Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Messages Are You Sending?

An interesting question was once posed to a group of mathematics and science teachers at a conference that I was attending. “What do your students think is important to you?” This became the topic of much discussion and reflective thinking as teachers pondered what they truly communicated to their students by their words and actions in the classroom. Some teachers thought about the time they spent making sure that students work is organized, written legibly, and turned in to the correct location. Others admitted that neatness was not as important as correct answers and that they were not as concerned about student work being well organized. Many different thoughts were shared within the group, but the central theme of the discussion was that students’ attitudes reflect the attitudes modeled by teachers and parents. Parents and teachers are the most significant figures in a child’s education. We pass on many of our attitudes, intentionally or not, to children in our care. These may be good or bad attitudes and we may not even realize how these attitudes are being transmitted. Consider what your response is when your child seeks help with a math problem. Do you take a quick glance and tell your child that you have been out of school too long and don’t remember how to solve the problem? Do you tell him/her that you don’t know because you didn’t have to do that math in school? Do you sit down with your student(s) to search the textbook or other resources and persist until you both understand the concept? What is your attitude toward homework? What is your attitude about your student’s grades? Do they understand that you feel it important that they do well? Do you feel that it is important to be on time? When confronted with situations such as those name above, our actions transmit, and in turn transfer, our attitudes toward various subjects. If you aren’t willing to try to solve a problem that your child is being asked to solve, you may be communicating that you do not feel it is important to persist until you understand the concept. The look on your face may show that you feel that the task is painful or unimportant. In an interesting study, researchers found that college students preparing to become elementary school teachers had the highest levels of mathematics anxiety in comparison to all other college majors. Most of these students will soon become teachers who spend the minimum amount of time required on mathematics content and do so without enthusiasm. This attitude is communicated to their students and, coupled with less-than-enthusiastic attitudes displayed by parents, may become detrimental to mathematics skills development. Another attitude that seems to be more and more prevalent in American schools is that all school work should be easy. In a recent study that compared Japanese, German, and American students researchers found that while Japanese and German students expect math and science classes to be difficult and to require a significant amount of time and effort to gain proficiency, American students felt that these courses should be simple and take no more than a short time to complete. If the class wasn’t “fun,” or if the students didn’t “get” the concept immediately, it was perceived to be the fault of the teacher. These attitudes work against many of the principles driving education. Persistence in solving problems, employing a variety of strategies, and other educational goals are undermined by this attitude. One of the biggest challenges that we face at Sorenson’s Ranch School is overcoming this tendency for students to want everything to be “fun” and “easy.” Our competency-based advancement requires initiative and persistence on the part of our students. Many struggle with these aspects as they begin their stay with us. Over time, particularly as they get closer to graduation, initiative and persistence become more a part of our students’ daily endeavors. Without exception, those students who become better at self-motivation and persistance, do better as they re-integrate into their families, schools, and jobs post-SRS.

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