Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gender-specific praise

Hello teachers!

September's a great time of year, isn't it? If a new year is starting for you, there's the excitement gettimg your room just the way you want it, meeting new staff, and welcoming more little ones into school. I'll borrow a phrase from a training I went to once and say that it's like opening a brand-new box of crayons. Even if you work in  year-round setting, it's nice to take a moment to reflect on your classrooms and possibly change it a little.

I really am working on gender roles in fairy tales, but there's a lot of information out there and a lot I would like to say, so I want to make sure that I get it right.

Perhaps it's because I've been thinking of gender roles lately that I noticed something happening in the classroom this morning. A teacher was in our room with us so everyone would be in ratio. We were all making sure to use specific praise and say something positive to the children as they came in. As they were playing, we asked them questions about what they were doing and giving them words (since they're one).  Then I heard, "What a pretty dress!" "All of the girls are wearing pretty dresses today!" Then, to a girl, "You have a bag! Are you going shopping?" Meanwhile, the boys who carried a bag were simply asked where they were going. If there were any details, they involved grocery stores.

Now, what's wrong with this picture? There's nothing wrong with the statements in themselves. Of course people go shopping and the girls were wearing pretty dresses.

The problem begins to show up when this type of language becomes a pattern. We know that children get their self-worth and abilities from us. If we don't recognize their art, their brain patterns change. Slowly, the child won't be interested in art because their environment is telling them that it's not important. The brain is very adaptable, especially at this age, and constantly removes or adds neural pathways based on outside information. It's why we use specific praise and positive commands; we want the child's brain to say, "This is essential information for this environment!"

So what do you think happens if we focus only on appearance for girls? Are we training them to become thinkers and leaders, or are we reinforcing the stereotype that we claim to disdain when we reject Barbies? What if, instead, we started saying, "What's in the bag? Are you off to collect some samples?"

Let me know your thoughts below! How do you encourage critical thinking and positive behaviors in your students?

Happy teaching!

Amy Latta, KidatHeart


Post a Comment