Describing students

There are many ways to describe each student, trainee, enrollee, customer or learner. There are many different facets of each student to describe. Our descriptions yield significant consequences for the students as well as for ourselves as their educators, instructional designers, managers or parents. There are no objective descriptions that leave things unchanged. We participate in creating what comes next in our shared experience by the way we approach describing students. In this next series of blog posts, I'll explore these issues.

Students give us lots of evidence that provides the basis for formulating our descriptions of them. We get impressions of how much they can handle and how quickly they catch on to new material. We get proof of how motivated they are, how worried they get and how confident they seem. We get a picture of what they want, what sparks their interest and what fires up their imaginations. We accumulate evidence for how they react to criticism, how they justify their efforts and how they rationalize their shortcomings.

As we accumulate this evidence, our minds recognize patterns in the data. We develop theories about what motivates them and what destroys their determination. We see connections between what they say and what they do that infers some causal relationships. We notice what occurs repetitiously under the guise of being new issues, requests or setbacks. We realize they may have internalized limitations that hold them back, fears that cripple their initiatives and trauma that makes them apprehensive.

While we're "putting 2 and 2 together", we may also change our questions. We can wonder if we are seeing them accurately and judging them fairly. We can doubt our objectivity with valuable suspicions. We can challenge our selective filtering, biased observations and vindictive perceptions of them. We can puzzle about what's hidden from our view, going unsaid and getting downplayed as insignificant.

Once we resolve these questions about our initial conclusions, we may formulate opinions about each student. We settle on descriptions that fit them without much contrary evidence which would give us "cognitive dissonance". We make up our minds to see them particular ways and rule out other possibilities. We take some facets for granted and dwell on others to excess.

Once we've locked into the descriptions that work for us, we're too smart for our own good in most cases. We are poised to create problems, trash relationships, control others lives and escalate tensions. Rather than see that had these effects with our "reliable descriptions" we see the problems out there in how they're acting, not in here where we're coming from. We avoid self reference in our descriptions and rely on "objectivity without observer dependence. We have become unnatural, disenchanted and lost in a world of illusion.

All this simply calls for changing our descriptions of students and our process for formulating how we describe them.

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