Egocentrism:having or regarding the self or the individual as the center of all things: an egocentric philosophy that ignores social causes. having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one's own; self-centered: an egocentric person; egocentric demands upon the time and patience of others
If I were to ask my students what the connotation is of this word, they would more than likely say it is negative, but my mission is to turn this into a positive!
We all know about this. We've taken Educational Psychology, right? Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development points it out clearly. At the adolescent age, teens are all about themselves, and that's normal!
|Adolescence (12 to 18 years)||Identity vs. Role Confusion||Social Relationships||Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.|
Instead of assuming that this "generation" is more self-involved than the last, we need to recognize this happens to almost everyone, and we need to use it to our advantage in our instruction.
So how do we do that?
In Reading, we need to provide choice for students when they read. I think it is so important to have students take interest inventories to help them self-select books that will be interesting to them.
When doing literature circles, offer a variety of choices and let students rank their preference, then create groups based on that.
Take time to allow students to talk about themselves in class. It gives us insight into who they are as people, and allows them to connect with each other and share their ideas.
When studying poetry, or actually doing any kind of close reading, concentrate on the "connections" aspect. If they can tie it to something they know and care about, I can guarantee it will mean more to them.
Middle school students and young adolescents have the amazing ability to "zone in" on something, at at times it can even become fanatical. They are frequently "obsessed" with things, be it Starbucks, One Direction, or a television series. They can talk forever (sometimes to the detriment of the class) about issues they have or things they love. Everything is the end of the world, or their entire world.
Here's my question: What if learning was their entire world? Isn't that basically what they do? I know my students go home and spend hours on tumblr looking at quotes from their favorite books, or looking at pictures of their favorite band, or taking hundreds of pictures of themselves in order to get that perfect "selfie" where they look absolutely amazing. We take so much time to teach them how to analyze when they already have this skill. In fact, they overanalyze everything! If someone looks at them wrong they think about it forever when they are supposed to be taking a math test. Same goes if someone looks at them the right way. They might as well have little cartoon hearts floating above their heads!
Here are some concrete examples of how I have utilized their egocentrism in my classes this year:
- For Walt Whitman, we discussed how "O Me! O Life" consistently shows the good and the bad in each stanza. He is forever "reproaching himself". Quick: What does it mean to reproach yourself? How do we reproach ourselves on a daily basis? Can you relate to what he is saying? Yes? Ok- now you've connected with someone who wrote this 150+ years ago. We all have this problem!
- Students took an interest inventory that helped them decide which books would be best for them to read. It doesn't just ask them about genres and types, but what their hobbies and interests are. Students love taking this. Why? Because it's a survey, about them. They know what they like and don't like, and therefore everyone can succeed at this activity.
- When reading a non-fiction article on the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, they connected to the pros and cons. They wrote connections about how they knew someone who had taken the challenge, or they had taken the challenge. We talked about the "me" generation, and the counterclaim in the article that said it wasn't as much for charity as it was about posting a video of yourself doing something silly for attention. We talked about how a lot of people tend to post things that are crazy or outrageous just to get attention, and debated about whether this is the reason so many people took the challenge.
- In writing, they are doing their first writing assignment about...THEM! When they were little... They have spent the majority of their time thus far writing their "100 Things I Love", "Amazing Places" (to them), "Writer's Eye (I)" (which is all about them).
- They found AAAWWUBBIS sentences in their own books, rather than me giving them sentences. They own these, because many of them come from their favorite books.
- And finally, Genius Hour... this entire class is egocentrism in action. They are studying their own topics, setting their own timelines, and determining their own final projects. Everything in that class is directly related to their personal interests and preferences. Have I heard any complaints about Genius Hour yet? Nope.
I leave you with the end of "O Me! O Life" by Walt Whitman:
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Every single student that we encounter has something to contribute. Our job as educators is to guide them to make that contribution meaningful to themselves, and to the world.