Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Power of Words (Dear Katie V1 #11)

Dear Katie,

It was the day before a test at Christian Heritage School and we were preparing for the standard review game.  First, I went over topics and structure for the test and concluded by saying, "This is going to be a very hard test, you better have already started to study."

A student then spoke up.  "Why do teachers always say that?  It's not very encouraging.  Why can't you be like our Spanish teacher.   She's always telling us that the test is going to be easy because she knows how well prepared we are."

The student made a great point.  Do I, in stressing how hard the test will be, create feelings of despair in students that may struggle in Social Studies?  Do I make students give up without trying?  Maybe the Spanish teacher had a point.  Encourage them and praise the hard work they already put in.  And perhaps they will want to study more as not to let her down(since she already said she knows they are prepared.)

Words do not leave your mouth and go into an empty void.  
They enter children's ears where they are weighed and considered.

Being encouraging is a great trait, but can you be too encouraging?

A former colleague recently forwarded a blog to me that discussed how we are doing children a disservice if we do not allow them to experience failure.  One of the points the blog made was that we are too quick to praise the mediocre.  In my quest to be encouraging, I too easily throw out words like "That's great" or "Awesome" for things that are just "Very Good" or even "OK".

Telling them something is "Great" when it's "Good" may build up their self-esteem for the moment, but when they compare their work to others or even have others rightly point out where their work falls short, what will happen to that self-esteem when they figure out you were not completely truthful.

In fact, being honest about the level of an essay, project, presentation, etc. will force the student to step up and work if they want to obtain a high comment of praise.  Isn't that what you want as a teacher?

We can't sacrifice authenticity for the sake of building self-esteem.

Some things to remember:

1) Tests are hard and students know it, you don't need to remind them.

2) Encourage them to do what they already know they should do as students; prepare in class, ask questions, and study.

3) Tell them the truth.  If their project isn't very good, tell them, and give them ways they can improve.  And when they hand in that masterpiece, they will experience true satisfaction because your words of praise will mean so much more.

Just my opinion,

Uncle Kevin

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