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VARIOUS TEXTS: Well done class, you learnt zilch by Chris Woodhead

Well, all I can say is that I hope you are counting. How many times have you praised your out-of-control little monster today? If government advice on school discipline published last week applies, as logically it should, in the home, then parents across the country will need to keep a constant check on their response to the undesirable behaviour of their offspring.
Five to one is the ratio of praise to punishment, ladies and gentlemen. Criticise rarely; keep punishment to the barest possible minimum; praise and reward however monstrous the offence. Follow the latest ministerial guidance and your children will understand the difference between right and wrong and learn to act with adult responsibility in every circumstance. Just pat them on the head and tell them how wonderful they are.
I have no idea how long it took to produce last week’s bulky guidance, but I can guess: months. Experts from across the country will have travelled first class to meeting after meeting. They will have been wined and dined, and, their deliberations finally brought to a carefully minuted close, they will have laid their weary heads onto the pillow of some five star hotel. Who knows what it all cost? Nobody will ever ask, and, in any case, Alan Johnson, the education secretary, will have generated a headline or two, so who cares?
Do teachers need to be told that praise can motivate? Do politicians and their advisers really think they have access to a fund of practical wisdom and advice that has somehow eluded those who actually do the job?
Of course it is important to praise children, and, looking back as a parent and a teacher, I would be the first to admit that I probably did not praise enough. Few of us do. Time and again, as an inspector, I can remember watching a flicker of disappointment cross a child’s face when the teacher more or less ignored their answer to a question. A little recognition goes a long way, and everyone who has responsibility for children needs to remind themselves of this commonsense truth.
To that extent the government’s advice is sensible. How, though, did it come up with this 5:1 statistic? Did Johnson’s officials sit in classrooms checking out the ratio of praise to punishment? I very much doubt it. This is a finger-in-the-wind generalisation that is meaningless in any specific circumstance.
Meaningless, and, what is worse, insidious. Yes, children should be praised when they do something good. To suggest it is somehow wrong to punish them when they do something bad, or, more dangerous still, actually to reward unacceptable behaviour, is to send a message that is not so much stupid as dangerous.
Children need boundaries. They need to know what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. And they need to understand that if they choose to break the rules the consequences are unpleasant.
Talk to any head teacher who has turned round a failing school. The first thing they will tell you is that they had to deal with pupils who would not accept the conventions of normal schooling. Without order, nothing. It is not rocket science.
Punctuality, attendance, uniform, behaviour: the heads would make their expectations clear, and they would ensure everyone knew what would happen to those who stepped out of line. Good behaviour would be praised and bad behaviour punished. Make the rules clear and apply them fairly. Children know where they are and teachers can start teaching again. ...................... etc.

Source: The Sunday Times of April 15, 2007


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