Peter Johnston has made a career researching and articulately presenting insights into how to help children grow as readers and develop intellectual curiosity. In Opening Minds he focuses on how the words and state of mind we inhabit can make a real difference in the classroom. For instance, when introducing a spelling test, he asks that we observe the difference between saying, "`Let's see how many words you know' and `Let's see how many words you already know.'" The sentences are only different by one word, "but the "already" suggest that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known."
In Opening Minds, Johnston covers a wide range of issues, from more skillful ways to work with motivating students to ways of developing social intelligence (or, as he calls it, social imagination). Johnston does this in ways that hint at how he hopes others will teach. That is, he never hits us over the head with "shoulds" and "must-dos", but gives examples that help lead us to developing more thoughtful approaches.
I especially liked his chapter on praise. In it he points out how relying heavily on praise (which is a popular approach in this era of self-esteem boosting) has some downsides, such as creating an arms race around what is real praise and what is faint praise -- and ultimately keeps us in an externally-motivated rewards and punishment system. Instead, he gently leads us to see the greater value of taking a real interest in your students work. By asking questions that bring out greater depth, the student learns depth and intellectual probing is most important, and that you genuinely care; all this, without setting up a dynamic that leads the student to look for praise. The work itself becomes the reward. In retrospect this makes obvious sense: in a way, praise can be an easy short cut, while really paying attention and putting yourself in the student's frame of mind takes more work and effort. What I especially liked about this chapter is Johnston got us there in such a gentle way, that I wasn't left with the feeling of "what a dope I'd been in the past." This approach leads by example.
It's hard to imagine a teacher not benefitting from this book, and non-teachers too for that matter. Since we're all kids underneath our adult facade and protective layers, we can communicate more clearly with his gentle but thoughtful approaches.