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Thursday, September 15, 2016

A little embarrassment.

Sometimes, I think, a little embarrassment goes a long way.

Friday before last is a perfect example.

This semester, I am requiring students to read an independent novel.

They can choose more or less whatever they want.

The expectation is that they are reading regularly.

We all set weekly goals together using Google Calendar.

But some kids aren't quite getting it yet.

To help them take it seriously, I give them a Novel Check quiz every Friday.

The first one was simple and didn't count as a quiz grade.

I insist on honesty, even when you are behind, but otherwise it is hard to screw it up.

Last week was the second Novel Check.

It did count as a quiz grade.

Most kids did take it seriously. Most were honest.

And I think I know why.
The first novel check, a little embarrassment went a long way.

First off, I hadn't met my goal and I owned it.

I told them I was behind and how far and why.

But the real reason, the real embarrassment, was little Lucas (not his actual name, of course).

See, I use Class Dojo's random name generator to select students to share.

For their first Novel Check, I randomly selected several students.

During first hour, this is what happened.

A couple of students passed--I have some really shy babies.

One admitted she hadn't read yet.

Three were able to speak intelligently about their selected novels.

Then there was Lucas.

Ok, truthfully, I think Lucas was called on first.

Which is probably why this happened.

I asked Lucas to share about his main character.

He told the class his main character was a teenaged boy.

I asked him "What book?"

He said "Ender's Game."

"Oh, you must be pretty far in the book then!"

"Welllll," he said, "not really."

"Are you sure? Because I love that book. And the main character is four at the beginning."

"Um, well, um"

"What page are you on?" I asked again.

He caved.

"Ok, I haven't started reading, but the cover looks good...and I saw the movie."

Just to clarify, I abhor that movie. That movie, while a perfectly mediocre film, is an insult to everything wonderful about that novel.

It ignores the difficult and genuinely traumatic events Ender goes through.

It ignores the powerful revelation that ends the story.

It sacrifices the moral and the suspense and the intensity of the novel for mere entertainment.

I'm just saying.

I have a bias here.

So you can imagine that I was pretty brutal with Lucas in this moment.

I wasn't mean or nasty, but I was honest and I called him out.

I explained to the class how I feel about that movie.

I did not hold back.

Then I told him two things, in the kindest, frankest way possible.

Don't lie, it won't work, it will backfire, it isn't worth it.

And more importantly, dude, read the book.

Ender's Game is a phenomenal novel.

It is stupendous, unique, heart wrenching, action-packed, violent, tender. It is a coming of age story taken to a rare extreme.

Again, I have a bias here.

The thing is, Lucas was definitely chagrined.

But I didn't crush him, I didn't make him feel stupid or wrong.

I embarrassed him a little and he handled it beautifully.

He didn't cry or whine or complain or shut down or get angry.

He owned his error with a straight face.

I thought he would, though I don't him well yet.

It was a gamble and it was a relief that I won that particular bet.

Not one other kid has tried to pull that crap.

Not in that class, not the rest of that day.

Not the next week.

If they didn't know or hadn't read, they just told me.

I rewarded that honesty with a quiz point.

Kids need to know that I trust them to learn from their mistakes.

They need to know that compliance is not as important as accomplishment.

They need to believe that I will know when they fake it.

They need to feel safe making those mistakes.

Maybe, no, definitely, we have a ways to go to grow these values.

But a little embarrassment went a long way.

Just this once, maybe that embarrassment counts as a good thing.

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