Today was a day of interesting happenings in grade three. Really, the past short while has been a time of interesting happenings. One of my students, not your regular average Billy or Betty, but one of the more sensitive students who struggles with reading and writing has been so on fire.
It is extremely typical of this student to just decide to shut down at any given time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why he or she shutdowns or what their exact trigger is. For the time being, I can conclude that when he or she feels threatened, inadequate, isolated, or under pressure the student’s immediate reaction is to change their physical demeanour to be as small as possible and to completely withdraw from any activity.
Knowing this, I have made a real effort to remain extremely cognizant of this student while planning and delivering my lessons as well as during student work time and afterwards with follow up. When asking this particular student to answer a question, especially in front of his or her peers, I am careful to relate the material back to a prior experience that would guide their answer or give them a simple question I know they can answer. The key here, is allowing this student to find success in front of their classmates.
Since staying extremely conscious of this student, I have noticed a huge difference. This student is more engaged in classroom discussion as well as grasping concepts more than previously (or as far as I know). This is not to say at all that we don’t have days where there are set backs and he or she shuts down completely on me, but I have noticed that there are far and far less of them and when they do occur, they are shorter lived.
One of the biggest moments for me today, was when this particular student asked me if they could go to a different room to work. I was weary of this, even though the room is attached to the classroom, I didn’t want to provide an opportunity for the student to get lax under less supervision. As a result we made a deal, the first two sections of their worksheet had to be completed within four minutes and they could continue to work in the other room. We also have been using coins in math class as a manipulative to help students represent numbers in different ways, if the first two sections were complete then not only could he or she stay in the other room but they could also use the manipulative to help with their worksheet. Sure enough, the first two sections were done and they were correct! Throughout the rest of class, the student worked with the coin manipulative and through the remaining questions on the sheet. If they were able to complete any amount of work before I came back to check in, they came to find me proud as can be to show me the work they had completed.
I asked the student if they wanted to try the last two sections on the first page involving trading, a concept that certainly requires higher level thinking, they proceeded to shake their head so I agreed that it would be fine to move onto the second page. After math came library, then recess. After recess, this student came up to me and said “Mr. B, I’d like to trade now!” “WHAT?!” I thought, “this is FANTASTIC!” The rest of the class was engaged in another activity, but I grasped this moment and we continued to work on math, while their classmates practiced their music for their upcoming Christmas concert. I had anticipated that we may be in for a rough ride, but was I surprised. See, as I mentioned earlier, this student’s struggle is reading and writing – not that they can’t grasp concepts; the student can’t convey their knowledge on paper, but orally could they ever. Through discussion, he or she was able to demonstrate to me their knowledge that 10 dimes makes a loonie and 10 pennies makes a dime. They proceeded to discuss exactly how they wanted to trade in each question. When it came time to record their answer on paper, there was an immediate disconnect. Although the student could verbally explain to me the concept, the moment they needed to write it down it was as though no learning had occurred.
In this experience I gave the student room to tell me what they were comfortable completing at the time of math class (to trade or not to trade), allowing the student to take charge of their own education and the ability to tell me when they were ready. Had I told him or her that they had to trade during math class before moving onto page two of their worksheet, I guarantee they would have shut down and a lot less would have been accomplished. As a result the student realized their potential and on their own terms came to me to prove their higher-level thinking and application knowledge.
This so explicitly demonstrated to me the importance of authenticity & integrity in our relationships with students. Had I not taken the time to learn about this student and their needs or had I forced them to complete something that they, at the time, did not think they were ready for, we would have never gotten to trading today and I would have never known how much he or she definitely knows.
This experience showed me how important differentiation is to a students learning and to their production of knowledge. This student knows their math, the disconnect is in their writing not their ability to comprehend.
Until next time,