Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Real skills or fake praise?

     John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach said, "Never mistake activity for achievement."  When my students say, "But I'm doing my work," in a half or full whine, while patently not doing much if any work at all, I wonder what they must be thinking.  Do they really believe that they are accomplishing the task at hand, or are they so accustomed to being praised for just showing up that they believe it to be sufficient?

      When I conferenced with one student recently to explain how her response to an essay prompt measured up against a rubric used statewide, she became agitated at even the gentlest explanation of how her work only scored 2 out of a possible 6.  "Why are you hating on me," she complained loudly, even though the conference took place at my desk, out of earshot of the rest of the class.  

     Earlier in my career, I taught at a high school where most entering ninth graders had a reading level that measured between third and fifth grade.  A counselor explained that the students all thought they read well, because all their peers read equally badly.  When the state mandated an exit exam for high school graduation, a test normed at an eighth to ninth grade skill and reading level, students complained bitterly about its difficulty, because for the first time they were faced with a reality check that they could not tune out or ignore.

     I watch the students every time the exit exam is given, and I see the frustration and the despair on their faces as they realize they are going to fail, some for the first time, some yet again.  I know the solution, and tell them over and over how the kids who've completed my curriculum have all passed the big bad test.  We had that reality check today.  It will be interesting to see if it has any effect.

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