Archive for April, 2012

  • The Trouble with Words

    It would be a gross understatement to say that I love the Utne Reader. You never know what you’re going to get each issue, but it’s guaranteed to be interesting, thought provoking, and likely to change your mind at least a little about something. But also confirm a lot of what you expected. At least if you’re me. Also, it’s a magazine that was a feed reader before everyone used Google Reader and BoingBoing to keep them up on everything. I have a soft spot for slightly out-dated literary things. Sue me.

    In their latest issue, they featured a blurb from the Harvard Business Review: The Trouble with Bright Kids. Never mind how hilarious it is that this article comes from the Harvard Business Review.

    Ironically, writes the Review, “gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.”

    Read more:

    Yes, I did just quote something quoting something else. Not a ‘best practice’ of, well, anything, but I’d rather encourage people to check out Utne than HBR. Harvard Business Review tends to be stuffy and boring and really involved with itself, whereas Utne is interesting and only a little involved with itself. But I digress!

    I was really happy to find this and not entirely because it confirmed something that I have long known. It’s not really a secret that I have a thing for writing, or that it’s something at which I’m usually pretty good. And yet, there have been plenty of times I have been paralyzed with the inability to actually write. Plebes might call it writer’s block, but it’s not. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, which is truly what writer’s block is about. It’s this odd fear of doing writing it wrong.

    And I think it stems from years and years and years of being told how good I am at it. Also the years and years and years of personal and educational evidence with little-to-no professional validation. Even though I know there’s nothing wrong with my writing, there is always a small piece of me that is going to think that I must be doing it wrong if there are no fruits to my labor.

    I wish this was the sort of thing we talked more about it education. We’re overly concerned with making the data work, getting our students to be successful, and being good cheerleaders for the good work and effort we see that we completely and totally forget that words matter. I’m guilty of this myself.

    Reflecting on how I talk to the group of the first graders I work with who are struggling with math, I wonder how much damage I have done that counter-acts the good.. They do not struggle with math because they are unintelligent, or are bad at math. They struggle because the way they think about math is not the way it is being taught.

    A lot of what I do is reassuring these 6- and 7-year-olds that they don’t have to do math the way their teacher does. If that method doesn’t work for them, it is okay to do something else that does work for them. The kids that are terrible with numbers? I show them how to see patterns on a modified number grid. (Side Note: whoever decided the first row of a standard number grid should be 1-10 and not 0-9 really doesn’t understand the way some kids think.) I show them different ways to manipulate number sentences to make them make more sense to the kid. I identify misconceptions they have and correct them, because the misconceptions they have were taken for-granted by adults that they were obvious.

    But the thing I do a lot is say things like “you’re really good at math” when something clicks for them. I’m trying to build their confidence as mathematicians, but what if that’s not what I’m really doing? What if I’m setting them up for that sense of fear I feel when it comes to doing math in the classroom? I do know that a teacher has said about a particular student “He does so well with you, but when he’s with me, it falls apart.”

    I’m going to really have to think about the words I say. Perhaps “You are working so hard” is something I should say more often.