Tuesday, October 24, 2017

See the Promise in the Problem: Teaching Challenged Learners Well

When I was little and experienced a problem, adults in my life would say, "You are imagining that." That wasn't a helpful response because it led me to burying problems rather than dealing with them.

Still today, my initial reaction to problems is to ignore them until I get upset--that's my gut instinct, yet I'm trying to retrain myself to notice problems when they start and to see the promise in the problem whenever problems occur.

Rather than react with emotion or worry, I want to say to myself, "There's a promise in this problem, and I want to work on my own and with others to figure out what that promise is."

If I can retrain myself in this way, then I'll also become a teacher who can foster this attitude in my students, an attitude that faces problems with the knowledge that tackling problems with strength leads to greater growth and success.

So as I work on the big problem of how to teach challenged learners better, I see tremendous promise. To actually meet this problem with strength is to reach betterment, betterment in teaching and most importantly student capacity, success, and happiness.

What do I know so far?
  • Challenged learners benefit from targeted teaching and response.
  • Challenged learners benefit from respect, dignity, and care.
  • Challenged learners often need a bit more space, quiet, and a loving environment than others.
  • Challenged learners benefit from learning experiences that are so intriguing that they want to continue the learning at home.
  • Challenged learners benefit from deep analysis of their profile and what works for them.
  • Challenged learners benefit from good home-school connections and relationships
  • Challenged learners benefit from greater streamlining and consistency
  • Challenged learners benefit when schedules flow rather than take on an inconsistent, choppiness
  • Challenged learners benefit from culturally proficient teaching and welcoming learning environments
  • Challenged learners benefit from learning how to learn, taking on growth mindsets, and understanding cognition which gives them the tools to become successful learners
  • Challenged learners benefit from high-quality, apt use of technology and other intelligent assistants.
When I think of challenged learners, that old adage, "When you give a man a fish, he eats for  a day, but when you teach a man to fish, he eats for his whole life," keeps coming to me. With challenged learners we have to give them the tools to figure out who they are, what they're interested in, and how they can access the knowledge and learning necessary to gain success. 

We are living in a world now that has so many avenues for teaching and learning success, yet, in many ways, we continue to be mired in old constructs such as strict pacing guides, limited tech use, too many worksheets, not enough depth, less project/problem-based learning, institutional unfriendly learning environments, and more. 

We need to reach out and up to meet the needs of challenged learners with greater success. If we do this well, we will meet the needs of all learners better. I welcome your thoughts on this problem, a problem I'm very interested in.

This note reminds me of an event that occurred many years ago. I had a student who clearly struggled with the teaching/learning program at hand. Yet one day when a speaker came that looked like the student and relayed information related to the boys' life experience and culture, the boy was the best in class. The other students turned to me and asked, "Why does _____ know all the answers." I remarked with something like, We are all really smart when it comes to learning that's familiar and interesting to us. . .everyone has their areas of smart. As we think of "challenged learners" we can't forget that part of the challenge often occurs because the context and content of the learning program does not relate to their primary interests, areas of competence, or what they are familiar with. "Smart" in one place, time, and event is often different than "smart" in another context.