Cognitive Psychology in the Elementary Classroom

My husband Kevin has read (and improved) almost everything I’ve written in the past 15 years.  After my last post about behavior plans, which he liked very much, he had three observations: (1) I should write about the love of learning kids experience in my room, (2) teachers are surprisingly manipulative, and (3) the posts I’ve been writing are mostly about behaviorism.

To the first point: Kevin’s right.  Posts about freedom, inspiration, and love of learning coming soon!

To the second point, about manipulation: what an interesting way to put it.  Good teachers build strong bonds with their kids, develop trust, and define clear expectations and boundaries.  Do I use those strong bonds to make kids work harder than they would on their own?  Of course!  I use all the resources I have to make them want to do what I (and their parents, our district, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) want them to do.  And is that manipulation?  I suppose so, but another way to put it is that it’s an effective use of influence and motivation, always in the service of student learning and growth.  I have more thoughts on this.  Another future post!

It’s Kevin’s last (excellent) point about behaviorism that I want to write about today. Continue reading

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The Strengths Mentality

I started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (high brow stuff, right?  I know you’re impressed).  It was witty and wildly imaginative, but man, was it giving me the most bizarre dreams.

So now I am sticking to the safer choice, Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard (summary here).  (And my husband, who is, literally, tired of my sleepless nights, has told me I’m not allowed to read before bedtime.)

One point that resonated with me in Count Me In! is the way Judy describes the “deficit mentality” children and parents often face.  She shares the experiences of parents of special needs children whose parent-teacher conferences are dominated by discussions of their children’s needs, but never their strengths.  An autistic student, for instance, has many math-related skills.  He’s great at solving puzzles, building with legos, and remembering directions.  But, his teacher’s expectations of him in the math classroom are very low.  Frustrated with hearing about her child’s limitations, his parent asks, “How can his skills be used to build math knowledge?”

This reminded me of one of my first-ever parent conferences.  I’m gonna say it plain: the student was a pain in the butt. Continue reading