Friday, January 09, 2004

Praise & Motivation, Constructivism at Work

Two articles of interest:

First, I Speak of Dreams has been reflecting on the value of positive feedback. She says an article by Alfie Kohn has made her re-think what praise really does to children. Kohn argues that children become dependent on praise rather than the intrinsic value of the activity or behavior, and even lose interest in the activity itself the more praise they are given. He suggests asking questions about a child's work, describing what you see without positive or negative judgment, and a few other things.

I am familiar with this idea, and just today as I went through a lesson on converting between grams and kilograms, praising kids left and right, I thought to myself, "Here I go again, making myself the arbiter of all knowledge! How do kids know if they're doing a good job in my class? I tell them...." I did at least one problem where I solicited three different answers, wrote them on the board, then did the problem with the class and agreed on the correct answer. More time consuming, but probably beneficial. I try, off and on, to wean the kids off of guessing from my tone of voice whether they are correct or not.

Second, and related, I got an email from Mrs. Chew, who has started a new teacher-blog, A School Yard Blog, which seems interesting so far, though she has few posts. She asked me to take a look at her essay, Exiting, which is linked to the blog. I did, and it's a fascinating read. I haven't even gotten to the part where the parents start complaining yet.... Basically, she started teaching a middle school math class using a new-fangled, constructivist curriculum. At first, the kids struggled very, very hard, resisting her efforts, blaming her for their frustration, but over time, they started to appreciate the kind of learning (and teaching) that was going on in her - their - class. One of the best parts of this essay is the way she includes multiple voices in her writing - her own academic voice, her more in-the-moment voice from journal entries, and her students' voices, in their comment cards turned in weekly. I am thinking very hard as I read this, trying to figure out what to make of it, how to learn from it, what to do next. (Finish reading it, I guess, but it's 50 pages long and my printer is spitting it all over the floor... I can't read that many pages on my monitor without inducing blindness and headaches). Whatever your current opinion of constructivist teaching methods, you have probably not read a description of it quite like this one.

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