Sometimes doing new things can be daunting. It’s intimidating, frustrating, and can lead to feelings of inferiority of the subject or of the teacher. This road block is nothing new.
It stems from fear.
Mostly fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, or fear of rejection. Perhaps combinations of these fears. So we avoid the pain.
In an attempt to minimize pain, we demote this intimidating subject as something unimportant and therefore care less and less about it. In return, this attitude protects our ego.
This is the driving force behind the dejected learner. Soon this process becomes second nature and is the first line of defense for ANYTHING that comes their way that is perceived as causing pain.
It’s a vicious cycle. As teachers, we must fight against it.
The Vicious Cycle
My daughter is only 3 1/2 years old and she is learning to read. She is becoming a great reader. However, she nearly became a member of the dejected learner cycle because of me.
I got frustrated with her when she wouldn’t look at the word phonetically. She could hear the frustration in my voice and it affected her deeply. She gets so much good out of praise but the flip side of that coin is that she gets torn down by negativity. She started shying away from reading activities. I was being an idiot. She is doing something that I think is the easiest thing in the world but she is doing it for the first time.
She didn’t want to do her reading, reading eggs game, or phonetics games with me. So I realized I had to do something fast to change this process and fish her out of the detrimental pit. So I changed they way I behaved and kept myself in check. I remembered a teaching technique that I had learned when I was in high school.
When I was a senior, I became a drum major for our marching band. To do this, I had to attend a drum major summer camp before the next marching season. It’s here they taught us a simple guideline to interact with peers and motivate them to do your will, of sorts.
When noticing an initial error in understanding or performance, immediately find something good your student is doing. Approach them and let them know that you noticed they are doing well in that area. This strokes their ego, lowers their defenses, and subconsciously gives you an esteemed position in their eyes, if for only a second.
Yes it sounds like manipulation but only because you know what it is doing. It’s still good to compliment people and this act would still have the same effect.
“You are doing really well with your marking time, your heels are at the right height…”
You then immediately pose a simple suggestion for improvement. Before you even approach the student to compliment them, you know the problem and what they can do to remedy their lack of skill or knowledge.
“I noticed that when you step off in a forward march, you are having a little trouble with the glide/roll step. Think of squeezing a tube of toothpaste from one end to the other and roll through your ankle. Here, let me show you….“
Let them work on it, ask you questions, and adjust. Don’t move on or leave until they feel like they made an improvement. When they do, let them know it.
“Yes! That is a lot better. Your toes are higher, your upper body isn’t bouncing up and down, and your forward march is smoother. You also have great attention posture. Nice job.”
Notice in the last praise, you give them benchmarks and reminders on how to improve their performance. You can also throw in an unrelated compliment that you noticed they were doing well. As the late Stephen Covey would say, you are making a deposit in their emotional bank account for when you need to make a withdrawal later. (you disappoint, blow up, act human, etc.).
This process allows the learner to be less intimidated by the subject (or you) and gives you the power of making suggestions to benefit them (and they feel like you are benefiting them). It brings their psychological walls down and creates and environment for real learning. The student will become more comfortable when making mistakes because they are constantly reminded there are things they do correctly and can always improve.
You want kids to feel comfortable taking risks and failing. Fear and failure can be minimized when the student concentrates on small improvements. This also creates the idea that longevity, self-evaluation, and perseverance are keys to risking and succeeding.
Thanks to the late George N. Parks and his Drum Major Academy for this invaluable tip.