Can we identify what do these two learners have in common?
Academically, they are both new learners. AS is new to reading while ES is new to abstract reasoning and variable representation.
AS’s reading hit a plateau in late October. She began to struggle with short vowels. We practice with AS daily to improve her word recognition, her reading, and her confidence. We applaud her work and praise her improvements.
ES’s use of variables to mathematically model a problem hit a plateau in early November with systems of equations. We offer ES the opportunity to practice every day, but does he? There are so many more variables for ES than for AS. ES has to choose to come after school to work with us one-on-one, or we have to require it. Would he come for extra help if he knew that we were going to work from his strengths? Would his confidence and self-efficacy improve if he knew that we would find his bright spots and work there? He is very good at solving single-variable equations, and his written work is well organized. If he knew that he would be praised for what he does well and encouraged for his attempts, would he be more receptive to additional practice and attempts?
AS is shy about reading in front of her peers. Will they laugh at her; will they think she is not smart; what will happen if she makes a mistake? Is this true for ES too?
How do we react to these two learners? Some say “I taught this; they need to come for extra help if they don’t get it.” Others say “We will do whatever it takes to help get this child over the plateau.”
Does the age/size/attitude/behavior of the child contribute to our response? Should it? When I look at the children that work daily with me, I see big kids, kids that look grown-up. They are the oldest in our building, the leaders. But, what should I see? What if I could change my view? What if I could imagine them as young learners seeking praise and bright spots?
We have started project to help us visualize where we are as learners. An example:
We should see young learners working to understand math with variables; we should see learners that need praise and support. When AS has some success and gets applause, she smiles and tries again; do our big kids? When Annie is offered encouragement, she tries again. This is her first day without her training wheels.
What if we offered mathematically-young students, no matter their age or size, the same level of support as we naturally offer AS?
How do we find ways to celebrate those initial steps in learning? How do we offer authentic feedback and coaching that will promote success-oriented behaviors and a desire to improve? How do we build confidence and motivation to attempt more challenging topics and ideas? How do we remember what we see – a 6’4″ basketball giant – is not always what we’ve got – a young learner in need of support, confidence, and success?