Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beneath the surface-

A recent, welcome email from a former honors student— Quickly skimming, searching for the word “interesting”-- for that was the word she always used when life became too tough, too overwhelming, interfering with her learning— Not finding, replying remembering our quiet talks--

Apathy and reluctance from a gifted student after selecting a program of her passion-- Searching for phrases, approaches -- Listening-- Failing to connect—

A phone call and a joyful visit from a former student significantly challenged by a reading/ writing disability-- Relishing the connection as he reveled working in his passion in a local garage with vehicles— Not forgetting the trials and tribulations he endured as colleagues repeatedly questioned his lack of responsibility—not even carrying home his marketing textbook—he read at a second grade level –

Rejoicing for just one moment upon realizing that reaching beneath a young person allowed me a different perspective; yet always, always regretting my failures to interpret what was beneath the surface so a youngster might become engaged in learning.

And ever questioning —

Beneath the surface-- what role does a learning disability play? How often do students with invisible disabilities present another face to the world? How best might I reach them and advocate for them in a world that expects everyone to read and write?

Beneath the surface-- where and what are their interests? How might I help young people engage in learning for which they hold a passion?

Beneath the surface-- what role might the wounds from negative school interactions have on their reluctance to learn? How can I attend to student’s school wounds?

Beneath the surface-- how might living in a culture of poverty influence attitudes toward learning? What approach may help me to reach more students who life circumstance is beyond their control?

Beneath the surface-- in what way might a fixed mind-set influence learning? What strategies might I employ to change a student’s mind-set to that of growth?

And wondering---

What if I had always listened more carefully, observed more closely as I worked with students challenged by learning?

What if I had adopted Konrad Glogowski’s perspective on passion based learning?
“If I am really serious about helping my students find ideas and topics they are passionate about, I need to forget about my course content and step outside that “comfort zone of content.” What I have prepared, what I deem pedagogically sound, may be wonderful but, to my students, it will always be mere course content, something one learns in order to “do well” - a hoop that every student needs to jump through and certainly not something that one wants to come back to and keep exploring.

As an educator, I need to step outside my “comfort zone of content” by sharing my own self: things that I myself am passionate about. I need to stop peddling content and show that I am a learner too."
What if I had followed Kirsten Olson’s suggestions for preventing and healing wounded students?
"Acknowledge school wounds. …The first step in healing is listening to the student, acknowledging that his or her feelings are real, and giving the student space to talk about and reflect on those feelings.

Question labels. We need to question many of the ways in which schools judge, sort, and classify students and help students understand that these labels need not be with them for life. Whenever a student receives a test score or a class placement, teachers should remind both students and parents of the plasticity of ability and the power of individuals to change their academic paths through effort(Dweck, 2006).

Remind students of their own contributions to school success or failure. Most researchers find that self-discipline, persistence, and ambition are at least as significant to academic success as innate ability (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Students need to focus on working hard, establishing good work habits, and setting high goals. If students have received negative evaluations, teachers should both encourage them to question the kinds of judgments school authorities make and support the students in their efforts at self-definition and redefinition.

Reflect on how you speak with students. In the crush of the school day and the pressures of accountability, school personnel often cease to hear how they sound to students.

Don't Label—Listen. By listening to our students attentively and without judgment, we can help them heal.”
What if I had been more cognizant of the concept of a “Warm Demander”?
“The good news is that although engagement is affected by students' economic and social conditions, teachers can organize the classroom in ways that dramatically increase student engagement.

Becoming a warm demander begins with establishing a caring relationship that convinces students that you believe in them. The saying goes, "It's not what you say that matters; it's how you say it." In acting as a warm demander, "how you say it" matters, but who you are and what students believe about your intentions matter more. When students know that you believe in them, they will interpret even harsh-sounding comments as statements of care from someone with their best interests at heart.

Use your knowledge of culture and learning styles to increase your understanding of individual students. Warm demanders observe students closely to learn more about their idiosyncrasies, interests, experiences, and talents.

What makes warm demanders different is that they insist on students meeting those expectations. They establish supports to ensure that students will learn, and they
communicate clearly to students that showing respect to the teacher and to classmates is nonnegotiable.” Elizabeth Bondy and Dorene D. Ross
What if I had been familiar with fixed/growth mind-set
“Students who are mastery-oriented (with a growth mindset) think about learning, not about proving how smart they are. When they experience a setback, they focus on effort and strategies instead of worrying that they are incompetent.

Teachers should focus on students' efforts and not on their abilities. When students succeed, teachers should praise their efforts or their strategies, not their intelligence. (Contrary to popular opinion, praising intelligence backfires by making students overly concerned with how smart they are and overly vulnerable to failure.)

When students fail, teachers should also give feedback about effort or strategies -- what the student did wrong and what he or she could do now. We have shown that this is a key ingredient in creating mastery-oriented students.
In other words, teachers should help students value effort. Too many students think effort is only for the inept. Yet sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement.

In a related vein, teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. Rather than praising students for doing well on easy tasks, they should convey that doing easy tasks is a waste of time. They should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.

Finally, teachers can help students focus on and value learning. Too many students are hung up on grades and on proving their worth through grades. Grades are important, but learning is more important.” Carol Dweck
How much more might my students have learned? How might my classroom have been more joyous?

I’m wondering, how many educators, unaware or overwhelmed by expectations, fail to look beneath the surface and lose opportunities to engage, to share in the delight of learning?

To each of my students for whom I didn’t seek deep enough beneath the surface, this is for you---

Photo Credit


Keith Lyons said...

Hello Lani

What a beautiful and exhorting post. I wonder if what you describe embodies what it is to have a calling. I think passion makes this possible.

I imagine you have a very special relationship with your students. My approach has been to regard all my students as members of my family.

Thank you for a very special post to end 2008 and start 2009.

Best wishes


Lani said...

Hi Keith,

Thank you so much for taking time to comment--

Wishing peace and joy for you in the new year---

Anne said...

Beneath the surface....that is what is most important. This post is truly inspiring and gives us much to think about for the coming year. I plan to revisit this post frequently. Thanks so much for blogging and sharing these special moments and thoughts.