What If We Teach to Strengths of Students?

Posted by on April 14, 2013

Our friends at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum recently posted an article that speaks volumes.  It is written by a school teacher who was trained to correct errors in the work of students.  In this piece a thought is shared that perhaps we should be more focused on building strengths.
Thanks to GHF for sharing this important thinking by a teacher...
What if…and this is perhaps crazy talk…what if we instead began every single lesson and every single interaction, heck, every single moment just concentrating on finding their strengths? Finding out who they ARE, not who they AREN’T.

You know, paraphrasing Ken Robinson, not to find out how smart they are, but to find out how they are smart.

I know that every single child has strengths. What if we were to highlight those? Point out where they’re good? Where they’re strong? Where they can do things well? And we’d work hard on building up their strengths even more.

I wonder if our students would begin to listen to us more. And I wonder if, with that listening, they’d begin to trust us. To believe in us. And maybe, just maybe, we could then help them use their strengths to get better. To get smarter. To use those strengths to overcome the obstacles (aka weaknesses) of their lives.

But that’s crazy talk. We don’t have time to make kids feel good. We’re busy helping kids learn by pointing out their weaknesses.

Where they’re wrong. Where they’re slow. Where they’re weak. Where they’re dumb.

Every. single. moment.

Every. single. day.

It’s no wonder that kids check out early. If my boss treated me that way in order to “help” me be better, I’d quit too.



Jenn Choi

Jenn Choi wrote on 05/05/13 5:11 AM

I love this article! Will be sharing.
Don Berg

Don Berg wrote on 05/11/13 11:14 AM

I would add that there may be a useful distinction to be made between focusing on your relationship with the student versus focusing on the student's relationship to the subject matter. The strongest foundation for effective teaching is in the teacher's relationship to the student as a person. That relationship should be about mutual respect for each other as capable people (especially if those capabilities are different).

Until a mutual respect has been established then focusing on weaknesses and too much correction runs the risk of undermining the student's sense that you are respecting them. On the other hand it is critical to establish performance expectations that enable the student to have confidence that you are going to be able to improve their capabilities substantially, too. That raises the question of focusing on strengths versus weaknesses. If you are convinced that focusing on strengths will really overcome weaknesses, too, then you are set (and I believe research has suggested that may be true.) And in the process of discussing the student's work you and the student will likely make mention of weaknesses, but will move on in order to give attention to the areas of strength.

If you are trying on the focusing on strengths as a strategy then you might miss the opportunity to mention weaknesses which would be a mistake. The point is not to avoid noticing weaknesses, it's to put more attention on strengths because it is through the development of the strengths that broader capabilities develop. It is the growing sense of capability that enables the student to remain optimally engaged and as a natural consequence will self-correct on weaknesses that are noticed.

And in the context of a mutually respectful relationship in which the student has developed a strong sense of their capabilities, then occasional focus on a particular weakness in a specific technical aspect of a subject or skill will not jeopardize their learning. But the context of the combination of mutual respect and strong sense of capability is extremely important.

(cross posted from a LinkedIn discussion about this article)

Don Berg

Site: http://www.Teach-Kids-Attitude-1st.com
Free E-book: http://www.changethis.com/51.05.AttitudeProblem
Joy Selberg

Joy Selberg wrote on 05/17/13 7:51 PM

When correcting student assignments, I mark right answers instead of wrong answers. We discuss scores, e.g, that on a spelling test, the score reflects the number of words spelled correctly rather than incorrectly. I mark right answers and leave mistakes alone. It also gives students a clean area to correct their mistakes, should they choose to do so.

It's a little thing, but I think it helps children know I am focusing on what they do know.

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