Thursday, May 24, 2012

The pedagogy of self-esteem

I followed a link on Facebook today, from a teacher in South America which took me to the Education News article The Unteachables.  It's a controversial opinion - that the pendulum may have swung too far.  We have left behind the 19th century pedagogy of rote learning of facts and harsh discipline, and moved towards a more progressive approach to education that emphasizes inquiry, student interest and motivation.  According to Janice Flamengo the result has been the "unteachable student" who has been bombarded with messages (not just from school I imagine) about how excellent he or she is, how gifted and creative, how full of potential.  The argument is that these students lack both skills and character.

Perhaps this is true in the author's home country.  I'm not at all sure this is true in the schools where I have worked.  When I taught in the UK in the 1980s I would say many of my students suffered from a lack of self-esteem and were facing a life of working down the local coal mine or in a factory.  When I moved to teaching in international schools I noticed immediately that the students had a more positive self-esteem and that much of this came from home (and sometimes from previous schools).  Of course there were also some students who had been brought up with an expat lifestyle where everything had come relatively easily and they expected that their school work and high grades would come with very little effort on their part.  Some did view their teachers in the same light as their other paid employees - there to satisfy their whims - but in general I would say such students were not typical.

I think that the IB emphasis on the learner profile and the PYP attitudes could be reasons why students in international schools are not seen as "unteachables".  The aim is that students learn in stimulating and provocative learning environments and that they are empowered to value their learning and to take responsibility for it.  Teachers in these schools know that students are competent, and they listen to them.  Students are encouraged to be curious, to explore and to ask questions and the aim is that students become independent, autonomous learners.  In such situations, the impact on their self-esteem and on their character can only be a positive one.

Photo Credit:  Pendulo de Foucault by Javi Masa, 2011 Attribution

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article which I think does apply to some students even in international schools. I was educated in France where the discipline was quite harsh and to get high grades was a real challenge. I was then trained to be a teacher in the UK and I found that teachers were maybe "too" positive towards students. It is hard to find a balance as a teachers when assessing students so that they get a high self-esteem which also encourages them to achieve higher goals?