Sunday, September 07, 2008

Being Unique and Praise

How important is being unique? To me, it is a pretty big deal. From playing video games to picking remote hiking trails, I like to take the road less traveled.

Tyler and I have had numerous chats over the years about certain classes in various games we have played. He is usually one of the few people to see the potential in classes that rarely get played--he was one of the first suppression runemasters in Daoc. He was the only one around when he stopped playing the game; six months later he reactivates his account and half of the guild is suppression-spec. In one of our latest games, Team Fortress 2, you can change between nine classes at any point during the round, and I am usually switching to the classes that aren't played both for balance and uniqueness.

I love to go hiking on non-popular trails. Hiking through the woods on an uncommon trail gives me more ownership over the hike than passing by hordes of people along the way. Coming to a lakeside campsite where no tents have been pitched is a very cool feeling.

Uniqueness came to me yesterday while riding the motorcycle down to Tacoma from Seattle. I was the last person allowed onto the express lanes heading south on I-5. On a perfectly sunny, 70 degree Saturday, I was the only soul on the express lanes within view for seven miles through urban Seattle. I-5 was packed going both north and south, which made my uniqueness all the more noticeable. Of course, I took advantage of the solitude and zig-zagged across all three lanes like I owned the highway. As I approached the merge back with normal I-5, I caught up with a red pickup truck and as I passed him we exchanged wide-eyed ear-to-ear grins.

The rest of the ride down to Tacoma I spent thinking about uniqueness and how important it is for students. In my summer health class, Judy re-introduced me to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which states that certain needs have to be met in order for other needs to be considered and for personal growth. Teaching is all about having our students attain personal growth, so an understanding of Maslow's theory makes sense.

Physiological needs have to be met before we worry about safety needs. If we don't have respect for others, it is hard to imagine having morality. Uniqueness fits into this pyramid at the upper level, as self-actualization, but in order to think about one's uniqueness, an individual first needs to feel good about themselves and their skills. Acknowledging and praising each student's unique talents is something I hope to do while teaching. After the second day of teaching, Teach told me about a student he praised for getting a math problem done correctly. It wasn't a hard math problem, but Teach praised the child nonetheless. That student said Teach was the first person to ever say he was good at math. And until Teach praised his math skill, he believed he was bad at math.

Teachers have an enormous amount of power when it comes to the minds of students. One unintended put down by a teacher can mean a life of hatred for a particular subject. My special ed teacher told us on Friday that good teachers are great liars, which I got a chuckle out of. Lying to students and lying to parents are necessary skills for good teachers. While not necessarily a lie, praising a 4th grader for being able to write down his name and add numbers together (which most 2nd graders can do) is not necessarily deserving of praise to me. In a parent-teacher conference, reporting that the student is excelling at math and pushing himself every day is a much different route than "Billy is failing math and won't pass the WASL." Praising students' talents both to the students and their parents is such a boost to self esteem that it makes criticism of students a waste of time.

My next question is how to bring up areas where the students are lacking, and how to deal with the angry parent who waves the failed math WASL report in my face. I thought you said Billy was doing great at math, what gives?! If a student is bad at math, is it enough to praise their ability to add two plus two? Will praise alone open the floodgates to students pushing themselves to try harder math and eventually attain grade-level aptitude at the subject? I think starting with praise and bringing in areas where the student can improve, or give examples of exercises the student can practice might be the way to go.

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Blogger The Wife said...

Thanks for the invite - I have to travel for work on Sunday - but don't know that we have plans yet Sat. . . . let me know what you were thinking - and we still have to plan a Seattle bloggers game!

Still have my e-mail? Let me know.

11:19 PM  

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