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Posts Tagged as "encouragement"

What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement

Sunday, July 11th, 2010


Dancing with my awesome Balinese dance teacher, IGA Raka

It dawned on me in 2005. I was in Bali working with a renowned dance teacher every day for two hours to learn an intricate, difficult dance. I realized that if she told me that what I was doing was great, I would do the dance again and again and again for her out of sheer enthusiasm. And in doing it again and again, it would get even better.

After our lesson, I reflected on my response to my teacher’s praise and how I’d responded to criticism in the past. In a flash of self-understanding, I realized: If I’m doing something I love and you tell me I’m doing great work, I will work sooooooo hard! However, if you tell me that I’m doing terrible, I want to stop working and die.

Ever since, I’ve held this realization close to my heart. But now that I’m learning about all this new research about praise, I’m wondering: Is something wrong with me? Am I a praise junkie? Why am I so sensitive to what my teachers tell me?

When teachers have told me that I was doing bad work, or even worse, that “I didn’t have what it takes,” I would spend hours and hours of mental energy processing those statements. If I am so bad at X, how was I accepted into program Y? Am I so bad that I deserve to be placed with other students who really don’t seem to care? If I am incapable of achieving XYZ, how is it that I was able to achieve ABC? And on and on.

But now I’m realizing that those hours of processing negative messages never helped me learn a single note or dance move or improve in any way. In fact, some of those teachers’ discouraging statements led me to spend months or even years avoiding my true heart’s desire—or pursuing my true heart’s desire in utter solitude—out of fear that I was essentially inadequate.

In contrast, when I eagerly danced over and over for my Balinese teacher, I honestly don’t think I was seeking the reward of praise or avoiding the punishment of a scathing critique. I believe that her encouraging praise really fed my own intrinsic motivation. Maybe her praise couldn’t “hurt” me because I was intrinsically motivated. (Sort of like how the Book It Pizza Hut pizzas could never dim my love of reading.)

On the other hand, I notice a pattern when I look at the withering “feedback” that distracted me and discouraged me:
“You’ll never achieve…”
“You will never be able to …”
“You aren’t going to attend school for ….”
“I really don’t see you as [having the career you desire] but [in a completely unrelated career]”
“You think you know how to do X but what you’re doing is not X at all…”

These statements didn’t give me any clear direction on what to do differently to improve! What could I do to achieve my dreams? What did I need to learn to prepare for school? If I really didn’t know a technique or skill, how could I acquire it?

Those statements did not answer those questions. They were just judgment. They did not provide guidance, except perhaps “guidance” to abandon my dreams. (Needless to say, I never speak to my students this way.)

Then I remember my teacher in Bali. She did not come from a culture of excessive praise and self-esteem boosting. I believe in my heart that she really believed that I was doing well. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good.

But now I realize that when she told me I was doing well, she wasn’t just praising me. She was engaging with me. She was going to continue to help me to grow and improve. But the other teachers’ statements were statements of disengagement. They were no longer interested (or able?) to help me grow and improve.

So maybe what really matters is engagement.

Do you wish your child could be supported in learning math in a way that’s truly engaging, and supports their intrinsic motivation? Do you wish your child could LOVE math as much as they love to dance?

Then I invite you to apply for my special one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m here for you, and I’m so glad we’re connected!

Sending you love,

Related Posts:
The Power of Praise (#1)
Tips on Effective Praise from Ashley Merryman
Toning Down the Praise: Experiment #1
Toning Down the Praise: Experiment #2 (I am going through praise withdrawal)

Posts Tagged as "encouragement"

“Simple, but not easy” (2)

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I’ve been reflecting for a while why we need to be told that things are easy. I stumbled across Rafe Esquith’s discussion of the same conundrum in his book There Are No Shortcuts. I recommend the whole passage in its entirety (it’s in Chapter 2), but I wanted to share some of the highlights here:

…We have books entitled Algebra Made Easy. Well, algebra isn’t easy. Success at algebra takes hundreds of hours of hard work and disciplined study. I began to identify the problem the first year I decided to teach my sixth-graders algebra. They had mastered all of their arithmetic skills. They had a terrible time conquering algebra.

… then one night we went to a concert to hear Lynn Harrell play Dvorak’s magnificent cello concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. After the concert, forty-five of my students were invited backstage to meet the world-renowned cellist. […] One of them, a beginning cellist, timidly asked Harrell the question that would come to define part of my class mission. Peter looked up and said shyly, “Mr. Harrell, how can you make music that sounds that beautiful?”

Lynn had the answer I had been looking for. “Well,” he said as he squatted down to look Peter right in the eye, “There are no shortcuts.

… When class began fifty-odd hours later, I laid out a better plan. There was a banner stretched across the front of the room proclaiming THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS. …from that day on, the dream [of life beyond the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Los Angeles] became closer, because that motto changed the way my students attacked their work. It brought a new approach to learning. …We decided to lengthen our school day. … [The students] spoke of sacrifice. … They not only rejected the culture [of everything being easy], they created one of their own.

I haven’t yet seen anyone else write so honestly about how challenging it can be to motivate students to persist when faced with difficult material. And I’m inspired by how Esquith succeeded in challening his students to do something that really isn’t easy. (I also think that this is the only stories I’ve ever read that connects the two things I do almost every day—teaching algebra and playing the cello!)

Thank you, Rafe Esquith, for all the work you do to inspire students to master what is not easy, and for sharing your experience with others.

Related Posts:
“Simple, but not easy” (1)
Ana Reynales earns her BA at age 82!!!!!

Posts Tagged as "encouragement"

“Simple, but not easy.”

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

In her book Julie and Julia, Julie Powell makes a distinction between simple and easy. For example, making Potage Parmentier (French potato soup) from Julia Child’s recipe is simple—but not easy.

I think math is the same. After about eighteen years of doing algebra, I’d say it is now simple to me. But the process of learning algebra was not easy.

So why do we seem to crave reassurance that anything we might want to attempt is actually easy? Maybe we tell people “It’s easy!” to communicate that something is possible and that they are capable of doing it. Maybe it’s a way to take the sting out. Maybe in a culture of pigeon-holed specialization, we’re surrounded by too many tasks that just seem impossible to attempt without specializing in them ourselves.

But by saying this, it seems we’re sending a message to each other that we can only do things that are easy—not things that are difficult. And many things that are worth doing are, in fact, not so easy.

Maybe the real message we want to send isn’t, “this is easy,” but “this is possible and that you are capable of doing it.”

Related Posts:
Simple, but not easy (2)
Malcolm Gladwell on Math and Persistence (1)