Tuesday 7 February 2017

The Four Tendencies In More Depth: Obliger

I logged onto Blogger today to write a very maths-oriented post when I couldn't help but notice my previous blog post had 40 times more views than my posts usually get. I saw that most of the traffic had come from facebook, and with a bit of detective work I found out that Gretchen Rubin herself had shared my blog on her facebook page! She said: "I was fascinated to read this teacher’s account of how the Four Tendencies play out in the classroom—and how teachers can do a better job of reaching their students".

The comments on her share were very positive, and it made me realise that a follow-up post would be appreciated - or perhaps a whole series of follow-up posts, going into each of the four tendencies in a bit more detail, again focusing on teaching.

I decided to start with the Obliger tendency, as it is probably the most common of the four. I have a feeling that this tendency is also more prevalent in teenagers than in adults: perhaps some of us "grow out of" this tendency with age?

How do you know if you're an obliger?

You really enjoy exercising, but you cannot seem to make yourself go out for a run twice a week, no matter how much you love it. However, if your friend asked you to go for a cardio session with her, you would make sure you did, even if you didn't feel like it.

Your leave the faculty office perfectly tidy and you never leave any dirty mugs lying around. However, the inside of your own designated cupboard is a complete disaster and you can't open it without worksheets falling out.

You would love to start carrying out some amateur action research with your students in order to improve your teaching, but you just never get around to it. However, the data analysis report you have been asked to do by senior management was done on time and to a good standard, even though you don't think it will have a positive impact on your students' achievement.

In other words, you have no problem meeting outward expectations, but you really struggle to meet internal expectations. You can only really make yourself do something if someone is checking up on you and holding you to account. I have a friend and colleague who is always telling me she needs to drink more water but struggles to make herself do it. As a questioner, I find this completely bizarre. If I needed to drink more water, I would simply drink more water. And if I couldn't make myself drink more water, that's obviously because I don't actually need more water. But her solution was to tell her students to ask her every day whether she had had a drink yet. When they ask, she is more likely to have a drink afterwards. I still think it's bizarre, but it's working for her.

How do you know if your student is an Obliger?

She does her homework every single day - as long as she has a teacher who will check homework every single day. So she does her science homework, because her science teacher goes around the classroom carefully checking every student's book, but she never does her Maths homework, because her Maths teacher trusts her students to do what they know is right, and hence does not check anyone's homework.

They prefer to have their work peer-assessed or teacher assessed, and does not like to self-assess. When asked to self-assess, they may not even tick or cross their work, and will probably not write any comments. They do an excellent job of peer-assessing their fellow students' work, though.

In sixth form, during "independent study periods", he spends the entire hour playing cards, or idly browsing the internet on his phone. However, in lessons he appears to be highly motivated and hard-working.

How do you support an Obliger student?

Accept them for what they are

Obligers need accountability. They need someone to check up on them. You might say that this is a character flaw, and that they should learn to cope without an external accountability system, but the reality is that if this is that student's personality, they should embrace it and learn how to be successful regardless. Do not confuse being an Obliger with not being an independent learner. The independence we are trying to foster in our students is slightly different. An Obliger can recognise in themselves the need for external accountability and arrange a system for themselves so that they can have this. There are many, many, successful Obligers out there in the world. There is no shame in being an Obliger. I think that Questioners (like me) in particular have a hard time understanding Obligers, and I admit that I sometimes feel a certain smugness, as if being a Questioner was somehow superior to being an Obliger. But as a teacher I have to put that aside and try to get the best out of all of my students.

Let them know you're checking up on them

During the lesson, tell your Obliger students you're keeping an eye on them. Check their homework every lesson. Check their classwork at the end of each lesson. Keep a record of their effort levels in lessons and let them know that you are recording this. Report cards (the kind that a teacher has to sign at the end of every lesson for the particularly badly-behaved students) work really well for Obliger students. In fact, I've even had some students ask to be put on report, because they thrive on external monitoring, and they like the idea of having someone's expectations to live up to every lesson.

Help them find creative ways to gain external accountability

The external accountability does not always have to come from you, the teacher. Two Obliger students could become "accountability buddies" and vow to help each other by nagging and checking and tracking. They both won't want to let the other down, so this should be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

In one of Gretchen Rubin's latest podcasts, a listener wrote in with the suggestion of making your future self a vehicle for external accountability. For example, you could motivate yourself to tidy up your kitchen before bed by thinking of yourself the next morning as a separate being, and think that that external being will be holding you accountable tomorrow morning for your actions tonight. You could work with a student to try to get them to use this technique the week before a test. They could think of how their future self would feel when they receive their grade, and think about that future self holding their current self accountable.

As I have said many times, I'm not an Obliger, and until recently it didn't occur to me that I was disadvantaging a large percentage of my students by refusing to understand the Obliger point of view. Now that I am more aware, I feel like I can support my students much better. If you're an Obliger, and you have more tips for me to be able to understand you guys better, please let me know in the comments. And if you're not an Obliger, let me know if this post has been useful in getting you to understand them better.

Emma x x x

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