two big ideas came together for me today in a beautiful way:
idea 1: from the psychoanalytic standpoint, group theory suggests that students take on different roles: monopolizers, hiders, harmonizers, bullies, etc. this is natural, even useful. problems in the group arise not when kids take on roles, but when kids are always playing the same roles! if the same person is always doing all the talking, maybe at first a bunch of folks are content to sit back and let them do the heavy lifting. but eventually the group is going to get pissed because they aren't getting their say. so it's important to keep roles in the classroom (or whatever group you're leading) fluid, and how to do that is what i've been studying and thinking about lately. just trying to watch it happen is pretty cool.
idea 2: ben blum-smith made a comparison for me today between racism and the idea that some people are better at math than others. he was pointing to both as culturally insidious ideas of inequity that have maintained their strength despite obvious uselessness and inaccuracy because the structural privilege they provide benefits too many people. i couldn't quite grab onto this parallel until he explained that the benefits of the idea of mathematical talent (let's call it) aren't just to the elite mathematical class, but to anyone who has ever felt like they were smarter than someone else. ever.
that hit me harder than anything all week. and i've had a big week. is it actually true that some people are smarter than others? certainly the power of "i'm smarter than..." rang loud and clear for me. there's a lot of meat in here for me to consider, but the thing i wanted to share was this:
what makes sense to me is that kids need to experience themselves in different ways in order to learn, in order to learn how to learn, in order to get good at living. and so it's not ok for the same kid to always be the one that's good at it. who gets it. who explains it. who aces it. it's not ok for the same kid to always feel like they're just not good at it. the good at it and the not so good at it are ok, maybe, as long as those labels don't get stuck in the same place.
this idea feels like the most radical one i've ever had. that we none of us "deserve" to feel like we're smarter all the time. or that we're less smart all the time. i don't believe it, but even if someone had research to show that it was, i'd still advocate for the structural intervention of pretending that it's not.
practical applications for tomorrow:
- see kids as changing beings. really observe, listen, watch, each day with conscious but open eyes (as opposed to permanently labeling them in my own mind as high fliers and low.)
- give them lots of different kinds of things to do, and to highlight the success and struggle of everyone in those contexts, so that it's clear that there will probably always be folks in those roles, that the roles in and of themselves don't necessarily mean anything, because those roles are changing all the time.
the benefits of the idea of mathematical talent (let's call it) aren't just to the elite mathematical class, but to anyone who has ever felt like they were smarter than someone else. ever.ReplyDelete
Sure, like "I may not be able to throw a ball or grow as fast or master popularity for its own sake, but here's something I can be good at. We wouldn't want kids who aren't blessed with traditionally popular traits to actually feel good about themselves, now would we?
Great ideas! Have a lot to do with helping kids feel successful.ReplyDelete
Kevin--one of my colleagues--always used to say that we as teachers had to move kids around--in different groups, in different locations in the room--because they could get trapped in a specific role, get comfortable in a specific job, if they stay put too long. They do not know where their strengths are so they need different experiences to discover them.
UA I think you are missing the point. Which I read as - it is JUST AS HARMFUL to always think you are better than always think you are worse. When you assume you're always right, you miss stuff. Discount other people's arguments before you listen to them. Assume your decisions are right without adequate error checking. That's how athletes get injured. Popular kids bully. Smart kids crash the space shuttle.ReplyDelete
Grr, Blogger ate my comment...ReplyDelete
Kate, for a student to believe they have a natural talent for mathematics doesn't mean that they think they always get the right answer any more than believing they have a natural talent for running means they think they're always the fastest person on the track, or believing they have a natural talent for singing means they think they never miss a note.
The analogy with racism is not the idea that some students are better at mathematics than others. The analogy is the idea that some groups are better at mathematics than others. This is the crucial distinction. Clearly some students find it more natural to think within certain disciplines than others, just as some students are naturally faster runners or have naturally better pitch.
The problem isn't thinking that some students are naturally talented in mathematics. The problem is thinking that you can identify which students are talented based on anything other than a careful consideration of their performance on mathematical tasks. But when you do make such a consideration, some students feel like they're remembering something they've always known, while others have to go through the motions until they can repeat them on their own.
The challenge to teachers is not to treat all of their students the same. The challenge is to recognize that students are different, and to be there not just also for those less naturally talented students, but especially for them. It's to take just such careful consideration to identify which students are surging ahead and to leverage that momentum into encouragement for those who lag behind. Your own best lesson plans do exactly this when they get your students talking to each other, Kate.
But to paint the entire class a uniform shade of beige and blithely claim that personal (as opposed to group) inequities simply do not exist is to tell those students who do have a talent that it's not valuable and appreciated. And many of them hear that far too often already.
Jesse said: "it's not ok for the same kid to always be the one that's good at it. who gets it. who explains it. who aces it. it's not ok for the same kid to always feel like they're just not good at it."ReplyDelete
She never said "treat everyone the same." Nor did she say "different ability levels do not exist" nor "there's something wrong with believing you have a natural talent in math." Neither did I.
It seems like because you were and are a math whiz, you are trying really hard to be offended by a statement of "a kid is not allowed to think she's good at math," something that was simply not stated.