Bobby Caples (Education)

Education & Youth Development Consultant

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Merit Pay

Merit pay is one of those strategies dreamt up by the corporate world – by folks who don’t really understand why teachers would be willing to do well at their jobs. In this article, I dare to agree with Diane Ravitch and post a few more thoughts on the topic.

Behavioral Momentum

One of the fundamental behavioral principles used with kids with depression is something called behavioral momentum, which basically means getting the ball rolling. Turns out, not surprisingly, it’s easier to keep a ball rolling once it already is.

As an example, take academic success. Kids who struggle academically tend to know it, and as a result learn to hate academics. Getting the ball rolling is tough. You’ll often spend hours each week fighting against just getting them to engage in the material, much less actually learn anything.

If you can actually get them past the initial hurdle of actually starting, though, the whole process can be a whole lot more smooth. For example, give them something that they immediately sense will be very easy. Given the choice of completing the really easy task or getting in a fight over it, they may be more likely to roll with you. Then, you can gradually increase the difficulty over time – sneaking in the tough part after the ball is already rolling.

Just like Mary Poppins, sometimes the medicine goes down a bit smoother with something sweet. In this case, the ordering of the something sweet is fairly important!

Authentic Choice

Note: This blog post has been cross-published on bobbycaples.org

Most of the time when we give kids a choice, it’s pretty clear to them what we want them to choose. Sure, you’re giving them the choice between finishing their work and missing recess, and they can choose, but my experience has been that giving such choice is only step 1 of building authentic choice. Step 2 is, not shockingly, respecting that choice and communicating such respect.

Easier said than done, right? Too often, when a child makes the choice we don’t want them to, we get angry or otherwise try to convince them of the better option. Here’s the problem – in a discipline model in which the end goal is building accountability to self rather than accountability to authority, your voiced disapproval actually hurts rather than helps. By coercing them into your preferred choice, you’re actually taking away from their ability to make their choice, thereby moving agency/authority from their sphere into yours. You’re teaching them to behave for you, and make choices that you like, not ones that actually benefit them.

Again, back to “easier said than done.” So, one thing that makes it “easier done” is doing a bit of “under the hood” work in your own mind with expectations. The first step is to stop wanting them to make your choice, and seeing wrong choices as potentially right ones. What does this mean? This means that really, truly letting kids make any choice presented to them, then experiencing the results, builds a stronger perceived connection between their own agency with decision-making and the end result. In short, they start to see themselves as the ones responsible for good or bad results of their choices. They start to remove you as the middle man, and start to see themselves as the ones responsible for their actions.

Listen First (Behavior Management)

This is going to be one of those posts that sounds obvious, and sort of is.

Every so often, it seems I have to re-learn every lesson I’ve ever learned regarding behavior management. Most recently, I had to go back to square one: Listen. I’ve now come to see this lesson as needing to occur periodically in a fairly predictable cycle: I start off listening as a general approach to behavior management, then slowly I start “talking” more and more. Then, I find that I’m talking so much that I’m not listening at all. Then, I realize what I’m doing and go back to the beginning.

By “listening” & “talking,” of course, I don’t mean just the physical act of actually verbalizing vs auditory intake – I mean a general posture toward behavior manage. Listening involves receiving – taking in cues, letting others talk first, trying to first understand before being understood. Talking, on the other hand, involves putting out information into the world.

Both are important, for sure, but I think a lot of us probably get into the habit of talking when you are the one who “owns the goal,” so to speak – when you’re the one who is more motivated for something to happen. Like control in general, though, the more we apply pressure to the world, the less likely it is to change, at least with some things.

So, for now, I think I’m back where I need to be.

Over-testing?

Note: This commentary has been cross-published on bobbycaples.org

Just a quick observation in response to a recent post on another education blog. Over the past few years, there has been continuous focus on “over-test” of students, from curriculum-based type assessments such as DIBELS to, of course, full-blown state tests that “count.” A recent blogger felt that, in her experience, the education system had crossed the line past “over-testing.”

My response is far from novel, but I believe an important one: If “over-testing” has indeed occurred, it’s quite easy to peg the blame on all testing. That is, because too many tests have been given, every single one is welcomed with spite and animosity. Yet another one. The recent emphasis on using data in education has even been under fire because, at times, it’s misused.

If you can’t already see my point, here it is: Data is GOOD. Assessments are GOOD. Sure, too many is bad, and using data in a bad way doesn’t work, but when we’re attacking assessments and data, let’s stay focused on that. Instead, we’re seeing more and more posts condemning it all – tests, assessments, etc.

Question: If we add another test, will you view it as inevitably bad? Is there no chance that it could be effective? If we integrate data in a new way into our educational framework, is it bound to overburden, or does it stand the chance of helping?

It’s easy to get frustrated with “too much” and stand levying the blame on each individual component, rather than remembering that is isn’t every particular assessment measure that’s broken, but a flaw in the overall system in which those individual components are implemented.

A Lesson From Behavior Management

Note: This commentary is cross-published at bobbycaples.org

One of the first lessons most educators learn about behavior management is to promote replacement behaviors. Don’t just tell kids what you don’t want them to do, but what you want them TO do. It seems that some folks positioning themselves as leaders in education (anti) reform have yet to learn this lesson.

Highlighting what’s wrong with a particular education trend is fine. Focusing on the negatives of that trend, while ignoring underlying problems and offering no real solutions, leads to poor behavior change. In short, if the leaders of the (anti) reform movement want to see change, they may consider finding that old Ed Psych textbook collecting dust in the basement.

All sarcasm aside, there are real problems with the testing movement in this country. They deserve to be pointed out. However, there are also real issues that led to the testing boom. Many children struggle, and continue to struggle, and there is a gap between best practice and implementation in enough classrooms in this country to be considered an issue. I draw from personal experience when making this statement.

So, if we want testing dismantled, the best place to start (or at least continue) is to offer an alternative. What should we do instead of testing to improve the quality of education?

Don’t give up the fight against testing, folks. Just don’t expect to win when that’s the only fight you pick.

Fixing Indicators

Linking to another article I recently published on another site: Do enjoy!

Fixing Indicators

Growth Mindset

Was so happy to come across a recent blog post by another educator about this TED video by Carol Dweck explaining her research on what she calls the “Growth Mindset.” My 20 second summary is essentially summed up in 2 points:

  1. Our brains can grow smarter, and do so primarily by engaging in challenging material.
  2. If we change our perception and expectations about challenging situations to understand that we are getting smarter by engaging in them, we win.

Of course, this makes complete sense, and I’ve been kicking myself for not having thought about these ideas in this way before.

In short, the Growth Mindset is an attitude – a collection of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about something that influences the way we interact with it. The great thing about this attitude is that a slight shift in preconception about learning & challenge can really have a huge impact. In the education world, we often get frustrated that, well, some kids get frustrated. They have a hard time accepting feedback, and shut down at the slightest challenge. The reasons are various, from learned helplessness to conditioned aversion to failure because it happens too much. The solution, fortunately, may be a bit easier:

Dweck encourages a first step of just re-educating kids on how the brain works. Prove to them that brains grow, and that challenge is a signal that it’s doing just that. Then, encourage them to reconsider their perception of challenge – that challenges are fun & interesting, not threatening.

Of course, there are other things that need to happen as well in the classroom if a child’s Growth Mindset is going to really sink it. For example, praise needs to revolve around effort and overcoming challenges, not innate ability or even correctness.

Check out the TED video, and other available online resources, for more information. If you’re in education, it’s worth your time.

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