Monday, September 27, 2010

It’s Easy

I heard it again last week. “It’s easy!” A student was trying to encourage her classmate while they worked on a math problem. I have heard this countless times from teachers, students, and parents. I used to say it myself – until I talked to a wise friend about the impact those words have and why he always told his sons the task at hand was hard.

If the task is accomplished, because it was easy, there is no sense of self-satisfaction. I don’t pat myself on the back or feel good about my success when I complete an easy task.

If the task cannot be accomplished, a person feels like he must be really stupid. After all, he cannot even do something that is easy. How could he hope to do something hard?

When I heard it last week, I immediately looked at the struggling student. She responded to her friend by lowering her eyes and shrugging her shoulders. This is a response I have seen before. What I have not seen is the response the speaker hoped for – a renewed sense of determination to succeed.

“It’s easy!” Think about it before you say it again.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Ketchup Packet

I’ve read a lot lately about all the ways/places students receive information. This post will add one to that list.

I was reading with one of my summer kids – students I volunteer with in the summer. We read, “It took about as long as it takes a hummingbird’s wings to flap.” I wanted to know if he understood the meaning that this event took place very quickly, so I asked if he had ever seen a hummingbird. He replied that he had and added that hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards. I couldn’t resist finding out just how he knew that. He said he had read it on his ketchup packet in the lunchroom.

I wonder how many adults have ever read a ketchup packet.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Take one distractible elementary student with heightened touch sensitivity and one set of sight word cards. Add one creative teacher who discovered how to mix the two together to totally engage the student in word practice.

I really enjoy the time I spend subbing as a teacher’s assistant because I get to learn from experienced teachers. That is how I found out about scratch-a-word.  To play, put down 3 sight word cards and use your finger to write one of them on the student’s back. The student says the word and also reads the other two words. I don’t know who enjoyed the activity more, the student or me!

There is nothing earth-shattering about this technique. In fact, it would only benefit a small percentage of students in a limited number of ways. The important lesson is that the teacher looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the individual student and adapted her technique to take advantage of the strengths to meet the needs of the student.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Didn't Want Help!

While thinking about teachers being less helpful, I remembered the little boy who ignited my desire to teach. As a volunteer mentor, we read together for four years. Once when I supplied a word he was struggling with, he let me know I spoke too soon by growling, "I wanted to figure it out!" That day he and I developed a signal for help that I still use today. I asked him to glance up at me if he wanted help. Until he did, I would sit quietly and let him think. That simple change made a huge difference in our relationship, his reading, and his self-confidence.

I teach classmates to be less helpful by explaining that telling a friend a word only helps at the time, but giving him time to think may help him really learn the word. I also wave my hand around in the air and ask if any of them can think better when all they see around them are hands waving. Even young children get the message and stay still.

Giving students time to think 
– wait time – helps them use their skills and strategies to solve problems or decode  words. They realize they can figure things out for themselves  a prerequisite to higher-order thinking.