Tricked into excellence
"Tricking" kids into self-discovery
By Mac Bledsoe
My best friend, John Matau, was an amazing teacher! He was
a master at "tricking" kids into self-discovering positive ideas about
themselves. Here is just one example of his amazing skill as a teacher
that you may be able to imitate as you work with your own kids.
Almost every year, John would have what he called his
"Cheater's Test" in his U.S. history classes. He would announce to his
classes that, on the upcoming chapter test, he was going to challenge
everyone to figure out a way to cheat and not get caught.
He laid out the rules very carefully. "You can cheat on
this test, and if you get away with it, you get the score you get.
However, if you get caught, it will be no different from other tests: you
will receive a zero. But, unlike other tests, if you get caught cheating,
you will be able to take the test again the next day. You'll have to live
with whatever score you get on the second test! I will not call you a
cheater and you will not go to the office or receive any negative
consequences for cheating other than having to take the test a second
"You will have exactly 55 minutes to complete the test.
During the test, I will leave the room one time. I will be gone for
exactly 30 seconds. The rest of the time, I will sit at my desk and read a
book, except for three times when I will get up and walk around the room.
Get creative! On the 'Cheater's Test,' if you don't get caught, you get to
keep your score!"
On test day, it was amazing to watch what the creativity
of the kids. Excitement would be at a fever pitch throughout the school as
the kids tried to match wits with John and outdo each other with their
schemes. What was interesting was that the kids who hooked in on this
opportunity the most were usually kids who were failing or close to it!
Some would have friends in the gym reading the answers on a walkie-talkie,
with three students sitting in class listening on earphones hidden behind
long hair. Others would have the answers written on the bottom of their
shoes. Others would have elaborate mechanisms that would retract the cheat
sheet into their sleeve when they straightened their arm. Groups would get
together and hide answers around the room on the backs of lights and on
bulletin boards. Some would put the answers on the front of John's desk.
Their creative minds were hard at work!
The day after the "Cheater's Test," John would give the
test again, as planned, for any kids who had been caught cheating. He
asked everyone else to please take the test because he just wanted to see
what happened. Everyone would take the test a second time, not just the
ones who had been caught cheating. He even told them that if they scored
higher today they could keep the higher score. When John gave the test the
second day, the scores would almost universally average in the 80's and
90's ! Even kids who had never passed a test in their lives would get 94's
The self-discovery would begin when John would point out
something to his classes. "Kids, you learned something today. Many of you
scored higher than you've ever scored on a test in your life, and today
you did it without cheating. Do you know how you did that? Well, for
yesterday's test, you had to make up your elaborate cheat sheets. In order
to do that, you had to actually look up the answers to what you thought
would be on the test and write them down! Many of you even wrote the
answers two or three times as you perfected your cheating schemes."
"Now look at what you did today! You scored very highly on
today's test with nothing but what you stored in your head by looking up
the answers and writing them down. What you did while preparing to cheat
is what many people call STUDYING! You did what many students who get good
grades do before a test. It wasn't very hard was it? It also didn't take
much time, either, did it?"
"Now recall what it felt like to take this test today and score highly.
Pretty cool huh? Why don't you do that all the time, since you just
demonstrated to yourself that you can do it"?
John had just tricked many kids into saying some pretty
positive things to themselves about their own performance capabilities.
The key is that he got them to "say it for themselves" after giving them a
graphic experience with their own performance.
There are many ways that you could creatively "trick" your
children into doing something around the home that will demonstrate to
them what they are capable of doing on their own. For example you might
let one of your kids plan and cook a dinner. Give them some money and let
them plan the meal totally on their own. Give them only limited guidance
or restrictions other than telling the child that the meal must have a
selection from each of three food groups to insure that it is healthy.
Include the fact that they can keep any money not spent on the groceries
for dinner! When they plan and cook the meal point out to them that they
have just budgeted and saved money by careful shopping and planning!
Let a child plan an entire trip from start to finish. When
the trip is in progress make comments about the successful planning that
has been done and how fun it is to be in charge of travel plans. (During
that trip you most likely will not have to answer the question of, "When
are we going to get there?" By letting kids feel like they are
somehow getting away with something they can learn a ton about their own