Modeling, Somersaults, and Jabs

In this week’s installment (:-)), I am sharing with you a post I made this morning on Social Cognitive Theory.

Ormrod (2008) suggested that in social cognitive theory, people learn by observing other people (models), but that they had to have the confidence to believe they could produce similar behavior before they would choose to emulate the model.  I have two examples of this idea, one in which I chose not to emulate the model and one in which I did.

The first example is from when I was a fourth or fifth grader.  My gym teacher, Ms. B (none of us could pronounce her last name, so she was just Ms. B) was teaching us a unit on gymnastics.  We had to do somersaults and backward somersaults.  When it came time to do the backward somersaults, I insisted I could not do them.  I had low self-efficacy when it came to doing the move; I simply knew that I could not do it.  I was afraid that I was going to go backward and break my neck.  Sure enough, when she tried to help me get through the move once, thinking that if she supported me through the process it would work and I would experience success and try it on my own, somehow I landed in a position where I hurt my neck.  I started crying and just to make things worse, she called me a baby.  I refused to take part in gymnastics after that and, to this day, I cannot do any sort of gymnastics move.

Fast forward 28 years later and my son and I enrolled in mixed martial arts.  My first private lesson had been successful.  I knew that I had a lot of work to do; for instance, I could only do one push-up (sad, I know), but I also knew that I could learn.  In other words, my self-efficacy rating was a lot higher on this task than the previous task mentioned.  Sensei always had a session at the beginning of class in which he reviewed form.  As he modeled a jab for us, he did the following things:

“Remember, you will stay in your defensive stance.  Right leg back…or, as in Heather’s case, left leg back,” he said.  I put my left leg back.

“Hands up,” he said as he showed us the proper way to keep our fists in front of our face.

“Now, for a jab, you want to extend your arm, like this,” he said as he extended his arm straight out, “And make sure that your knuckles are pointed directly ahead.”  He took his other hand and pointed to his knuckles so we could all see.

“We’re going to take it slow the first three times and then go fast.  One!”  We all followed his speed, pushing our arms out and pointing our knuckles.



“Now, fast!”  His went out like a lightning bolt and came back.  I don’t even think I saw it.  Mine looked like it was a slow motion version of his.  Over time, however, as he reinforced my successive approximations toward the proper behavior, I became faster.  No, I’m never going to be as fast as he, but that’s all right.  I know my limitations, but I worked toward my personal best.  Even if I am slower, my jab is powerful.  Because I believe in myself, I was able to learn how to do the move.  Now, if only I had the same confidence in my ability to win a grappling match… oh, that’s another story.

Self-efficacy is, as Ormrod (2008) contended, a huge factor in one’s ability to learn.  Proper modeling of appropriate behavior is also important.  Positive reinforcement is a third.  Teachers have a great responsibility, to encourage and model proper behavior.  One of my teachers failed in that regard.  The other did not.  When you combine all the factors involved in learning, you see that there are so many different outcomes possible.  We, as students, must work with our teachers (and vice versa) to create positive outcomes.  We, as adults, usually experience more control over our learning and want more control over our learning.  I think the two examples above exemplify certain features of social cognitive theory and I hope you agree.


Ormrod, J. E. (2008). Educational psychology: Developing learners (Sixth ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

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Shirley Sherrod Is a Hero. Give Her Job Back to Her.

Hi everyone!

I was wondering what you all thought of the Shirley Sherrod case that has been all over CNN and Fox News? In this story, Sherrod, a lawyer with the USDA is accused of being a racist and being prejudiced against White farmers. This was based upon a video clip from a speech at an NAACP event in Georgia. The video clip was specifically edited to create this impression; a view of the full speech reveals that she was telling a story about how she managed to get beyond race and to help poor people of all shades. I do hope that she gets her job back.

By the way – Shirley was instrumental in helping the White farmer get his farm back.

Watch Sherrod’s speech here.

Everyone assumed that the video clip published told the whole story: the NAACP, the Agriculture Secretary, and the White House.

I’m just curious. 🙂

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Considering Twilight from a Parent’s Perspective

I was bored (again) today, so I put Twilight on for background noise.  As I was listening to the movie, I thought to myself, “If I was Charlie and saw what happened between Bella and Edward before she left for Phoenix, what would I have done?  If I was Renee, would I allow Bella to go back to Forks and Edward?  Or, would I have insisted on having her return with me to Jacksonville?”  What is scary enough to me is that it will not be long now before I actually have to deal with these types of questions with my own son.  Might as well face fear head on, I suppose.

A number of writers have expressed concern about Bella and Edward’s relationship, taking it from a parental perspective and seeing it as abusive or Edward as a control freak.  (Let’s face it, ladies, he IS a control freak, even if he is my kind of control freak.)  Go to and search for “philosophy and twilight” and you are sure to find at least three books in which one author or another opines about how Edward “ain’t all that and a bag of chips.”  So, if you were a parent and could see Edward as these authors did, would you let your kid pursue a relationship with him?   Even if that kid does seem more adult than you are and used to give you advice on a regular basis?

I do not have a definitive answer to that question.  Based on my experience, my parents gave me free rein to do whatever I want in regard to relationships and I do believe that was helpful.  If I had not experienced certain things as a child and adolescent, I might not appreciate what I have now in terms of family, friends, and my marriage.  But we are normally inclined toward protecting our children and so I instinctively want to say that I would ban Edward from the house, equip Bella with an ankle bracelet (hey, I would be Chief of Police, right?), and impose a strict curfew.   I know that would not work.  I’m not naive.  That is what I would want to do, however, and what I think that Charlie wanted to do also.

Another question to consider: as a parent, do you feel comfortable with your young child (say, an 11-year-old) reading the books and what message do you think these young women are receiving as they read them?  Frankly, the only book I would not allow a young child to read is Breaking Dawn, as I feel the content is a bit too mature for anyone under the age of 16.  But I do believe that it is all right to let the younger set read the books, perhaps starting at age 12 or 13, as long as there is a conversation about the books on a regular basis.  This is one series that parent and child should read together.

So, as with much to do with parenting, I’m left with more questions than answers in this post.  I’m wondering what everyone else thinks.

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I don’t want to sound naive, but…

I wrote this post this morning for a class that I am taking at USC.  I thought I would share it here since I have not posted in a while.

I read Savage Inequalities (Kozol, 1991) a number of years ago and remember feeling sick to my stomach each time I picked up the book.  I simply could not believe that children were allowed to attend school in such conditions.  Last year, I listened to his next book, The Shame of the Nation (Kozol, 2005) and, immediately afterward, I listened to Letters to a Young Teacher (Kozol, 2007).  Again, I was saddened and sick to my stomach.  I like to listen to audio books as I walk my greyhound in the morning and I’m sure that people were wondering why I was crying as they passed me by.  Still, despite my book knowledge, it is hard for me to accept the fact that there are numerous instances in which children are expected to obtain an education in squalor and teachers are expected to teach under those conditions.

I remember President Obama giving his speech about education at the beginning of the school year and telling the children inside that pristine gymnasium that there should be no excuses for not doing well in school (Obama, 2009).  I laughed at him at that time.  Who was he kidding?  Was he kidding?  This is what he said:

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.  (Obama, 2009)

Great, Mr. President.  Just great.

Our articles this week left me with three different impressions.  The first, by Zhou (2003) offered hope for children by recommending a greater investment in communities so that children can be supported in their educational efforts with after school programs and other resources.  He showed evidence that Korean children who had support mechanisms in place fared better in school than their Black and Mexican counterparts, who had no such support.  He asked communities to consider learning from each other and creating their own support mechanisms based on what they found in other impoverished neighborhoods.  He also mentioned that if certain neighborhoods had more business involvement, those resources could be provided to children, as the funds would be available.  My main question became as I was reading the article: if it was that easy, why isn’t it in place?  I found the article a bit naive.  It’s not just investment in the financial sense that is needed; it’s an emotional investment on the part of the community itself and others.  As a child in Philadelphia, I remember the one hour ride to school in which I went through neighborhoods with burnt out buildings and boarded up houses.  I remember thinking to myself, “That’s a shame.”  I remember seeing my 13 year old classmate pregnant with twins and thinking, “Well, her life is over.”  I also remember not doing a darn thing to help.  Shame on me.

The second left me feeling angry (Sipe, 2004).  Granted, I understand Sipe’s pain and disillusionment after a year in a school such as the one in which he worked.  It sounded awful.  He seemed resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do about it.  Why not?  Programs such as the Teaching Fellows and Teach for America are out there because there are groups who want to help underprivileged youth.  John, correct me if I am wrong.  Perhaps he could have used the sources of his organization to organize for change instead of deciding that he could not fight the system.  Again, granted, we cannot all be Rafe Esquith, Jaime Escalante, and Joe Clark.  But we can try.  Right?  Oh, perhaps I am being naive this time.

The third article reinvigorated me (Wilson, Corbett, & Williams, 2000).  I love the system that Granite has in place and I love how teachers have taken responsibility for a child’s learning.  That all children must demonstrate mastery before moving on to a new assignment is challenging for all concerned, BUT it shows a dedication to the cause of education and it shows confidence in children to learn.  I like how they have a half-hour at the end of the day for children to return to the teacher and get extra help.  Now that is progress, I think.  It’s a philosophy that flies in the face of curriculum pacing and teaching to the test.  Rather than check something off the checklist and move on, teachers are dedicated to a child’s learning.  That is what the President should have talked about and advocated in his speech in 2009.  That is what his Secretary of Education should be advocating now.  Instead, they are lockstep with a system that is hurting our children.

We say the words, those of us on the other side not living in darkness.  We say we understand what they are going through and sometimes we throw money at the cause.  But there are too few of us actually working toward a different reality for those who need help.  I’m not being critical of anyone else without accepting blame myself.  I hope that came through in this post loud and clear.


Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools (1st ed.). New York: Crown Pub.
Kozol, J., & Dean, R. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America [sound recording]. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape,.
Kozol, J., & Drummond, D. (2007). Letters to a young teacher [sound recording]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio.
Obama, B. (2009). Prepared remarks of President Barack Obama: Back to school event.  Retrieved July 12, 2010, from
Sipe, P. (2004). Newjack: Teaching in a failing middle school. Harvard Educational Review, 74(3), 330-339.
Wilson, B., Corbett, D., & Williams, B. (2000). A discussion on school reform–Case 1: All students learning at Granite Junior High. The Teachers College Record.
Zhou, M. (2003). Urban education: Challenges in educating culturally diverse children. Teachers College Record, 105(2), 208-225. doi: 10.1111/1467-9620.00236

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