February 22, 2007

The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids

Posted in articles, classroom management at 8:09 pm by mrsmauck

I don’t know who posted a link to this article in New York Magazine, but thank you so much! It was extremely interesting. I posted a while back on my hesitation in using positive reinforcement and elaborate reward systems, a la Harry Wong, in my classroom. The above-linked article isn’t about rewards, though, it’s about the more abstract idea of praise. The gist of it is that students who believe themselves to be smart–who are told they are smart from a young age by parents, teachers, grades, and test scores–don’t have as many coping mechanisms for failure. To build up their willingness to work toward long-term rewards, instead of toward short-term praise of their natural abilities, they need to understand that the brain can grow, like a muscle. Kids who believe themselves to be naturally smart apparently believe intelligence is predetermined: they work hard at things they’re good at, and quickly abandon the things in which they can’t succeed immediately. They develop a subconscious understanding of this fact when they are praised for their processes, not their natural abilities. When we use specific praise–you know, the kind that sounds really corny when you first try it out–kids begin to formulate strategies for future success. So, instead of saying, “You’re so smart; I’m so proud of you,” say something like, “I can tell you worked really hard on these metaphors–they’re great: so creative and insightful! Keep it up!”

When we praise their intelligence in general, they are not motivated to work harder. This article points to a foundational 1969 study called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” that essentially has some faults, and has led to some ineffective parenting and teaching strategies in the last 40 years.

As a future high school teacher, I found this particularly interesting:

And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude. In the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.

Teens work harder in response to criticism, not praise! So interesting! You’re challenging them to work and try harder when you criticize them, I suppose. This bit about cheating rings true to me, as well:

Students turn to cheating because they haven’t developed a strategy for
handling failure.

Teachers, you know better than I: Do high-achievers cheat as much or more than low-achievers? This seems to mean that if students grow up hearing nothing but praise of their intellectual abilities, they’re more likely to cheat than students who have heard praise of their efforts and their processes, and even criticism.

What do the real teachers out there think? Parents are certainly more influential in this realm than teachers, but we have lots of opportunities to show students that their brains can become stronger with hard work, that trying hard is not an indicator of failure. How can we/do we do this in the classroom, consistently and sincerely?

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February 15, 2007

Interview recap

Posted in job search at 4:08 pm by mrsmauck

Well, the interview was good, I think. It was just the superintendent and me, which I thought was a bit odd–I know the school is in the process of finding a new principal, but I would think they would wait until they have hired him/her before interviewing teachers. Anyway, he said I should hear back from him by the end of the month. Don’t you just hate it how all the questions on which you had meditated and rehearsed don’t get asked? Plus, rehearsed answers sound really silly when it’s just you and one other person–no element of performance. That’s one part of teaching I’m really excited about (I’m excited about almost everything about teaching right now, though): putting on a show, discovering truths as I talk about them with students, and animating their minds with the ideas and thoughts that come to me in the moment, as I’m inspired.

February 12, 2007

I have an interview!

Posted in job search at 8:12 pm by mrsmauck

There’s not been much to report on the education front–until today! I’ve got an interview at a small nearby high school. I’ve already talked to a teacher who works there, and know it would be a position teaching grades 9-12, and possibly the journalism course also. The course load sounds great for me, as I’m trying to get a wide range of experience in my first couple years; really figure out what grade level students and curriculum I like and which I’m best with.

I’ve downloaded the school’s state report card, and here are some stats that jump out at me:

  • The average number of days absent per student is above average, 13.1! That’s a school-ful of Ferris Beullers!
  • The average property value and household yearly income is $10,000-12,000 lower than the state average.
  • Despite these dire stats, the percentage of parents attending Parent-Teacher conferences is average compared to the state, 72%.
  • End of Instruction Test scores were 10-12 percentage points below the state average in English II, U.S. History, and Biology I, and 23 points below in Algebra I! The teacher I spoke with said they switched Algebra I teachers after those scores came in.
  • Kids seem to not achieve to their full potential at this school for some reason. Consider: The average GPA is 2.4 (state average is 3.0), and the average ACT score is 18.1 (state avg is 20.6), yet the Oklahoma college-going rate was about equal to the state rate (about 51%), as is the percentage of Oklahoma college freshmen with a GPA of 2.0 or above (72-74%).

Looks like there’s a lot of room for improvement, no matter what way you look at it. I think I’m going to have to get a lobotomy between now and then though, as baby thoughts have taken over my brain! I’ve been riding the name carousel for weeks, with no end in sight. It’s really starting to give me a headache. Getting back into the teacherly frame of mind is going to take some effort, that’s for sure. I’ll probably be reading over this blog and posting in the next day or two to update my teaching philosophy, classroom management policies, curriculum ideas, etc.