is, of course, a contraction of ‘let us’ and is used to make suggestions – ‘let’s go to the beach’, ‘let’s have chips for tea’ – in the inductive code it is saying ‘we’re doing this together’. The teacher’s instruction, “Let’s have a look at some of the photographs” is a suggestion for everyone to participate, with the focus on the photographs not on showing the teacher. 

Lastly, the inductive code doesn’t use praise. This can be hard on teachers, especially friendly, nice teachers who want to make their students feel good and want to build up their confidence. The problem is, praise is about judgment and, once again, it puts the spotlight on the teacher rather than the work. It also, when used in scenarios like the one above, corrodes the focus of the student’s studies and pulls everyone out of the fiction. Compare these two statements:

Didactic: “Well done, that is a wonderful image. You’ve done a great job there.”

Inductive: “It must have been hard not to lose your nerve, not to run away and hide. You can see on the faces of these people they are determined to carry on, whatever the risk.”

Seen together like this, the difference is stark. Both teachers are, of course, giving feedback, but the first is about the teacher’s judgement – ‘I like what you’ve done, I’m going to praise you for it’ – while the second is about the work and what it tells us about the situation – ‘I’m going to comment on what I can see, and draw attention to the wider meaning’. The inductive code, in this example, is inviting investigation, opening up avenues of inquiry, and challenging the students to think more. While the didactic code is pulling everyone out of the fiction and passing judgment on the quality of their work – or at least what the teacher thinks of it. 

The shift from the didactic to the inductive code can be tricky and take time. Particularly if, like me, you come to it after the didactic code has become deeply ingrained in your classroom practice. My first piece of advice is, don’t be too hard on yourself – the students will appreciate the effort you’re making and will notice the difference. The second is, try writing a short script for your lessons, not every word, but a paragraph or two at the start of the session. This will help you to think through the words you want to use and to rehearse the inductive code until it becomes as natural to you as speaking. 

Here are some inductive code expressions you might find useful:

  • We’re going to need to have… 
  • We’ll / we’d need to… 
  • Should there be…? 
  • Had we better…? 
  • If we’re going to… I guess we’d need to… 
  • Perhaps, we might need to… 
  • Can we, just for a moment… 
  • Let’s see if we could… 
  • Just have a little look… 
  • Just go over there for a moment and… 
  • We’ll have to make sure… 
  • Might we be able…? 
  • We can look now at… 
  • Would you give a bit of time to…? 
  • Shall we…? 
  • There must be time for us to… 
  • Can we work in such a way…? 
  • No doubt, there’ll come a time when… 


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