As a full-time working single father to two children and a teenager, I have read what seems to be a multitude of books and articles on parenting skills. I was surprised to find that the unique truths that "Professor Johnson" shares were more valuable to me than many books twice as long. This is an informative and entertaining read on a topic that most parents need to hear.
Byron Headrick
Parent- Huntsville, AL

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Mistakes are priceless knowledge

From a teacher’s point of view, a child’s academic mistakes are worth their weight in gold. I really, really wish that they wouldn’t be punished. Corrected, yes; punished, no. If a child is punished for making mistakes on a sheet of paper, either through bad grades, scolding or just simple disapproval (and coming from a respected adult, there is nothing simple about that disapproval), the child is going to go to great lengths to avoid punishment. It is human nature.

Avoiding punishment, or its cousin, humiliation, is actually a child’s main goal in school, unbeknownst to the adults there. They think that a child’s focus is on learning, which is important to the child, but secondary. An understanding of what makes children tick is important to the effectiveness of teaching them.

Punishment avoidance will take one of two paths. Either the child will desperately try to cover up what they perceive to be a mistake by erasing it, or they will become academically paralyzed and won’t even write it down in the first place. When called upon in class, they will resort to the old stand-by, declaring “I don’t know,” which really means “Leave me alone.” No matter which avoidance path they take, they, and most especially the teacher, have lost a golden opportunity to actually learn something.

A mistake on a sheet of paper is priceless because it is a window into a child’s mind, their thinking process and depth of understanding. Sometimes a child looks like they understand something, but if that understanding is very shallow, a little rewording of a problem will throw them off, which doesn’t bode well for success in the real, unpredictable world. 

Many teachers are overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of what is supposed to be taught. Upon checking children’s work, many assign grades according to the mistakes made, and then move on to the next thing, which is always waiting. A good teacher will stop at a child’s mistake and wonder, “Why in the world did they do that? What was going through their head? What don’t they understand?” Underlying this is the knowledge of the teacher that children do things for a reason, even if wrong. Find the reason why the child did it, and you have found the key to their misunderstanding, which becomes the teacher’s focal point for getting the train back on the track to success.

A comparison that any homeowner can understand is a leaky roof. It is easy to spot the water stain on the ceiling, but where in the heck on that roof is the problem, because it is almost never obvious or anywhere near the actual stain. If a teacher sees a teenager make a mistake on an algebra problem, it is time to check for where the leak is. It might not have anything to do with algebra. Is there a problem with the understanding of fractions, decimals, place value, multiplication tables, process of division, the concept of the equal sign, abstractness of variables, the reading ability to grasp the math concepts, etc., etc.? The specific type of mistake that a child makes leads directly to where the misunderstanding is. Then the time is taken to create real understanding, not just shallow, get by for the test thinking.

There are actually two points to all of this. The classroom environment should be structured so that it is loving, kind, and interesting. Mistakes should be judgment free and used as signposts to shore up a child’s ability. Just as you wouldn’t want somebody to cover up the ceiling stain so that you don’t see it before buying a house, which will lead to serious structural damage if left unrepaired, you don’t want a child to hide their structural damage from the teacher out of fear of punishment. Mistakes need to be freely shown and pleasantly corrected. The other point being is that it takes a lot of time, energy, thought and patience to be a good teacher and this cattle herd, pressurized, test-driven type of school system that has been created in many parts of this country is not conducive to a learning atmosphere that benefits teacher or child.

 

A gun in your pocket screams to be used, just like money. Ever see a little kid with ten dollars that wasn't begging to spend it? On ANYTHING? "Please, Dad, let me buy that necktie. It's a nice one." "No. Save your money for something you really want." "O.K. How about this blender?" You are going to find yourself making up any excuse in this world to shoot the gun, or at least wave it around, because what good is your only claim on manhood if nobody knows that you have got it?
Professor Johnson Unhinged - Section for Students

7 Minute Lecture Series

 

01. Introduction
(7 minute Lectures)

02. How to Create a Dropout
(Positive Behavior Shaping)

03. The Phone Call
(Reward Effort)