Thursday, December 06, 2012

Authenticity Trumps Pedagogy

I guess by now we all know why we ought not say, "Good job!" or "That's pretty!" or "I love it!" when talking about the art, or any endeavor, of preschoolers. Right? It puts the emphasis on external motivation, on the praise of others, when what we're really after are kids who are motivated by their own aesthetic, judgement, vision, and values.

After more than a decade of practice, I'm pretty good at sticking with descriptive and informative comments. The thing is, I'm also committed to being genuine with children, so sometimes I'm faced with a decision.

Last week we were engaged in one of the preschool art "classics," construction paper collage. Some of the kids just stuck a few of the pre-cut shapes to their paper, say a triangle or three, then move on, which is just fine. Others got more engaged with the scissors, cutting without ever sticking anything on paper. Also fine. Some asked the adults to cut specific shapes for them. Not "fine" exactly, but I'm not going to tell anyone that they can't just play with the kids and cutting out shapes to order is a form of play.

That's what was mostly happening at the art table, until I checked out Elena's work. She's an artist of the highest degree anyway, always bent intensely over her canvases, working in a manner that looks sort of feverish to me, blocking out the rest of the world.

When I saw her finished piece, I opted for genuine, "Wow! That's awesome! I want to take a picture of it!" This expressed exactly the feelings her work evoked in me.

Authenticity, I think, trumps pedagogy every day.

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Kinderchat said...

If something's truly impressive, I've never understood why "it's wrong" to genuinely say "Wow! That's awesome!"

Just like your blog Teacher Tom! "Wow! It's awesome!"
Thanks for your wonderfully genuine posts and the honest look inside your daily adventures.

Kinderchat said...

When something is genuinely impressive, I've never understood why "it's wrong" to say "Wow! That's awesome!"

Just like your blog Teacher Tom! "Wow! It's awesome!" Thanks for sharing your daily adventures and your honest look into the world of young children.

Anonymous said...

I agree--and kids get that. Just as they get that saying, "Good job" at every corner reveals lack of true interest from the adult. Adults sometimes think that saying good job will motivate children (or raise their self esteem) but this little girl knows full well how you feel and she needs no extrinsic motivation. I see it as a shared celebration.

Peter said...

Carol Dweck talks about this in her book Mindset. She likes to praise effort and care. Being genuine is always a good idea. False feel good praise is transparent and unhelpful. Even criticism is OK if it is for a state and not a trait. That is "You didn't make a good effort on that project" vs. "You are not a good artist."

Mindset is a very empowering book for anybody, and great for parents. The above is just my interpretation, and not verbatim advice.

Juliet Robertson said...

Wow! Agreed! Yes, less "pedagogically appropriate" perhaps but I think even purists would be tried and tested here!

... She says speaking from her heart!