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Ivannia Soto was an exemplary scholar-practitioner. Her scholarly contributions are impressive and include 14 published books, but perhaps even more impressive was her dedication...

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Rumi in the Language Classroom: The Placebo Effect

Jaber Kamali shows how praise can boost student achievement

The fourth chapter of ‘Rumi in the Language Classroom’ revolves around a poem in ‘Masnavi-e-Manavi’ which tells the story of a teacher whose students were tired of his classes. After a while, his students planned to drop the class but, because that was impossible, they decided to pretend that their teacher was sick and needed a rest. So, when they entered the classroom, they told him that he looked pale and they thought he was sick. When the teacher heard it from all the students he started feeling ill. He went home and told his wife to prepare his bed and make him soup. His wife was surprised and complained that he was not sick, but he refused to accept that. His wife, who didn’t want to discuss it further, gave in. When students’ parents came to visit him, he was completely red and sweating (because he was under the blanket), and they thought that he was really sick. They went home and asked their pupils not to go to school for a while.

The story clearly illustrates the concept of the “placebo effect.” The effect, first articulated by John Haygarth in 1799 (Booth, 2005), refers to the effectiveness of a perceived therapy which helps a patient to improve even though it has no physical benefit. In fact, it is a complex human experience that integrates expectations, hopes, and beliefs. We have all seen some patients who felt better after believing so. The opposite is also imaginable as is the case in the Rumi’s story. So, how does it help me as a teacher?

Faking praise in order to facilitate students’ learning and development can act as a placebo. As a teacher, we can praise our students generously instead of noticing their mistakes and pointing them out. It can encourage them to speak more in class which is a determining factor for improving language. It is a fact that praise is retained longer in human memory and we mostly remember the teachers who praised rather than the ones who criticized us. Enabling students to feel that they are improving can have a placebo effect which can have a real impact on the student’s learning  in the long term.

Booth, C. (2005). The rod of Aesculapios: John Haygarth (1740–1827) and Perkins’ metallic tractors. Journal of medical biography13(3), 155-161.

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