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Monday, October 25, 2010

“Next to a sincere compliment, I think I like a well-deserved and honest rebuke.” ~William Feather

William Feather was successful editor in Cleveland, Ohio. His quote, "Next to a sincere compliment, I think I like a well-deserved and honest rebuke" is one that I think should be explored by people who have the power to influence others. I cannot count the number of times that a teacher has graded my work without sharing with me the reasons behind their opinions. In certain cases, I have received the top grade. Although that is always exciting, sometimes I make comments or connections that I hope the teacher sees as insightful or at least note worthy. On the other hand, there have been times when I have received a failing score with no explanation.


I still remember a 5th grade assignment where my class was required to make an "All About Me Book," consisting of information about our favorite hobbies, vacations, memories, etc. I don't remember what I talked about, but I remember my teacher praising my creativity, I think she even used my book as an example to my classmates. I remember feeling motivated to continue to do the best work I was capable of, because I enjoyed the way my hard work was received by my teacher. Similarly, I remember writing a short story for my sophomore English teacher. I turned in the first draft, confident that it was a quality short story. It was not. Luckily, it was graded only for completion, but more importantly, my teacher took time to give me criticism and compliments to aid in the process of rewriting. He told me to elaborate on imagery, develop the characters, and leave the reader with strong emotions. I remember being frustrated because I couldn't imagine fitting all of those elements into a SHORT story. His constructive criticism showed me HE had faith in my story and that with some reworking it could be something great. This motivated me. Instead of requiring one rewrite, he required many and only graded it when he thought it was our best work. I looked through my records and found the final version of this assignment and one of the first drafts. Even to this day, I smile at the final draft because I was able to learn a lot and submit a final product that I was proud of.

Both of these teachers had something in common: Interest. Interest in communicating with their students, interest in helping students understand the difference between good work and great work, interest in connecting with the student, interest is caring about the student's success. In a large class, I am always motivated by my teachers interest, be it in my assignments, my well-being, or my extracurricular activities, I like knowing that my teacher cares about me, and finds me interesting enough to get to know.

One definition of interest is, to cause a personal concern; induce to participate. Ways that people can show interest are, like William Feather stated, through a sincere compliment or through criticism. If neither of the two is given, what will motivate the student to continue to work hard? For some students, good grades are enough incentive to keep trying hard, but some students need someone to show interest in their work in order to be interested in it themselves.

Personal Story….

When I started my blog, I was excited that people would read my thoughts. However, after posting my second post all I could think of was who will want to read this? What makes my thoughts so important? I am grateful for all of the comments that I got on my blog about The Other Side of Learning; they have motivated me to write each post with care and consideration. Also, knowing that someone is reading what I am writing and more importantly, they care enough to comment on my opinions tells me that what I am writing is worthwhile.

For most students, criticism = mad grade. This article examines the difference between teachers nurturing their students and babying them with too many meaningless compliments. The happy medium for me is my story from above about my sophomore English teacher. When I wasn't afraid of failure or a bad grade, I was more receptive to constructive criticism. I knew that he had my best interest in mind throughout the assignment. I knew that he was interested in helping me understanding how to succeed rather than pointing out all the flaws in my writing. In a world where students are more concerned with grades and teachers are critical of the work their students are submitting, everyone needs to remember where their interests should lie. Teachers should be interested in motivating their students to succeed and they should be interested in finding ways to relate to each and every student (this means they have to show interest in each and every student). Students need to be interested in learning, not the final grade. If both parties stay true to their end of the deal, both sides should walk away feeling accomplished.

Here are some quotes to consider…

"He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help"~Abraham Lincoln

"Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them."~Unknown

Until next time…


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recurring Themes

“Change must always be balanced with some degree of consistency” ~Ron D. Burton. The Poisonwood Bible, the book I am currently reading in my English class is a perfect example of the importance of keeping certain things consistent while changing others; I will refer to these consistent things as recurring themes. For example, the author, Barbara Kingsolver, describes many things as either black or white. White represents cleanliness, purity, western thinking etc. Black represents dirtiness, primitiveness, Congolese people etc. Stylistically, she tells the story through different narrators, but manages to give each narrator a unique voice and personality. She alludes to the differences between Western culture and Congolese culture. Besides these main themes, Christianity, patriarchy, justice, independence, and growing up are all recurring themes in this novel. In a nutshell, even with all the variety in Kingsolver’s writing, she maintains certain themes not only to further her story, but to make it better. People learn to understand concepts, ideologies, perspectives, and attitudes when they are exposed to them more than once. This idea is successful in novels, but it also holds true in the real world.

Last week’s post and the wonderful comments I received in response to my post made me realize that not everyone has the same “recurring themes” in their lives that I do. This would cause us to have differing “most important things I have learned in school” lists. The characteristics that you develop at home correlate directly to your approach on education. That is why, like in literature, recurring themes at home are important factors in constructing an excited, curious, and open-minded mindset towards school. If you have not already guessed, my family has had a very positive impact on my outlook towards education.

Growing up, my parents asked me what my homework was, they helped me with some math problems, and they quizzed me Thursday nights for Friday’s spelling test. I know that already the tasks listed above exceed things that some peoples’ parents do, but for me, the activities above just scratched the surface. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were very sneaky in the ways that they fostered my passion for learning and my ability to excel in school. For example, they asked questions that made me think comprehensively about what I was learning which in turn taught me how to respond to their questions concisely and thoroughly. As a result, I grew comfortable communicating with my parents. The confidence I gained from explaining things to my parents, in the comfort of my home, translated to explaining those same ideas to my teachers and classmates at school.

My mom made sure my siblings and I were always reading. We went to the library and she let us check out whatever books interested us. Yet, she also encouraged us to talk to the librarians when we needed help finding a book (again with the communication skills) and to use librarians as resources for suggesting books as well as accessing research material found in the library. My love of reading strengthened my vocabulary, and the more I read the more advanced information I understood. In an article about early childhood education, this fact is stated, “By the 1st grade, children from "linguistically advantaged" homes have four times as many vocabulary words as youngsters from disadvantaged homes do. Reading is SO important on SO many levels, such as acquiring knowledge about the world around us and also the fact that reading other people’s ideas and stories helps you to discover a lot about yourself as well.

Another skill I learned early on was listening to directions and explanations. My parents, for example, showed me how to tie my shoes. They gave me riddles to remember and explained any questions I had, but they made sure I was the one who taught myself in the end. In this essay about education, “kindergarten teachers reported that about half of their children are unable to follow or understand directions and show a lack of required skills.” Teaching kids how to listen and complete a task is vital to learn at home, because the teacher will have a hard time teaching something if the kid has not been disciplined to listen and accomplish tasks given.

The last thing that I discovered before going to school was cooperation. Having 3 other siblings, I had to learn how to play with them nicely, I had to learn to compromise, and I had to learn to stand up for myself when I thought my brother or sisters were being unfair to me. My parents taught us to solve our problems with words, and for the most part, my parents stay out of sibling fighting and interactions because they want us to problem solve without their help. In homes that don’t have these communication lines open for problem solving, the stronger kids usually result to violence and the quieter kids usually become introverted and shy away from sharing or defending their ideas.

My examples could go on and on. I am so lucky to be growing up in such a nurturing environment, but it should be stated that the kids that don’t have a home where they can learn these things, are not lost causes by any means. Once a student knows that they have someone counting on them, cheering for them, helping them, and watching them, they are more likely to put forth an effort. Even if it is not a parent, teachers, coaches, advisors, and friends can fill the void. Like literature, life is better when there are recurring themes. So make it your goal to be there for someone else and reinforce a theme, be it communicating, listening, reading, asking questions, or problem solving.

Until next time…


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Other Side of Learning

Education is important. As an adolescent going through the school system, I can honestly say that school is preparing me to become a contributing member of society not just a knowledgeable person. Many people think that the point of going to school is to learn math, science, reading, and writing, but that is only half of the truth. The famous quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination” can be applied to the idea of education; education is a journey, not a destination.

The most important things I have learned in school are as follows (in no particular order):

1. I learned how to listen
2. I learned how to work with my peers (both smarter and less smart than myself)
3. I learned how to communicate with adults
4. I learned how to articulate my ideas
5. I learned how to ask questions
6. I learned how to ask for help
7. I learned how to manage my time
8. I learned the importance of integrity
9. I learned how to defend my opinions
10. I learned how to respect other people’s opinions
11. I learned how to be social
12. I learned how to study
13. I learned how to solve problems
14. I learned to think creatively

The process of learning things has taught me more about the world, people, and myself than any lecture has ever done. A population without this rite is at a great disservice, because if the youth don’t learn about these important aspects of their lives before they are brainwashed by the thinking’s of their society then when will they learn?

In English class we have been reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. I came across this passage and I was saddened by its implications, “crowds of boys from our village and the next one over come straggling in for their education. It’s only the boys, and not all of them either, since most of the parents don’t approve of learning French or the other foreign element in general” ( 126). One thing that strikes me in this passage is that all of the boys don’t go to school. Later on in the passage Rachel (the speaker) says, “by the time they are twelve or so, their education is over and out.” I understand that boys and girls are expected to help keep the village functioning, but if a little more time and effort were invested into education then the village could greatly benefit from increased efficiency and higher technology. Another thing I noticed was the parent’s rejection of education. They are stuck in a vicious cycle. The parents are only repeating what they did as children, but societies like these need education. The amounts of good that a sound education could provide for places like this are endless. The most disheartening thing about this passage was the fact that girls are neglected an education. I know how different their lives could be if they were educated. I draw a lot of my confidence from the knowledge and schooling that I have. I am able to talk to anyone, man or women, professor or waiter because I have confidence in my ability to articulate my ideas, confidence to defend my ideas, and the confidence that I deserve their time. People believe what they are taught, and if you are taught that your role in the family is to cook, clean, and bear children, then that becomes your personal narrative. However, if you are able to go to school and be exposed to different cultures, ideologies, and experiences or if you are able to be taught by someone who harnesses your potential then the course of your life could be incredibly altered. For me, my mind has been opened by studying the craft behind language and I have been empowered by teachers who have pushed me to my intellectual limits.

The oppression of girls around the world is scary, as I was reading about women in Saudi Arabia, I found this bit of information from A Human Rights Watch report (July 8, 2009). Saudi law “requires Saudi women to obtain permission from male guardians (fathers, husbands, brothers, or male children) before they can carry out a host of day-to-day activities, such as education, employment, travel, opening a bank account, or receiving medical care.” Imagine if your life was manipulated by someone else, someone who might not always have your best interests in mind? The scarier thought though, is that these women might not realize the injustices that they are living in. Because it is the norm in Saudi Arabia to be subordinate to males how could women know to expect more? Education is the answer to that question, and the opportunity for both boys and girls to be educated would make the world a better place, I guarantee it.