Sunday, February 14, 2016

The "Tough Love" Question

This morning in one of my favorite Twitter edchats, #sunchat, the topic was "Tough Love". Now, we all seem to have a different definition of "tough love", especially when it comes to dealing with students. Some of the comments read something like "When kids miss deadlines, they don't get to turn the work in late. Maybe they'll learn to meet deadlines next time." I know that this seems to be a natural consequence and we're all about natural consequences, but I don't agree with this type of "tough love".

Our objective is for the kids to learn. We want them to learn good habits and behaviors in addition to the skills and content that we try to teach them. However, punishing bad habits does not further learning. We have to separate the learning from the behavior. Do we want the kids to learn the material? If we do, then telling a student they cannot learn it and turn the work in late for a grade does not further learning. Ideally, we want the kids to learn the material and the good habits. Unfortunately, kids sometimes only get one or the other. One clear example of our mindset is whether or not we allow redos. If we do, then we are furthering the learning. We are also teaching kids that learning is not a one-shot deal. That's okay because in most places in the "real world", learning is NOT a one-shot deal. If I hold a child accountable for the habit and do not allow late work or a redo, how can that child be held accountable for the learning? Either we want the kids to learn the material or we want to punish the kids for bad habits. The latter, it seems, is "tough love".

In our minds, we think that if we penalize a child for a bad habit (not turning in work on time, bad test-taking, etc) then they will feel the urgency to perform better next time. Never mind that they didn't have a chance to repair their learning this time and now will skip that learning to move with the class to the next topic. For a few kids, this penalty may motivate them for next time. For the majority of kids, it does not. Instead, we teach them that the work they didn't do, or didn't do well, really wasn't all that important anyway. If it were important, we would make sure they did the assignment for a grade, even if it came in late. Since we don't, the learning must not have been that important after all. This is the message that kids are learning from us. This is what "tough love" teaches kids.

"Too bad. Should have turned it in. Maybe next time." We think this type of statement is motivational for the students but, in reality, it turns them off. They realize that the teacher really doesn't care about them and the assignment didn't really matter except as a number in the grade book. If the learning is so easily skipped, why do it at all? As adults, when someone says something like "Too bad. Maybe next time" to us, we usually think, "Fine! See ya!" Kids feel the same way. They know that the teacher is not out for them. They know that they are just a number in the grade book. They know that the teacher is really not there to help.

As frustrating as it is sometimes, I give as many chances as kids need in order to learn something. I know that I have as many different learning styles as there are kids in the room. I know that some will get things quickly and some will struggle. I know that kids need different kinds of help. I also know that all kids want to succeed. I can choose to be the barrier to their learning by exercising some "tough love" or I can be helpful in their learning by giving them the support that they need. I choose the latter.

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