Tag Archives: labels

You know who you are

I am one of ten children, though none of us are children any more. The youngest has turned 50, and the oldest is nearing 70 (but don’t tell her that).

My mother sometimes had difficulty retrieving the correct name and often went through a list before hitting on the child she wanted. I know what it’s like. Sometimes it is difficult enough when there are only two or three to choose from! Maybe you’ve experienced it too. There’s probably a name for this phenomenon, but if there is, I’m not aware of it.

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One day, when wanting to give me a direction, she rattled off a few names, but not mine.  Finally, exasperated, she said, “Well, you know who you are.” It has become a family joke. It’s mostly true that I do know who I am. However, sometimes I’m not so sure! I must say that Mum had a wonderful memory until the day she passed just a few weeks before her 91st birthday.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about the importance of being able to name things and experiences. She says, “Names are such a human attribute,” and asks, “What is in a name?

The ability to name things is important and a young child’s vocabulary often begins with the names of people and objects in the environment; for example, Mum, Dad, dog, car, cookie, juice.

I read once that children don’t really become aware of an object until they are able to apply a name to it. This doesn’t mean they must be able to say the name, just recognise it by name. Unfortunately I don’t remember the source and was unable to verify it with a Google search; but there is no denying that a well-developed vocabulary is a definite advantage to learning.

growing-vocabulary

Children also quickly learn to recognise their own names. Choosing names for children can be a difficult process for parents, with much to consider; for example:

  • The name’s meaning
  • Whether anyone else in the family has the name
  • How it is spelled
  • What the initials will be
  • How the first and last names sound together

Teachers always have the extra burden of being influenced by the names of children they have taught.

Although this blog simply bears my name, choosing a name for my website was a more involved process. Years ago, I ran a home business called Create-a-Way. I chose the name as I thought it expressed the purpose of my business perfectly: children were encouraged to be creative, and it created a way for me to work with children in the way I wanted. I hoped to reuse the name for my website. Unfortunately, the domain names were not available, and I had to think even more creatively.

registered-logo

I eventually settled on the name readilearn as I love reading, and I love learning, and the ‘i’ in the centre puts the focus on the individual learner. I wanted the name of my website to show the importance of reading and learning to an individual’s growth and empowerment. However, when I say the name, I pronounce it “ready learn”. This refers to an individual’s innate readiness to learn, as well as to the resources which are ready for teachers to use in their support of learners.

One of the most important things for a teacher is to get to know the children. I used to pride myself on knowing the children’s names before morning tea on the first day. Of course, I had many strategies in place to help me with that. I have written about some of these strategies before, and there are readilearn resources to support teachers with that as well. In fact, writing this post has stimulated ideas for new resources to create, including resources that help children get to know each other. (Thanks, Charli!)

I have always found it fun to notice when people’s names are a good match for their profession; for example, Matt Dry the weather forecaster.

When Charli challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) explore the importance of a name within a story, and reminded us of the classic Abbott and Costello Who’s on First, I decided I’d try a bit of fun with names as well. I hope it works.

 

Doctor Morana

The community hall was abuzz. Everyone was outtalking the other, except Ms Penn who quietly recorded everything.

“I’m pretty cut up about it,” complained Mr Carver.

“He fired me,” moaned Mr Burns.

“Said I was just loafing around,” grumbled Mr Leaven.

“Could’ve floored me,” griped Mr Lay.

“He was fishing for something,” remarked Ms Salmon.

“Said he’d top me,” sprouted Ms Bean.

“Another nail in his coffin,” whined Mr Chips.

Ms Chalk took the stand. “It’s not just black or white. He knows why you all avoid him like, well … Give him a chance. He’s not his name.”

Did you recognise them all: the journalist, the butcher, the fireman, the baker, the tiler, the fishmonger, the greengrocer, the carpenter, the teacher; and, of course, the one they’re all talking about: the new doctor.

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Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

The expectation of labels

 

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In some circles labels can be used as an attempt to define who you are, either to yourself or to others; for example the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the technology you use, even the books you read. The use of labels can lead to stereotyping and expectations based upon particular characteristics while other, and equally salient, qualities specific to the individual are ignored.

Applying labels to children can serve similar purposes: to define and explain particular behaviours or characteristics. Labels can range from an informal “naughty” through to medical diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

Whether the result of an informal observation or a professional assessment, labels can have a profound effect upon a child and family members. The label sets up expectations that may limit the way the child is viewed; so that only those characteristics specific to the label are noticed and responded to. The child is viewed as being “the label” rather than an individual who displays those particular behaviours or characteristics, at this moment.

People tend to see what they want to see and ignore evidence that doesn’t support their thinking. So if a child is labelled disruptive, it is the disruptive behaviour which is noticed and acted upon. Similar behaviour in a child not bearing the label may be overlooked or excused. While the focus is on one, usually negative or limiting, behaviour other positive characteristics and strengths may be ignored.

pygmalion effect

Unfortunately, once a label is applied it is often difficult to remove and it may be used as an excuse for a child’s failure to learn or progress; after all the “fault” is considered to be with the child, not with any methods used or not used. Sadly too, labels can be misapplied or not fully understood. This may accentuate differences that are non-existent or less serious than the label implies.

However not all effects are negative. There are many positive effects of labelling a child’s condition or behaviour; including:

  • increased opportunities for the child, family and teachers to receive support through funding of programs, assistance of trained personnel and professional development
  • enhanced understanding through discussions using a common language with specific meanings and applications
  • increased awareness in the community with further opportunities for advocacy as well as greater acceptance and tolerance
  • the development of programs aimed specifically to support individuals with the condition.

But are all labels negative? What about giftedness?

Previously on this blog there has been some discussion about praise and the effects of different types of praise. The discussions were initiated in response to The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz and can be found here and here. Grosz suggested that praising a child could cause a loss of competence. Why would you continue to try if you were already “the best”?

Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck support the notion that Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance. They suggest that labels such as “smart”, “clever” and “intelligent” can be just as damaging as those with deficit connotations.

Dweck explains her ideas more fully in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, my current audiobook “read”. I have previously mentioned Dweck’s theory of ‘yethere and here.

In the book Dweck talks about how praise creates mindset. If one is praised for being smart or clever, then one develops a fixed mindset: “I am smart. I can achieve because I am smart.” If effort is required then one is not smart. Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges that might jeopardise the view of themselves as smart.

On the other hand, praise for effort encourages a ‘yet’ or growth mindset: if I try it again, try harder, try it a different way, then I will do better. “I can learn”. There is no risk of becoming ‘not clever’. A growth mindset recognises the importance of effort, persistence and motivation.

fixed - growth mindset

Dweck says “don’t praise the genius – praise the process”.

Giftedness” is a label that was once applied after achieving a high result on an intelligence test, and was just as sticky as any other: there for life.  Giftedness was considered stable and unchangeable. It is obvious that many “gifted” students could fall into the fixed mindset trap. Thanks to Dweck’s work on mindset, attitudes to IQ scores and the concept of “giftedness” are now changing.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Students can be encouraged to develop a growth mindset by learning about how the brain works. When they understand that labels aren’t fixed and that learning can be improved, they will become more confident and may find more enjoyment in some of the challenges that school offers. Encouraging students to recognise how they view themselves as learners and to substitute “growth” for “fixed” thinking will have a remarkable effect upon their confidence and success.

Encouraging this growth mindset may be one way we can look out for each other, one way of “getting your back”.

To write a story (in 99 words, no more no less) about a character who is called to have the back of another was the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. In her post Charli is talking about labels of another kind, labels that can be just as damaging or just as useful. She talks about having another’s back, being there to offer support when needed.  A parent, a teacher, a friend can be there at any time to offer support for a learner on their path to discovery. My response captures one such moment.

Growth: a mindset

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.