Many years ago, I took driver’s ed. my senior year in high school. I don’t remember seeing the graphic movies about irresponsible teenagers driving badly, but I do remember we practiced using machines called simulators. The simulator was a boxy affair that one sat in with the basic layout of a car—steering wheel, brake and gas pedal, turn signal. They were as realistic as the original bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
All students sat in their simulators and watched a large movie screen in the front of the room. If the car in the movie turned left, we were all supposed to turn our wheel to the left. If we did not, our machined “dinged,” and we got a point (the movie continued on no matter what we did with the controls). Day after day, we attempted to follow along and avoid the “ding” and end up with a score of zero.
One day we came in and within a few minutes we realized that there was no “ding.” When the movie turned left, we could turn right. Again the view was of a left turn, but we could imagine despite the leisurely drive through town going on up on the screen, that we were screeching around corners, running red lights, hopping curbs, etc. At the end of the class we were (or maybe just I was) thunderstruck, that we still were being scored. My score sheet was something that might have taken the Enterprise’s computer a few days to calculate. And we learned a lesson. The machine would no longer let us know when we goofed up—it was now up to us.
I mention this not merely to amuse those of you with the crudeness of technology of my youth, but because I think it makes an important point about what we ought to be trying to do in our jobs. I teach special needs students who sometimes have difficulty or become anxious when it comes to their behavior or reading social cues—so our school has systems to help communicate and teach our community standards. When students make a mistake or take a wrong turn, we let them know. In other words, we go “ding.” Of course, we need to teach them the rules. They sometimes need help understanding what they did wrong or why a particular behavior is inappropriate and how it affects the classroom and its functioning.
But, at some point, all students need to develop an internal “ding” for themselves. Our job, as educators, is to help them learn to keep track of their own behavior—to reflect and analyze for themselves. That’s the challenge, I think. How do we help students develop their own ‘”ding”? I’d be interested in hearing how others approach this challenge.Photo: D.B. Bias