Posts Tagged ‘Confidence’

One of the Most Overrated Skills in the Classroom

March 28, 2012

Whilst I can obviously see the value of teaching spelling skills, I don’t think it is anywhere near as important as schools make out.

The emphasis that spelling gets when it comes to teaching allotments, testing and reporting is astounding. Surely there are more vital skills such as maths, writing and reading that can profit from taking some of the ‘treasured’ spelling time.

Many skills now have specialised spelling programs complete with up to 5 weekly periods per class from the Second Grade upwards. Talk about overkill! My daughter recently brought home a form requesting our written consent to take her out of her classes in order to strengthen her spelling skills. What makes this request even more bizarre is that she is only in the first grade! I can understand taking her out for maths or English, but spelling?

What upsets me most about the obsession with children and spelling is what it does to our students. Our children know whether they are good spellers or not. They have been tested countless times and their work is often given a ‘dose of red’ where every misspelled word corrected. What then tends to happen, is that students become self-conscious about their spelling capabilities and try to avoid the dreaded red ink corrections. Instead of using the most appropriate word for their written work, they choose words they know how to spell. This has a severe negative impact on the quality of their writing.

I am a big fan of minimising the emphasis of spelling. I want my students to write freely, to choose words that best fits their work and have a fearless approach to spelling difficult words. To me, a free and unhampered piece of writing replete with spelling errors far outweighs a dreary, disjointed piece of work with correct spelling.

I’m not against the teaching of spelling and I certainly believe that spelling rules and the understanding of morphographs have a place in the classroom. I just don’t think these skills are anywhere near as important as many would have you believe.

Schools Have to Wake Up to Confidence Issues Amongst Students

February 27, 2012

I’m not a medical expert, so excuse me if I show my ignorance, but I am constantly amazed by what looks like a overdiagnosing of kids. From ADHD to autism, from dyslexia to language disorders, our students are being bombarded with medically based names for sometimes seemingly everyday based problems.

Sometimes these diagnoses prove spot on, and ultimately guide the teacher to better understanding their students. At other times however, I feel the diagnosis seems rushed, lazy and counter productive. Not only do such students receive the stigma of their newfound disability, but they also tend to lose more confidence because of it, rather than letting the revelation give them a new lease on life.

What bothers me is that in making these diagnoses, GP’s, occupational therapists and speech pathologists often see a child’s low confidence levels as a sign of a condition that is impeding their learning. Why can’t a child’s learning challenges be caused plainly and simply by their confidence issues? Why does it always have to be a condition? Why don’t they try to improve a child’s self-esteem before prescribing and labelling?

I can’t tell you how many students I have seen over the years that have been diagnosed with some learning disorder that have responded not to the recommended regime, but to a devoted teacher that spends just as much time trying to raise the child’s self-esteem as they do trying to improve the child’s academic skills.

Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into believing that school life is easy and that all children should be able to cope fairly well. School is tough for children. It can potentially damage a child’s sense of self and can be quite detrimental to their feeling of worth.

I’m not surprised kids are reluctant to go to school. I am surprised however, that our psychologists think that only 1-2% of children fall in that category:

… suffering from school refusal, an anxiety condition that affects 1 to 2 per cent of children.

”A certain degree of anxiety or reluctance to go to school is normal,” psychologist Amanda Dudley says.

”But for some, they experience excessive anxiety and it can result in persistent refusal to go to school.”

Children who experience school refusal often complain of stomach aches, headaches, nausea and other physical symptoms and are often extremely distressed when it is time to go to school.

”It can be all of a sudden that the child refuses to attend; it can be after something upsetting at school or after legitimate absence from school,” she says.

School refusal isn’t a condition. It is a natural response to the challenges that children face at school. It is also a sign that educators are blind to the real needs of their students. By overlooking self-esteem issues and instead concentrating on placing seemingly normal children on an ever-growing spectrum, we are labelling children instead of responding to them. We are diagnosing instead of truly connecting with them.

I accept that there are children with special learning needs who require targeted programs and individual support, but I also believe that there are many children who would be better served if their school helped them to adjust to school life instead of bracket them with a condition or disorder.


Stricken With Self-Doubt

January 31, 2012

It’s the first day of a new school year tomorrow and I’m suffering from my annual bout of self-doubt. I get very anxious before a school year starts. I worry about whether or not I will succeed at helping my students. I worry about whether my style of teaching will work on a new bunch of kids.

The week leading up to the start of the school year doesn’t help. It’s a week that is set aside for preparing the classroom. This involves displays, fancy name tags and innovative ways to use a small space to enhance learning. The female teachers I work with put a lot of emphasis on the look of their classrooms. Borders are replaced around noticeboards, name tags are put on everything (and I mean everything!) and the fear of death is reserved for the poor laminator who cops the brunt of all this activity.

When it comes to developing fun lessons, I am very comfortable. When it comes to decorating a classroom, I am completely out of my league! I have been getting comments ever since I started about the plainness of my classroom compared to the other teachers. My bosses have pointed out that my classroom looks far less inviting and colourful. This year I put up a beautiful piece of red material to cover my noticeboard, before being told that children don’t learn well in a room of red. Apparently the colour red has a negative effect on concentration and creativity. The comments certainly made me see red!

Then there’s the endless diatribe from those in charge about new responsibilities and expectations that all staff need to adhere to. These usually involve devoting a great deal of extra time. If there is something all teachers have in common, it is the absence of any extra time.

Handover isn’t much fun either. As the previous teacher reads each name from the class list, every child is presented as difficult to teach. There’s behavioural issues, Aspergers, ADHD, ADD, Oppositional disorder, social issues, anger management issues, language disorders etc. What is it with psychologists today? They have turned every personality type into a disorder. Why is every second child on a spectrum? What is this spectrum, and how did it get to be so big? In today’s age, the one kid who can’t manage to get on the spectrum of any modern psychological condition probably ends up feeling left out and abnormal.

All this makes me very uneasy. I get very frightened. I desperately don’t want to let my students down.

Make-Up Lessons for 14-Year-Old Girls Draws Outrage

January 19, 2012

You would have thought we were stuck in the 1960’s. Honestly, to offer make-up classes to young girls is such an outdated idea.

A school has triggered outrage for giving make-up lessons to girls as young as 14.

The classes at Mount St Mary’s Catholic High School in Leeds even teach the youngsters how to get ready for a night out, the Mirror reports.

Teachers claim they help pupils learn how to make a good first impression and can boost their self-confidence.

However, family campaign groups and parents yesterday criticised the school.

The Family Education Trust told the paper: ‘At a time when there is growing public concern about the sexualisation of children and young people, it is irresponsible for schools to provide make-up lessons.

‘Parents don’t send their daughters to school to learn how to put on make-up but to receive a decent education.

‘The fact that some of the pupils asked for these lessons is no defence.

Indeed, it is not for students to dictate what is taught in class. My issue here is it sends the wrong message. True confidence doesn’t come from the ability to apply make-up, it comes from achievement. Far more worthier programs can be undertaken by the school than this one.

Whilst I don’t feel it’s necessary to condemn the school for this error in judgement, I think it’s time they concentrated on making these girls feel good about themselves within their charter of educational outcomes.

Eight Tips for Teaching Shy Children

January 11, 2012

I once taught a child that refused to talk. He was already in fourth grade by the time I had him and some of his previous teachers had told me that they hardly recall a time when they heard the sound of his voice. No matter what I tried, nothing was working. By the end of Term 1 I was beginning to doubt I could do anything for him.

Then it hit me. It was a long shot, but I couldn’t think of anything else so it was worth a try. The boy reminded me of Harpo from the Marx Brothers. Not only didn’t he talk, but he had the same facial features and a similar haircut. I decided to show the class my favourite Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, and dedicate the screening to this student that refused to talk. I mentioned how Harpo Marx is cool and so is this student who happens to share a resemblance.

I figured that instead of trying to get him to talk and making his silence a negative, I would celebrate it and cannonise it. The class loved the Marx Brothers and particularly enjoyed Harpo Marx. In fact, no one loved it more than this particular child, who would mimic Harpo, get his parents to order the Marx Brother’s DVD’s and yes, the positive attention from peers in particular made him start to talk!

I recently stumbled on a valuable website that deals with helping parents and educators deal with shy children. The website is called and it features some useful tips. By following the link provided, the tips below are explained in more detail.

  1. Normalize shyness and depict it in a positive light.
  2. Make regular contact.
  3. Give shy children a job to do.
  4. Comment on their successes and post their work.
  5. Help Children Learn To Initiate Contact With Others.
  6. Educate Parents.
  7. Reward Small Improvements
  8. Keep an eye out for teasing

It turns out that he was just waiting for somebody to at least attempt to understand him. He didn’t want people to try to change him, he wanted people to appreciate him for who he was.

Later that year, this very child performed in the school concert. Thank you Harpo!

Sparing Young Children the Affliction of Body Image

July 31, 2011

A mother not associated with my school told me of her concerns regarding her 3-year old child.  The 3-year old is much shorter than others in her age bracket and the comments about her childs’ height have started to make the child self-conscious.  The mother is worried that the stigma of being much shorter than her peers may deeply erode the child’s self-confidence.  Doctor’s have recommended starting the child on growth hormones to alleviate some of the height discrepancy.  The mother is extremely dedicated and loving, and refuses to take that option as she doesn’t see it in the best interests of her child.

This example highlights a problem that keeps getting bigger and more difficult to deal with.  Why are young children more self-conscious about their body now than ever before?  What are we doing about it?

It seems as if the problem is getting worse and we are becoming less able to respond to it.

Pre-teens have never been so obsessed with their looks and so insecure about their imperfections. I read an article that points to a recent study in the UK where almost 600 children below the age of 13 have been treated in hospital for eating disorders in the past three years.

Many point to the advertising industry.  They blame magazine covers and their gaunt models for creating an unrealistic perception of the average body size and type.

But isn’t advertising just a mirror of our own hopes and dreams?  If they put more meat on Barbie’s unhealthily skinny body, wouldn’t sales be adversely affected?

What bothers me is that parents face an uphill battle with empowering their children to be content with their own looks.  No matter how much time and energy they put into trying to make their children feel secure and attractive, peers and others in society tend to tear them down.

Has the problem gone too far to remedy?  Is blaming the advertisers and media really worth the trouble?  How much power do parents have in helping their children overcome societies unhealthy and unrealistic obsession with body image and beauty?

Teacher Assistants Now Come in Human and Dog Variety

March 1, 2011

I love this story!  Like yesterdays post, education is at it’s best when interesting and unorthodox ideas are devised to help improve the standard of learning and teaching.  To get kids to read to dogs is just zany enough of an idea to work.  Who needs teachers when you can employ dogs to do the same job?

A “LISTENING” dog has become Staffordshire’s latest teaching assistant – so he can help children improve their reading skills.

Primary school-age pupils will be reading stories to Danny the greyhound to build their confidence and overcome their fears of reading aloud.

Staffordshire County Council is only the second local authority in England to trial the idea and was due to be enlisting the help of its new four-legged recruit today.

The mild-mannered pooch was going to be working with about 30 youngsters at a library in Tamworth.

If successful, the project could be rolled out to other libraries this autumn to benefit schoolchildren across the county.

Danny and his owner, Tony Nevett, are part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) programme, which has already proved a huge hit in the U.S.

Tony said: “He loves being read to and loves people.

“He will just be laying there on the floor while children are reading to him.

“Some children even show him the pictures in the books. Danny doesn’t judge them and he doesn’t criticise.

“For children who don’t like standing up in class, it can be a real help.

“We’ve had some fantastic results.”

Therapy dogs are already used to help people recover from illnesses or to befriend the elderly, which is where the idea to use them to aid literacy skills came from.

“It’s called animal-assisted therapy,” said 50-year-old Tony, who is based in Northamptonshire and has a degree in this line of therapy.

“When people stroke a dog, it’s been proven to lower their blood pressure.

“One of the reasons we use a greyhound is their temperament. They don’t bark.

“They are also the only type of dog with one coat of hair, so they are less likely to trigger allergies.”

The listening dog sessions can work in a variety of ways.

Sixteen-month-old Danny might listen to a child read on a one-to-one basis, or work with youngsters in small groups.

Pupils with special needs, such as autism, can draw particular benefits from working with Danny, although Tony is quick to point out that any child can enjoy working with a dog.

The books can tie in with the reading schemes they are using at school.

Staffordshire is following the lead of Kent County Council, which piloted the READ programme last year.

The approach in Staffordshire is especially innovative, because it involves running the sessions in a library.

Councillor Pat Corfield, cabinet member for culture, communities and customers, said: “This may seem like a shaggy dog story, but it has a serious purpose.

“The idea is that children will lose their fear of reading aloud, because the dog is a non-judgmental, friendly audience.”

Despite only being a young dog himself, Danny already has a wealth of experience working with children.

He has a sideline as a ‘Blue Cross’ dog, where he goes into schools to help teach pupils about responsible pet ownership.

There’s an old joke often attributed to teachers that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.  Seems that joke can be altered from peanuts to shank bones now.

This is What Teaching is All About!

February 28, 2011

There is so much anti-teacher propaganda in the news at the moment, it is refreshing to come across a story which gives us an example of teaching at its very best.  We’ve all had students that appear shy and struggle to find a voice in the classroom.  Some teachers ignore the problem and allow the student to fall under the radar, others berate the child for not contributing to classroom discussions and activities.  And then there’s this rather unorthodox method:

A 10-year-old student has shaved off his teacher’s hair after completing a dare to overcome his shyness.

Taewoong Jeong, from Korea, could barely speak in front of his classmates at Gems World Academy. His Grade 5 teacher, William Clark, said his bashful nature was holding him back.

“I thought it was perhaps a lack of English language skills,” said Clark. “But then I found out that wasn’t the case because he is a good writer.

“It later dawned on me that the child had a fear of public speaking.”

His classmates came up with a solution. “It began as a joke,” said Mr Clark. “They said, ‘If Taewoong sings in assembly, you should get your head shaved, Mr C’.”

Mr Clark agreed, and the dare was set. If Taewoong worked up the courage to stand up in front of a school assembly and sing the national anthem, he would be allowed to shave off his teacher’s hair.

The Taewoong Project, as it came to be known, included posters plastered around the school, urging Taewoong to go through with the dare.

Mr Clark recalls: “Every Thursday I would ask him, ‘Is today the day Taewoong?’. We could see that every week he would muster up a little more courage for it.

“His classmates would constantly motivate him too.”

“What he did last week, though, has made him my hero.”

It took three months, but last week Taewoong overcame his fears and got up in front of the school.

“I just did it,” said Taewoong. “I definitely feel more confident and think I can do it again.”

True to his word, Mr Clark brought out the shaver for Taewoong. “I told him, this is a life long deal.  If you cannot do it during your time at school, send me a video of your achievement from wherever you are and even if I am in Antarctica, I will send across a video with my head shaved off.”

For Taewoong this was the fun part: “I felt really happy and weird at the same time.”

Mr Clark believes this experience will help Taewoong get through other difficult situations.

“Noting will be that hard for him anymore,” he said. “Whenever he is faced with an audience and fear grips him, he will have to memory to help him through.”

Taewoong’s father, Simon Jeong, said he appreciates the effort put in by his class teacher: “It was a unique style adopted by Mr Clark where my son was pushed to taking a risk. I think it will make Taewoong a go-getter.”

I just love this story.  It goes to show that the best way to deal with challenges in the classroom is to think outside the box, build your students up, instill a support group feel amongst the group and build a fun and lively atmosphere. Whilst I’m not sure I have it in me to have my hair shaved off, this story inspires me to work even harder to ensure that no child is left out, ignored or unsupported.

%d bloggers like this: