Erik Erikson: Lessons Learned

For Theories on Thursday, I only write about theories we can put into practice the next day.  Or for my 6 a.m readers, put into practice that day.  I am a practical person as I described in yesterday's post.  I need as much time as possible to teach and plan lessons, parent the way I like to parent and do the 30 day Shred.  Yep, I am on my way to being shredded.

Today's theorist, Erik Erikson, is just my cup of....smoothie.  His eight stages of psychoemotional development is easy to understand and apply to students.  I will spare you a lengthy discussion of the eight stages as 1) if you are a teacher, you have studied all eight before in your Educational Psychology  or human development class and 2) You can read Wikipedia for yourself if you are not an educator or cannot remember Erikson.  Yep, I just hyperlinked to Wikipedia.  Take that!

By the way, if you are one of my current Educational Psychology students, our textbook author, R. Slavin, does a bang up, superb job discussing Erikson's eight stages.  You can by-pass Wikipedia.

Here, however, is what I want to emphasize today with regard to Erikson.
  • Erikson's eight stages are stepping stones - one to another.  Thus, if a student gets stuck in one stage or doesn't quite make it out of a stage unscathed - which is more likely - expect some disequilibrium to arise.  Read this post if you are unfamiliar with Piaget's disequilibrium.
  • From my armchair, bullies didn't make it out of Erikson's initial stages.  Though I dislike bullying and bullies, we, as educators, need to be sensitive to our bullies as they have major (self-improvement) work to do as they are the definition of scathed and disequilibrium; They just like to mask it by picking on others and having faux-control.
  • Students need our help and guidance to navigate through a stage.  How to do this:  Identify which stage(s) your students are in and create opportunities to help them master and balance the qualities of that stage.
    • For example, if you are working with high school students who are typically in Erikson's Identity v. Role Confusion stage, design lessons, activities and/or assignments that allow students to explore their identity in structured ways.  They can compare themselves to a science concept.  A metaphor like Captain-crew-cargo.  Write an essay comparing themselves to a character in a novel. Or design their own life soundtrack.  Plenty of structured ways.
  • Since one of the earliest stages in Erikson's eight is Autonomy v. Doubt, provide as much student choice as you can - at any grade level - without overwhelming students.  I do this all the time as a mom with little O.   "Do you want a vanilla yogurt or strawberry?"  "Do you want to take a bath or a shower?"  "Do you want to wear pants or a skirt today?"  A small menu of choices.  Offered succinctly.  Special tip:  Make sure the choices you offer sit well with you before offering them.  For example, if I really don't want little O to take a bath because she is muddy, I don't offer that choice as an option.  If you really don't want a student to work with a partner, don't offer that choice as an option.  You must be OK with the options.  "Do you want to write an essay or create a glog?"  See?  
  • For your own teacher fun, think about which stage of Erikson you are currently in and if any waves of disequilibrium have risen.  Some writers believe the only way to embrace a concept or theory is to apply it to yourself.
Alright, off I go to contemplate my own stage of development.  If you have other practical ways you like to apply Erikson's (useful) work, please leave your ideas in the comments section below. 

Happily in Stage 7, I believe,