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joycetheriot's picture

Masking Uniqueness

Paul suggested earlier that there will never be another brain like ours due to the potential patterns of ‘architecture’ created when using 1013 neurons as construction material.  Therefore I understand why teachers are questioning how we can reach and teach such an abundance of unique individuals. My plan over the last several years has been to develop a ‘differentiated classroom’, a methodology that tends to support reaching each unique student.

However when JR Lewis (Julia) indicated in her blog that she worked with an Alzheimer’s patient who endeavored to hide his confusion so as to appear ‘normal’ within what must have been a terrifying reality for him; I began thinking about the deeper problem in high school of teens who recognize their unique way of viewing the world and who try to suppress it to reflect the teen norm.

Just like the random fireflies or cars that Paul throws into a program and eventually form a pattern so do our students (for the most part) come to a consensus of behavior. That group-behavior is shaped in a variety of ways dependent on the accepted culture of the school which can sometimes be anti-adult. I’ve seen some of my classes veer both ways. Last year I had one class that was constantly and oppressively oppositional. Interestingly, the same teaching methodologies were applied to other classes that were very cooperative. I attributed this blatant abnormality to one (eventually transferred) student. The bizarre aspect to me about this oppositional class was that when I interacted with only individuals all of them were cooperative and extremely personable.

I realize now that the beginning of the year is the critical time to find the “norm setters” of class culture and that the manipulation of these students will make or break positive culture. My speculation is that he class last year followed the wrong ‘norm-setter’ and were so personable individually as if to apologize to me for the group’s behavior.

Though I’ve always recognized that this phenomenon exists; it was our Brain & Behavior workshop and the series of blogs that ‘fired up my neurons’ to formulate this theory and hopefully a consequent management plan (experiment). A few norm-setters will begin to emerge right away in the beginning of the year so I need to formulate a plan to ‘sculpt’ them. I would want to bring the positive norm-setters to a position of power in their influence over the others however I must proceed in a way that the teens won’t notice my guidance (interference?...experiment?).

In past years I placed more focus on understanding the one or two children in each class who never follow the crowd and I have either celebrated their confidence or agonized over their inability to make friends. Three years ago I learned about Asperger Syndrome and how it typically affects high school students. Sadly, the teens who demonstrate the Asperger symptomology - though they deeply want to change - seem to be incapable of masking their uniqueness and thus never reach acceptance.

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