Recognizing the Not-So-Obvious

We had a brief lecture by a special education consultant at our last staff meeting.  It was very informative although so much information was received I confess I couldn’t process and retain all of it – and that was exactly her point about children who struggle to learn in the classroom.

One interesting item was that of children who cannot verbalize their learning (I believe I approached that concept in my last post Odd Observations in the Classroom).  Turns out there are many reasons for this:  the child hasn’t got the linguistic ability to communicate his or her learning, (not a language barrier however), the child is slower to process incoming information so slower to reiterate it to the teacher, the child is painfully shy, the child has a genuine learning disability, although these aren’t as common as teachers might think. watch self-esteem and learning

The school psychologist is reluctant to interview children in the primary grades who seem to be struggling academically, the reason being those children learn at different rates and many are overcoming shyness and so on.  I can understand those perspectives but I can also, as a teacher, assess when a child is simply very low academically, rather than learning at a slower rate than others.

For instance I have a little child in my grade one class who doesn’t know his alphabet, is unable to spelling anything other than his name, and cannot make letter-sound associations.  Certainly by the second semester of grade one when he has been in both junior and senior kindergarten (one year was full-days), he should have progressed to a much higher level than that by now.  Even two of the Special Education Resource teachers in my school were flummoxed by his level of learning.

The video above suggests silent children benefit from working in small groups.  Sometimes.  I have observed that some silent children simply stay silent even then although they will do the work that the natural “leader” assigns to them.  However I have been impressed to see my wallflowers bloom when it’s time to present the group work to the class.  And the reality is that shy or not, children have to learn to participate in full classroom discussion.  It’s going to happen in junior and intermediate, so learning basic classroom discussion skills in primary can be very helpful. Watch Why my child won’t try

However I have formulated a tentative plan that I hope will be of some help to my shy guys (and girls):

  1. when the topic is new, don’t call on the silent students unless they volunteer an answer
  2. when the topic has been taught for a week, allow pairs of students to discuss answers to each question I ask, then call upon the occasional silent student for a response
  3. incentives, such as team contests when simply attempting answers (not getting them right because that’s what makes a silent student freeze up) gives a team a point
  4. encouragement and positive feedback when a silent student makes an answer, regardless fo the right or wrong of it  watch can we talk about self esteem?

I have no idea how this one will work out.  No doubt it won’t work for all of the shy students I have in class.  The best plaid plans of mice and (wo)men never do. That’s one of the challenges that make teaching interesting: teaching myself whenever I enter the classroom.

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