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Author Visitation Part 2: Student-centered Learning

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

In part 2 of sharing my visitation experience at my local high school, I want to discuss a method of teaching that I not only witnessed, but was a part of.  Mrs. Carey, the journalism teacher of the three classes I visited, conducted something called student-centered teaching. She of course has a curriculum, but she has her students give input on how they want the course to look like. She even allows them to provide feedback and give suggestions. Before I visited her classes, I was nervous and even slightly uncomfortable with the thought of lecturing in front of her students. I had even prepared a powerpoint. However, my experience was anything but and the powerpoint certainly was not needed.

The structure of my visit was very student-focused. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, so I was relieved when Mrs. Carey told me that it would be a very laid back conversation that was driven by the questions I would be asked. So, instead of standing in front of the students and lecturing to them, I sat amongst them and talked with them. It was of course more comfortable, but it was also much more personal and effective. The students were free to ask what they wanted to know and for those who had other responsibilities, they were free to work on them solely or simultaneously while listening to me.

What I love about this teaching method is that it gives students some control over what they should control: their education. Administers may see students as children, but for the most part, especially when they’re in high school, students know how they want to be taught and what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. The best thing about this method is that it signifies how teaching is indeed a partnership. A teacher may believe they have the best teaching method around, but if it’s not working for the students, then it’s not working. A teacher needs to understand their students and work with their students in order for education to be successful.

So, if student-centered teaching is so great, why isn’t it used more often? Why are policy-makers more interested in result-focused education instead? There are of course plenty of reasons, and I believe one of them to be an issue of control and power. I believe it correct to assume that some feel student-centered teaching to be a relinquishment of power and control for teachers and policy-makers. On the contrary, I believe that if students are spoken to, spoken with, and most of all, if they are heard, the teacher in turn gains much more respect and power in the classroom. The students that I visited were anything but out of control and disrespectful, and this does not mean that they don’t get unruly like all students do. Their education is just a matter of understanding the following principles:

1)   Students have a voice that need to heard.

2)   Education is a 3 way partnership: Teacher and Student, Student and Parent, Parent and Teacher

There are, of course, other successful teaching methodologies, but I believe this one to be one of the best.  To Mrs. Carey and all the other student-centered teachers out there, you’re doing a great job!

Peace and love,

Ariffa

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Response to “Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem”

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

Last week, Vera, a long-time follower of mine and a wonderful blogger, recommended that I read a blog post from A Holistic Journey titled Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem. As the title suggests, the article discusses the theory and the author’s belief that it is more effective to praise a student’s efforts as opposed to their smarts.

My Story:

Before I tell you my opinion about this theory, I will share a bit of my background in education. Before I even started school, my mother made sure I was well prepared…very well prepared. Before I even started kindergarten, I knew how to read, write, and spell at a level well above kids my age. When I was not in school, I studied and read, and I read and studied.

In middle school, my mother did set a standard for grades: I was to get As and some Bs. Did this stress me out? No. Because ingrained in me was something very important: if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. So each time my mother read my straight A report card, she would say “keep it up,” or “if you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a scholarship.” It was not “keep being smart” or “if you stay as smart as you are now, you’ll get a scholarship.” Because the concept of hard work was ingrained in me, I believed I was smart because I worked hard, and because of that, I believed everyone had it in them to get the grades I did if they worked as hard as I did. And yes, I received multiple scholarships.

 Do I Agree?: Yes and No

Diana’s post states that “when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” This is something I respectively don’t agree with fully. I think parents tell their children they’re smart because 1) they truly believe it and/or 2) they want their children to believe the same.  There also needs to be a distinction between praising and complimenting. Why shouldn’t we honestly compliment our children and students for being smart? Everyone likes to feel good and should always feel that way.

Setting up for failure:

When it comes to praise, feedback, and the like, there is a BIG difference between the realistic and the ridiculous. For example:

1) I believe that girls should not be told they’re princesses. I’m not talking about affectionately calling a child a princess (every girl is a princess), but instilling in their heads that they are indeed royalty above everyone else. There has actually been a study done about the negative personality effects of this. I’m sure you can imagine; however, see the “Not every child is the same” section.

2) Students are told at a young age that college will get them anywhere, that a college grad is superior to one who is not, and so on. Yet, when we look at the percentage of unemployed and heavily indebted college grads, what should we think? Yes, college grads should of course be praised, but they must be prepared with a realistic view of the world.

3) Parents need to teach their children that they are not the greatest in the world, that there will be someone out there who is better at something, that they will be competing against many, many other people, and that the only way to be truly successful is honest, hard work. I will never forget the story about a teacher’s graduation speech that discussed these very same topics and the backlash he received from parents who were blind to the reality of the world.

Not every child is the same:

Diana’s post states that praising a child’s smarts can cause stress and pressure. This may be true, but I believe that the way praise and feedback affects a child depends on their personality.  Yes, some may feel pressure, while others may just let it roll off their shoulder, and others may take it humbly or to the head. Isn’t the lesson of humility, maturity, and comfort with one’s self all part of growing up and getting older?

I cannot stress the significance of individuality. And what I mean is, not everyone who works hard will receive the same results. This was something I learned the hard way. Before I was an English major, I was in pre-med and no matter hard I studied, cried, and prayed, I got Ds, Cs, and Fs. Up until that point, I always got As because of my hard work. And it took some time to understand that no matter how hard one may try at something, if they’re not good at it, they’re just not good at it. Another way to put it is like this: I have a horrible singing voice. No matter how hard I may try, no matter how many lessons I may take, I will never be able to sing beautifully.

Bottom Line:

As Diana’s post states, “I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God.”

Yes, I do believe that it’s more effective to praise a child’s efforts. I also think that it’s okay to compliment a child on their smarts, being realistic about it and their future. We are all not the same. Not everyone who goes to college is smart, and not everyone who doesn’t go to college is stupid. We are all capable of doing great things…in our own way, in our own time.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

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