Every day I come across amazing online articles and blog posts, which to a great extent change my view of all sorts of issues. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea, from time to time, to summarize what I’ve learnt from those posts and share the impact each of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge has had on me as an educator. I should stress that without my PLN on Facebook and Twitter, I would hardly learn about the existence of so many wonderful ideas. So thanks for sharing guys!
Here’s the first one: an interesting post by Matthew Ellman called My Mindset. The author explains that anxiety is not what prevents students from speaking in an EFL classroom; a certain level of anxiety is desirable after all. It is a kid’s fixed mindset that complicates the matter. It’s interesting that kids who are often praised for their intelligence are likely to approach difficulties in a different way than kids who are praised for their effort. While the former group may blame themselves for not being intelligent enough to solve a certain complicated problem, for example, the latter, more flexible category will learn that things can be changed by hard work and they’ll inevitably outperform those who give up for the momentary lack of self-esteem. Thus it’s always better to praise effort over achievement and natural talent and aptitude for learning languages should not be overestimated in ELT.
This contention sits well with another idea described by Ally Fogg The Art of Praising Children- and knowing when not to. Kids with low self-esteem will benefit from praise for their efforts and application, but not so much from praise for their personality or essential qualities. It’s better to praise (or discipline) kids for what they do than for what we think they are like.
So what does that mean for my teaching? I realize there’s always the danger of putting students into certain categories: the good ones, the naughty ones, the clever ones, the less talented ones, and so on and so forth. This usually happens based on our previous experience or it can sometimes be mere prejudice – someone once told us something about a kid (He’ll never learn to speak English well enough to pass his exams … She’s so disruptive!). A tiny improvement then means nothing in comparison with the huge improvements the ‘clever’ or ‘good’ kids make because the bad always eclipses the good. Another problem is comparing. If we compare students against each other, we’ll never see the imperceptible, minuscule steps forward each one of them takes, hence the student has no chance of stepping out of the category we once assigned him to.
So if we concentrate on what happens in the classroom rather than on what we believe things are like, we might find more reasons and opportunities to praise.