Monday, July 28, 2014

Delving into the pros and cons of positive thinking over at You Do the Math

I've been working on a thread (and possibly an e-book for general audiences) on George Pólya's teaching philosophy. Recently, I've been focusing on the emotional and psychological component. Pólya was emphatic on the importance of self-reliance, and an explicit part of building that self-reliance was building a student's confidence.

The following quote from How to Solve It is indicative:

"If the student is not able to do much, the teacher should leave him at least some illusion of independent work. In order to do so, the teacher should help the student discreetly, unobtrusively." [emphasis in the original text.]

Pólya didn't elaborate that much on the emotional component here. The value of confidence and approaching material with a positive attitude probably seemed to require on defense in 1945. Self-help had not become a major industry (How to Win Friends and Influence People was less than a decade old) so positive thinking didn't trigger the smirks it does today. On the other hand, the field of education hadn't been swarmed by faux tough charlatans dismissing the importance of self-esteem.

These days, any argument for positive thinking needs to spelled out in detail. In the following three posts I work through some of the implications.

Rational students, incentives and expected returns

What role does expected likelihood of success play in the designing of incentives?

The first wall you expect is the last one you hit

Based on my experience and conversations with other teachers, I compare the real and perceived challenges faced by students struggling with math.

The Power and Peril of Positive Thinking

A few common-sense rules for deciding when to go positive (and when to proceed with caution).

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