When I reached a point in my life when it was time to reflect on my choices and priorities, I realized just how important it has been for me to feel recognized. And it does not seem to satisfy me to hear that recognition as part of a larger group. In order for me to really feel seen and my work honored, I want my particular contributions recognized.
I think many of our students share this need from deep within – the need to be seen, recognized and honored as individuals.
What happens to a student when he gets this recognition? I know from my own experience there is a deep feeling of satisfaction, a welcoming of one’s self, a feeling of belonging that each of us needs. This can build in a student a knowledge of who he is as a person, of what, at his core, he is capable of. This is an essential element of personal empowerment, recently discussed here.
Unfortunately, students sometimes experience teachers who dole out recognition with an eyedropper, and criticism with a ladle. Do you remember working hard on an assignment and getting it back covered with red marks, and not a single positive comment? If a teacher is difficult or impossible to please, many students will not bother to try.
But vague, superficial praise is also an enemy of self-worth. Our students hear “good job” fifty times a day, and it becomes background noise. Praise for his work as part a class is likewise not going to make a student feel recognized.
Learning to do something in a new way is hard mental, spiritual work. It takes a bit of confidence that we can conquer the challenge. It involves a risk, because it is something new, that we have not succeeded at before. As teachers we are constantly pushing our students to this edge, and we often feel the resistance. “I don’t get it.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “This is too hard.”
But our students can do hard things, although they may not know that yet. Our challenge as teachers is to get them to try, and then reflect back to them the growth that occurs as a result. For students to feel truly seen, we have to slow down and witness them in the act of learning. What is new and unique about what they have done in this piece of work? How have they changed as a result? When we can reflect that movement, and allow students to see that growth unfolding, then we can have a big impact. This is one of the deep sources of power in formative assessment.
In order for this to work, our assignments have to be challenging. They need to include creative dimensions that challenge our students to express themselves individually. If everyone is coloring the same picture, the best that could be said is that you did a great job staying within the lines. Students have talents that go in different directions, so while we want them all to learn the basics of writing and math, I think we should give them room to develop their special skills. So if they are natural performers, create opportunities for public speaking or skits. As a science teacher, I often have given assignments that contain a core of science concepts, but allow students to deliver them through poetry, song, an artistic poster, a creative story, or a factual report. Students need to discover what makes them special, and as teachers we can help them along the way. Public events like the science fair pictured below give us a chance to share that sense of accomplishment with parents and siblings.
Magic happens when students are recognized. These can be defining moments in a child’s life – when she discovers she is actually good at solving logic puzzles – her first step on the road to becoming a scientist. We need to create as many opportunities for these discoveries as we can, and be watchful so we can help our students recognize and develop the special genius that resides within each of them.
What do you think? How do you go about recognizing the talents of your students? How important do you think recognition is for them?
First photo used by permission. ed4553, Creative Commons. Second photo by Anthony Cody.
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.