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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Short circuit task-avoidance.

Psychology fascinates me.

In some ways, psychology is the thing I enjoy most about teaching.

I mean, I am provided with a captive audience and instructions to "make the learn."

For me, this translates into trying weird things to see what works.

I experiment on them.

Not in a negative way. In a omg-what-can-I-try-now-because-nothing-is-working! way.

Anyway, all teachers have tips and tricks to short circuit task-avoidance.

One of my favorites is a questioning technique.

It is well-documented as actually a real working thing.

It goes something like this.

The kid says, "I don't know."

You respond, "Well, if you did know, what would you say?"

or "If your friend asked you for help, what would you tell them."

On Friday, I learned a pretty miraculous adaptation of this strategy.

I was circulating the room while students wrote a brief journal entry.

The deal was once everyone was finished, they would get to watch part of the movie version of our novel.

I had the above conversation with an ELL student at the back table.

He reluctantly told me his answer and began writing.

Then I looked at the kid across from him.

Now this kid, let's call him Fred, is a bit of an anomaly.

He almost never speaks to me. He rarely speaks above a whisper.

But he is hilarious. A total class clown.

He makes well-timed distracting noises...farts, whistles, squeaks.

He occasionally throws a well-aimed paper wad.

He is funny, quirky, and desperate to make sure no one knows he can do the work and might care about his grade.

When I looked over his shoulder, he had written the following:

"Idk. Because I don't care about this."

I looked at him and said "No. That is not five sentences and not acceptable."

He shrugged and muttered "I don't care, so what could I write?"

And then I did a brilliant thing I didn't know I was going to do and didn't think would work.

I shrugged back casually and said "Well, if you did care, what would you write?"

A fraction of a second later, he was scribbling furiously.

Who knew? That question can short circuit "I don't care" as effectively as it does "I don't know."

That little tidbit is going straight into my toolbox.

It is a definite good thing.

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