When tutoring, praise such as “good job” or “you are so bright”, seem so common and innocent, that one doesn’t even think about the effects that these comments can have on a student. At E.K Powe, I have primarily been tutoring three students, who the teacher has described to me as being the most advanced in her class. Initially, they had been working on addition and subtraction worksheets, but were zooming by them so quickly that instead, the teacher sent us to the media center and asked me to have them conduct research. It was difficult for me to get second graders excited about research, and they frequently complained to me that it was too difficult and that they wanted to go back to doing the math worksheets. Often times, I would give in to their wishes, having them complete more addition and subtraction worksheets and congratulating them for correct answers. At the time, my comments and actions had seemed ordinary and harmless, but after reading more on teaching techniques in class, I realized that I was in fact discouraging a growth mind set.
In class, we watched a video on Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, who researches the idea of a growth mind set. This is the idea that we can grow our brains’ capacity to learn and solve by attempting challenging tasks. I have noticed, that many of the classrooms I have tutored in, including the 2nd grade classroom I am currently in, have been discouraging this growth mindset, often rewarding students for correct answers while ignoring effort and tracking students very early based off of their performance on intelligence tests, as if intelligence was fixed. As a result, I have noticed that many of the students I work with, are afraid of failure, and often avoid challenging tasks, and instead choose tasks they know they can succeed in. For example, the three students I am currently working with gave up easily on their research projects, and preferred to go back to doing the math worksheets that they knew they could complete quickly. Although, these students have been labeled as advanced by their teachers, this same label is keeping them from attempting challenges, as they feel that they are only valued when they over achieve. Likewise, my own praise has been contributing to the fixed mindset of the students. By praising them for correct answers, I am disregarding their effort, and instead only showing value in their ability to reach the solution and not the process.
Also, in educational psychology, we have discussed Erikson’s model of psychosocial development and this has allowed me to further understand the students that I tutor. Currently, most elementary aged children are going through an Industry vs Inferiority crisis where they begin to question their competence. Children use their school performance as a measure of their competence therefore failing grades often negatively affect their self-esteems. Students who don’t excel as quickly as their peers, often begin to feel unintelligent and view challenges not as opportunities to learn, but as opportunities to fail.
My service learning experience is currently allowing me to critique myself and my own methods and I am working towards making a change in my tutoring. I will be more cognizant of what I say, and think before praising students. Instead of congratulating a student for a correct answer, I’ll say something along the lines of “I am proud of you for working hard”. If a student gets a wrong answer, I will also praise them for their effort but have them explain to me their method in figuring out the problem so that I can see what went wrong and assist them. Although, I want to encourage my students, I will be careful to not equate intelligence with achievement. I have utilized some of these techniques already in my last tutoring session, and they made a huge difference. I decided to split the research into different sections and on that day simply focused on having each student choose a topic they found interesting. By splitting up the research this way, it took some pressure off of the students since they no longer felt that they would be in competition with each other to finish the project, because now they would all be working on the same sections. I also explained to them, how important it was that they choose a topic that they did not have much knowledge on already, so that they could learn something that they did not know before. By encouraging them to learn, and taking away their focus from the final project, they became more interested in the idea of a research project. I feel that it’s crucial for today’s teachers to emphasize to their students the importance of learning, over simply achieving. As it is evident in many older students, an obsession with achievement can result in cheating and other negative habits because students lose sight of the learning process and focus only on attaining a grade that they feel defines their intelligence. It is also important to recognize that students each have different learning skills and levels. While a research project may be challenging enough for these second graders who seem to be bored by regular class work sheets, other students may actually find the research project to be too difficult. I want to challenge students, by giving them possible yet difficult tasks. Giving a student a task that is way beyond their capabilities, is not only inefficient, but can also frustrate a student.
By: Vanessa Agudelo