Recently during an informal conversation following an ISRC meeting a colleague and I were reflecting on a student whose inconsistent performance was a mystery to us. Like all students, he was able to show us moments of clarity and understanding of both content and instructions. Yet, like some of his peers, he also had moments where entire lessons, concepts and instructions seemed to have passed him by.
It would be very easy to get frustrated and suggest that the student was choosing what to pay attention to. Some educators might even use a word I hate and describe his behaviour as “lazy”. (That rant may require another full post!) We could offer a more empathetic suggestion that there may be an underlying diagnosis that hindered his success. We could lay blame on his parents and family support system for not spending time with him at home to keep him on track.
But… out of that conversation came a different approach.
I have written about my own daughter who struggled to learn to read and does indeed have underlying needs that make learning a unique experience for her. In her case this includes an LD, ADHD, and generalized anxiety disorder. During her psycho-educational assessment feedback session, the psychologist gave us the following analogy to understand how she processes social cues.
- a group of kids are on the playground
- one kid says “Hey everyone! Let’s go play dodgeball.”
- all the kids go running to join in
- my daughter may not move
- she does not always interpret a “group invitation” as applying to her
- if the child walked right up to her, said her name and said “Would you like to come play dodgeball?” ONLY then would she know that invitation applied to her
We don’t have to understand this to appreciate and apply it to our practice. The “personal invitation” she needs with her peers may also be the answer for the student we are struggling to figure out.
A personal invitation to learning
While we can still investigate the possibility of underlying concerns for this student, why not simply invite the student to engage.
- Before a whole or small group lesson, take a moment to make eye contact and quietly tell the student what is going happen next and what the learning/content may be
- Instead of sharing learning goals only with the whole class or on a posted location for all to see, maybe jot them down on a sticky note, read them with him and make sure he knows they apply to him
- Ensure that he knows which instructions apply to him and clarify if any do not
- Offer him opportunities to share the instructions, big ideas, next steps and required materials with me directly before he gets to start producing product
- Conference with him more frequently and in much smaller chunks to prevent him from feeling overwhelmed with too much feedback.
In general, we need to let him know that the learning we are offering is meant for him. Some kids know this without a personal invitation but, for those that don’t let’s find a way to invite them in each and every day.