IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.” WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER. AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR.
Q: The teachers at my school are big fans of your cooperative learning methods. Although we have been meeting with considerable success, our concern is that we are falling into the “prize trap.” Any advice for avoiding that?
A: For those who are not familiar with my methods, I strongly suggest a reward system for good work and behavior. Although I do not care what the reward may be, I usually use an elevation in grades. I assume your phrase “prize trap” refers to the concern that students are only motivated by some tangible benefit. The greatest motivator is success. Once students have tasted the joy of being successful, most students do not want to return to a sense of failure. In my mind there is no such thing as a “prize trap” but merely highly motivated students or disenfranchised students. I’m delighted that you and your colleagues are utilizing my instructional methods. I hope you continue and spread the word.
Q: I am a guidance counselor. In my school, I have the responsibility of disciplining the student body as well as trying to guide and counsel them. Can you provide advice of how to do both tasks?
A: You have been given the unenviable job of wearing two hats that in many ways are diametrically opposite skills. Although I would advocate that this hybrid job should never occur under any circumstances, this is nonetheless your current situation. Your first allegiance is to your job title. Students need to receive advice to navigate their learning experiences. For many students it is difficult to trust someone who will also provide punishments. The only reasonable way to do both tasks is the first time a student breaks your school’s rules, talk to them to get to the bottom of their actions and then let them know that there will be consequences the next time they violate the rules. If the student does break the rules again, take the proper disciplinary action. But remember, once the student has suffered the punishment, they will very much need to be counseled immediately. This hybrid concoction your school has thrust upon you undermines the importance of a guidance counselor. I hope your administration will reconsider how your job should be done.
Q: Our son is a third grader, and he is very disruptive in his class. He is seeing a psychiatrist and is on medication. What else can we do to help our child?
A: I would like for you to take a long term approach to your son’s education. As a parent, your primary job with regards to your child’s learning experiences is to make sure that your son is keeping up with his studies. Usually when a student is meeting with success, they will tend to be less disruptive. Regardless of his decorum, the key aspect of schooling is measured by how much was learned and retained. In addition to the quantity of material learned, have your son develop an outside interest. Although it attacks the problem from the “back door,” getting a student involved in a hobby, sport or developing computer skills tend to create a more well-rounded individual. Plus, children and teenagers for that matter tend to be happier when they achieve a variety of different types of accomplishments. The hope is a happier student is less likely to be problematic. Finally, you may want to consider a new doctor.
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