Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lower the Pressure, Raise the Bar

It was an interesting experiment today. I was to meet with my lowest guided reading group and anticipated a bit of frustration all around. I had a cute book, "Frog" that seemed possibly "too hard" but I was going to do an experiment of sorts. What if I did a picture walk of the book and engaged the students in playful conversation about this frog who ventured out of his pond into the city? Would their amusement and curiosity about the story propel them into making an effort to read?
The answer: a resounding yes!
I am learning more and more that a positive classroom climate, filled with curiosity, fascination and humor enables kids to take risks in learning. Many kids, even at 5, have learned that it's sometimes easier to remain quiet than answer a question and be wrong. I don't let them remain quiet; I ask them to make a guess based on what they know. Because they have been with me for 132 days of school, they trust me. And they know I believe in them.
We need to keep expectations high, but find ways to lower the stress and anxiety that often cripples kids in their learning. A trusting student-teacher relationship is a great place to start.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Development is a Continuum

After a particularly challenging week in the world of teaching Kindergarten, I feel very strongly about discussing the subject of development: academic, social, and emotional development. Sometimes kids need time to work through their own particular kinks in order to show their full potential in school. This is not to say we leave them on their own to work through these challenges. I am simply saying that it's often not helpful to compare a child to his/her peers and decide that something is wrong in the intellectual or cognitive realm, especially at the young age of 5.
I know a girl who is five years old and has been in multiple foster homes during these very critical early years. She is adorable, quirky, and trying to make friends in a class that she joined 6 weeks after the school year began. Only with her new family, foster/adoptive parents, for the last 5 months, she has had a multitude of adjustments to make. Just last week, she got glasses! So, you might be thinking, what's the problem?
Well the problem is not with her. The problem is that the team of people who want to "help" this little girl are underestimating the huge impact of trauma, neglect, emotional abuse and loss on her ability to focus and learn. It seems that some are on a mission to prove that this child has a learning disability because she seems to have difficulty with memory, particularly in remembering numbers and words from short term memory. When in a small group of peers, and the attitude is more "playful" and less pressured, this child performs much better in restating what she just learned. She has shown growth in many areas since starting school in mid-October. In fact, she scored partially proficient in several areas!
Although the team of school professionals believe that this child needs more time before we subject her to the battery of tests that can only be performed once every 3 years, the parents and social workers are demanding the tests, now. The sad part of all of this is that she is getting re-traumatized by well-meaning individuals who are grilling her as she does her work: "What's that number? Come on! What is that number? " Each morning her foster mom comes into the class to help with her morning work, and I hear her asking her over and over. I want to tell her about the impact of stress and trauma on memory and tell her that she is only making matters worse. Unfortunately, that is the role of others: social worker, therapist etc. This parent thinks that I am trying to minimize this child's problems. I just think that she needs a nurturing, supportive yet still challenging environment where she feels safe to take chances and express herself. All children develop at their own time, and I simply believe that she needs more time and supportive work at home and at school.
I hope that the IEP meeting scheduled next month will be the opportunity to come together as a team of professionals to discuss a plan that will help this little girl.