I think he is correct that it seems inadequate to give every kid a ribbon, even for shoddy work. There is no sense in telling a kid that they are good at something when they are not. An example might be my daughter. When she was younger, she really liked to sing, but it became apparent quite quickly that she could not sing well. My wife, whose undergrad degree was earned in music with voice as her major instrument, didn’t tell her that she could sing well.
Instead, she told her that she appreciated her attempts to sing, but that she was missing the mark; the mark being ‘the tune’. There were some attempts to correct the problem through coaching and tips for resolving the issue, but it became clear that there wasn’t going to be much progress. Now my daughter and I have something in common; we listen to skilled musicians and sing on our road trips.
Now, some people might object to my wife telling our daughter that she was not a skilled singer, but I disagree. Some might be concerned for her self-esteem, but I’m not.
I believe that encouraging a positive self-image is an impoverished construct when compared to encouraging an accurate self-image. And I think that this is what Josh is getting at.
All this really strikes at the heart of the educative process and the critical importance of assessment and formative feedback.
Good assessment practices will always provide learners with information about what the goal of the learning activity is, how their efforts miss that goal, and what they need to do to span the gap between the intended outcome and their performance.
The other side of the coin here is how we praise learners and kids for work that is well-done. My youngest son is a very conscientious student, currently in grade 1. He does very well in his school work, is polite, and is a good friend to his classmates. When I praise him for work that is well done, it is always related to the work and the effort involved in solving the problem. I never tell him that he is smart. I tell him that I am proud of him for working hard.
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Thoughts on Failure by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.