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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hooray! Hooray! You came to school today!

I enjoy reading immensely and have a particularly perverse penchant (ooh, alliteration that would make Wilfred Owen proud!) for books that teach me something about anything. I've got coffee table books on countless topics for that very reason, and some of the literature I have touches on one of my favorite topics: Teaching.

However, once in a while, I find a book that makes me laugh out loud at the absurdity of their assertions and here is one book that does just that:

Motivating Students Who Don't Care: Successful Techniques for Educators, Allen N. Mendler.

Now, with a title like that, I thought THIS guy must really know what it's all about. And judging by the fact that the only book that could possibly be shorter would be A History of Successful Truces in the Middle East, I figured he must be a really succinct guy so confident in his theory that he needed very few pages in which to expound his philosophy.
On the contrary, he just thought he could get away with less typing and make a mint on a few days' work. (Smart, smart man.)

Here are a few of my absolute favorite quotes:

" Can we allow ourselves to realize that a student who chronically comes 5 minutes late to a 50-minute class is present 90% of the time, which would be an A or A- on any other graded measure of achievement? Seeing it this way would enable us to affirm the student and give a consequence. For Example,

Ann, I'll probably keep hassling you to get here on time, but when I think about it, you're here for most of the class. I miss you when you're not here, which is why I hassle you. Even when you aren't interested in class, you're important to me because I sometimes get the idea that maybe you're not the only bored student. So if you can find a way to get here on time, I'd love to see you. If not, and the best I can get is 5 minutes late, then I guess I'll need to live with that. Either way, keep coming."
And:
"Lamar, you showed up and took the test, which I know took effort. I'm convinced that more effort in studying before you come to take the next test will lead to a better grade next time."
And one I've already suggested to the science teacher I work with:
"Whew, that was a tough unit on molecules. I've brought in some molecular apple pie to help us celebrate getting through it."

In his defence, he does make some valid arguments about focusing on the successes of the student to the point that they become fearless in simply making an attempt rather than being fearful of making mistakes and looking stupid in front of their peers. I guess it's just his approach that puts in my head thoughts of fluffy wuffy group hugs and overpaid quack psychiatrists.

I have seen what happens when expectations of kids are dropped way below par. First, they recognize how patronizing it is and their respect for you plummets. Then they decide that if you don't care about raising their standards, why should they and they become most complacent. Rather than setting the bar low and hoping they'll gain confidence through these minute successes, they shut down and avoid even making an attempt.

I actually respect my students and that is why I expect them to come to class on time. To expect less is to say that they are incapable of it and that there is no hope for improvement in this child.

How can we expect kids to aspire to become better human beings if we applaud mediocrity and behavior that they know darn well they can improve on?

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