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"What's the point?"

This is a crucial question with regards to what needs to be done. It really hit home after listening to Cynthia Tobias make this the center of what are we trying to do with regards to students. The example she gave was a teacher who was at wit's end with respect to student notebooks. The teacher had one particular student whose notebook was always a disaster. And try as she might, she couldn't get the student to do anything to tidy up the notebook. This is where Ms. Tobias stepped in.

The first thing she asked was, "What is the point of the notebook?" The teacher responded that it held old papers and assignments for students to be able to retrieve to use throughout the rest of the class. This clarifies a couple of things:

  • Who the notebook is really for.
  • What that person is supposed to be doing with the notebook.

Note that the person who the notebook is for is the student, not the teacher. Therefore, as long as it is properly usable to the student, then the teacher should not be concerned with how the notebook looks. That gets to the second thing, which is what is the notebook is for. It is not a work of art. It is not supposed to be an exercise in neatness. It is for the student to be able to go through old assignments and handouts in order to make use of them in the future. So how it looks is irrelevent as long as the student is able to retrieve the information in a timely manner. And that's the real issue here. With the notebook in a messy state, can the student get at the information needed?

As a result, Ms. Tobias suggested to the teacher to pull the student aside and explain, "How you want to keep your notebook organized is your business. But here's the thing: I can't be waiting on you to find the paper I've asked you to pull out. Therefore, if you can retrieve any paper I request within 30 seconds, I'll say no more. Your system obviously works for you. But if you can't do it, let's talk about how we might improve your suggestion. Deal?"

The key to the question, "What's the point?" is it drives focus to what needs to be done. That's where we need to concentrate and put our effort into. If it doesn't relate to and answer, "What's the point?" then there is no reason to spend cycles or worry about it. Maybe someone doesn't do it the way we'd do it. As long as what they are doing is ethical and doesn't cut corners in a way that impacts the end result, then we are better served letting them do it their way. Now if their way isn't working, that's when we should get involved.

This is something we have put into practice this past week with my sons, aged 13 and 12. One of the reasons is they are at a point where we need to give them more autonomy to get their work done. They need to learn to be able to organize and pace themselves in a safe environment. Also, by staying on top of the boys, my wife wasn't able to do other things she needs to get done, like working with the younger girls, taking care of herself, etc. So we started last week off with, "We'll do the combined stuff together, but then you'll have your assignments and chores which you need to work at your own pace on. You just need to get it all done by 4 PM. However you decide to organize your day is up to you, as long as it gets done. That's the point. So if you want to take a 30 minute break to play a game or do some light reading, that's your call. You just have to get it all done."

However, we didn't leave it at that. We knew both of the boys have had some trouble doing it this way in the past, as we've introduced it slowly but surely. Therefore, we added to this by saying, "The point is to get the work done. We don't care how you do it so long as it gets done and you don't interfere with anyone else and you don't take shortcuts. We'll let you try and do it under your system. If your system works, we'll leave you alone about it. But if your system isn't working, then we will work with you to build one that does work. However, this means you've got to be willing to change your system if we see it isn't working. There's no point holding on to a system that doesn't work."

My oldest has become a lot more disciplined in recent months and was able to get his work done every day. As a matter of fact, he's getting it done early enough where he can spend some time watching TV or playing on the XBox or Wii. Those are rewards for getting all the work done, and except for one day where they were out of the house most of the day, he has been able to enjoy those rewards. My younger son, however, has struggled every day. Monday and Tuesday he left tasks undone. Wednesday and Friday he took forever on his math (he doesn't like math) because he took frequent breaks and it slowed him down on everything else. As a result, this week we're addressing his system and his focus. We want him to learn how to pace himself and how to deal with things he doesn't like to do, so it's a slow and gradual process. My oldest has figured out, "Look, this other thing (playing games) I really want to do. So there's no point wasting time and trying to delay what I don't like to do."My younger son hasn't had that crystalize in his head yet. We've also addressed that his system has gaps which allow critical things to fall out of it. Therefore, that system is broke and not satisfactory.

Does my oldest son do things the way I would do them? No. Is he doing things in a way that is unethical or does he take shortcuts I don't approve of? No. Therefore, we are leaving him alone with his system. It's working and meeting the criteria. He's satisfying the point. My younger son, on the other hand, is being worked with. He's not happy about it, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he doesn't want to change, but he knows his system isn't working and hasn't ever worked well. We understand he's resistant and are trying to take a well-reasoned approach to it, starting with some small things to show him where he can make gains, ensuring he has those mastered, and then introducing more. Part of that is asking that question, "What's the point?"

K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


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