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Every semester I have my students read a short article written by Harry L. Gracey called “Kindergarten as Academic Boot Camp”. The basic thesis of the article is that the most successful student is typically the child who embodies the rules and routines of the classroom. Gracey offers numerous classroom anecdotes to show how noisy children are quieted, routine is implemented and how school in general exerts a strong “normalizing” influence on children. For some reason, this article outrages my students.

Initially my students’ reaction to the Gracey article surprised and humored me. I couldn’t quite believe that it had never occurred to them that a large part of the learning experience was tied to understanding behavioral expectations. Over time, however, I began to see that my students were not outraged by the imposition of rules and routines in the kindergarten classroom. In fact, they acknowledge the necessity of creating structure. Their frustration lay in the method of communication used by the teacher in the article and, more importantly, the teachers of their collective memories.

It seems that many students “hear” behavioral reprimands as personal critique. Rather than understanding teacher’s words as an attempt to engage them in the routine of the classroom, students interpret reprimands as personal assaults. Thus, severely impacting their developing self esteem and, more importantly, pushing them to the outside edge of the communal classroom. Overtime children who interpret behavioral reprimands as personal assaults begin to feel isolated, misunderstood and alienated from the larger classroom experience.

I have thought a lot about why some children “hear” behavioral reprimands as personal assaults. I can only seem...

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