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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Teaching Well: Attention to Every Child

As I start the new year, I'm thinking about the children who are most challenging to teach, and I'm wondering about how I can better teach those students.

I'll start with the following ideas.

Academically Challenged, Socially Demanding
If a child doesn't feel like he/she belongs, that child will often be socially demanding. Often the socially demanding child is also academically challenged. How do we best teach children like this? I'll start the year with the following efforts.
  • Find more ways to connect with conversation and invitation. Draw these children into the learning with enthusiasm, warmth, and by giving them greater voice and choice over their learning. 
  • Make the extra connection time a part of the daily routine--seek the child out for a friendly hello, ask questions, make time to talk on the playground, and ask the child for help--generally these children love to help out.
  • Ask the child how I can teach them better, what do they need to succeed and grow as a successful learner, then follow through.
  • Stay in contact with colleagues and family members to support these children well. 
  • Scaffold the learning so the challenge level is just right.
  • Find the ways these children like to learn best.
  • Let these children mentor younger children as that will develop their skills. 
Tech-Savvy Students Who Exceed Expectations
  • Allow them to test out of competencies early in the unit, then work with them to establish project based learning goals, teams, problems, audience, timelines.
  • If interested, allow them to teach classmates as this has been shown to develop the learning skills of both the "teacher" and "students."
  • Give them roles of responsibility in the classroom or school that matter so they can share their talents and contribute.
  • Find online contests, challenges, experts, and learning paths they can use to learn.
  • Let them help with the content creation for classmates through coding, writing, drafting, building, and more. 
  • Essentially make time for these learners, and together create worthy learning paths.
Challenged, Risk-Averse Learners
Often these learners struggle with processing speed issues. For their entire school life, the world of learning has happened at a too-fast speed and their constant need to catch-up has helped them to learn ways to avoid risk, stay in the "shadows" of learning, and do the best they can. Typically these students are eager to please.
  • Talk to them in a quiet place that does not have the distractions of multiple other students, and ask, "How can I help you learn well; what can I do?" Then, make plenty of time to wait for them to organize their thoughts and listen. You may have to get classroom coverage to make the time needed for these students.
  • Follow through with their needs.
  • Pay attention to every aspect of their learning from seating to lighting to noise to available tools to comfort level.  
  • Find ways everyday to provide them with the extra support and time they need.
  • Scaffold assignments in length and breadth, but not in interest--often these students are given dull work so they can catch-up, when in reality we want to inspire these students with exciting projects since they're going to need the inspiration to learn as they often have to work double time to grasp a concept or learn a skill.
  • Let them help out in the areas where they are strong and let everyone see them sharing their great strengths. Often these students are the most socially strong, make good friends, and are compassionate towards others. They're learning challenges have developed great empathy in them.
These are three categories of students who typically present greater challenge in a classroom setting than others. They are students who could be turned off from school and begin to feel negatively about themselves if they are not taught well and treated with respect and care. I want to teach all students with my best skill and intent, and beginning with the most challenged with earnest conversation and effort will help me to make gains with regard to this desire. 

If children are unhappy at school, they will try to find happiness in other ways. Often this leads children down paths that have dead ends or disastrous results. We all probably know people in our own lives who traveled these paths due to unhappy, unsatisfied early lives at school and elsewhere. Giving children a sense of self confidence, import, and meaning early in life provides them with the strength they need to develop and build a positive life for themselves. There's no room anymore in schools for negativity, punishment, or pain--schools are a place for growth, and it's in everyone's best interest to contribute to that growth.

For veteran teachers like me and for younger teachers who emulate schools of old, this means a shift in our language, words, actions, processes, and collaboration--we have to be intentional about this shift, and we have to start now because embracing and promoting positive process matters to every child we serve.