Monday, October 31, 2011

The Unavoidability of Celebrating Everyone's Success

On Friday of last week, in the after school program, I led an art project. The art project was to make egg carton spiders. An egg carton spider has the bottom of a single egg compartment and has 4 pipe cleaners that are cut in half to form its 8 legs. They can be glued or taped to cut out egg compartment. This is an example of what it looks like:

I'm trying to recognize interesting ideas that the students come up with. I'm trying to do that so that I can support them. However, in some cases, I am particularly surprised with an idea that a student has. For example, one of the students that I was making the egg carton spider with made a small hole in the base of the egg compartment, lowered a string into the hole, and tied a knot. Also, she made the legs a quarter the size of the pipe cleaners rather than a half. She made her egg carton spider into a hangable ornament rather than just a stationary desk occupant as I originally intended. Honestly, I liked her idea more than what I originally came up with. I liked her idea so much, that I asked her if I could take a pic of it on my phone.

As soon as I did that, a kindergartener sitting next to me said, "Hey, you're supposed to like all of our work!" Immediately after she said that, I was thinking, "Crap.... busted." So immediately, I look at what she is doing with her egg carton spider. She was using a half sized pipe cleaner to poke a hole into the base of the egg carton spider. She bent the bottom of the pipe cleaner to a 90 degree angle so that it was pressed against the roof under the base and curved the top of the pipe cleaner that was above the base. That way, she could carry it around. So, I gave her genuine praise for that.

This experience has brought me on my guard in a new way. Generally, when I give someone praise, I say something vague like "wow... that's cool." However, I tend to compliment with precision if I'm genuinely surprised with an idea that a student implements. I need to start elevating the precision of my praise for all students rather than for just those that surprise me. The level of precision I communicate my praise with must be the same for all students. That's what I need to do if I want to maintain a positive rapport with all of my students rather than just the few that I speak precisely with.

Otherwise, if I praise certain students with precision, but I don't praise other students with that same level of precision, I would guess that would cause some students to become jealous. I think that jealousy can be expressed in various ways, but none of which are positive. I will consider what I think are the worst case scenarios. One way is that one student will fight with a student that he/she is jealous of. Another way is that the student who is jealous of other students will break down emotionally from not getting the same kind of approval from me that I would give to other students. That is my understanding of why unavoidably, I must make the level of precision in my praise equal for all students.

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