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Promoting the Development of Self-Esteem

Ch. 3, p. 83

Promoting the Development of Self-Esteem

Society and public institutions in the United States work on the premise that people, including students, are of equal worth. That is also the premise in a classroom. But believing students are of equal worth doesn’t necessarily mean that they are equally competent. Some students are good in reading, others in math, others in sports, others in art.

Some classroom activities can give certain students the impression that they as individuals are of less value or worth than other students. Research findings indicate that inappropriate competition (Cohen, 1986) or inflexible ability groups within the classroom (MacIver, Reuman, & Main, 1995; Slavin, 1987c) may teach the wrong thing to students.

This kind of research can help teachers avoid practices that may discourage children. Other research, however, provides no support for the belief that specific programs or curriculums will develop a healthy self-esteem in students (Ellis, 2001). Nor is it clear that improving self-esteem results in greater school achievement. In fact, research more strongly suggests that as a student grows more competent in school tasks, his or her self-esteem also improves, rather than the other way around (e.g., Chapman et al., 2000). Lerner (1996) calls this “earned self-esteem.”

Showing students their success can be an important part of maintaining a positive self-image. Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984) described the multidimensional classroom, in which teachers make it clear that there are many ways to succeed. Such teachers emphasize how much students are learning. For example, many teachers give students pretests before they begin an instructional unit and then show the class how much everyone gained by means of a post-test. Multidimensional teachers may stress the idea that different students have different skills. By valuing all these skills, the teacher can communicate the idea that there are many routes to success, rather than a single path (Cohen, 1984).

It is not necessary to lie and say that all students are equally good in reading or math (Beane, 1991; Damon, 1991). Teachers can, however, recognize progress rather than level of ability, focusing their praise on the student’s effort and growing competence. As the student sees his or her success in school, a feeling of earned self-esteem will also result.

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