[From an address to a state convention of special educators and parents several years back. It might be noted that I have am quite impressed with the directions public education has taken as well as the dedication of most teachers, yet we can never forget to work on our weakest links.]
I have always felt kids who are said to have learning problems with no learning solutions “fall out of the net” of learning at school. What a waste of our greatest natural resource — our children! Forgive me if I lapse into poetry to express my points here and there:
I Pledge Allegiance
I pledge allegiance to bring solutions for kids who fall out of the net
And to the frustration which they daily withstand
One pearl unopened, indedensible, with hope for the future for all.
Coping rather than groping is the issue, and one way to do this is to never diagnose without prescription. It is vitally necessary to avoid the stagnant diagnosis that so often comes without prescriptive and problem solving involvement, or the similar crime of prescription without relating the extensive diagnosis — which happens at times. Teamwork is important.
Our task in education, then, after defining the process information about a child (that is, how the child takes information in with eyes, ears, multisensory — often the best –and the problem areas need to be pinpointed in this) is to C.A.R.E. (Cooperative Atmosphere to Respectfully Educate) We can do this by working on weaknesses, standing on the memory of our strengths.
We don’t just work on weaknesses, we celebrate strengths, thereby developing the confidence and faith necessary to successfully attack our challenge areas. Gap areas are best worked on after a short period in our area of competence. . . such time is indeed a worthy investment, never a waste of time.
We would be well advised to help our children stand on their strengths to pull up the weaknesses.
It would be well to consider that there are 3 R’s for teachers and parents: (1) Relationship, (2) Reward, and (3) Restriction.
Let’s take Relationship first because it is framework for all the rest, i.e. it is the most essential teaching tool. Most important, never quite caring — for it is through reaching out that we help students pass life rather than just pass subjects, as expressed by a poem I wrote on my first day of practice teaching. Every new teacher is full of HOPE:
Things I Heard Them Say Today
Show me, teacher, you love me, but remember to make it real.
When I ask things I want to know, so tell me in ways I can feel.
I want you to tell me I’m smart, but only if it’s true . . .
I want my paper to say Very Good, but only if you should.
You said you trusted me, so I gave it back.
You said you knew you could depend on me and I sdaid, “Hey, people shouldn’t oughta steal.”
Look at my eyes when I try you. If you can still care I might lay off.
Tell me how to do things one more time; please don’t forget to tell me I can.
Show me teacher, you love me . . . but remember to make it real.
Then there’s Reward. Sometimes we sense an absence of reward for our kids. The spark has long gone or is slipping from kids who fall out of the net. Reasons are many. Learning can be rewarding in and of itself, especially when combined with success and a bit of rigor. (Showing realistic expectations of children is rewarding in and of itself in that someone believes in them enough to expect performance.)
Many adults in the child’s life don’t appreciate the importance of understanding the way that individuals learn and about sharpening the learning processes as being a necessity. That’s why tutoring doesn’t always do the job. Some kids find that absolute failure is the only way to get help. Yet if they could have had help much earlier, the damage could have been reduced.
Why I Don’t Dig the Borderline Jig
Dancing a tune to the borderline time, a little off beat and feeling the heat.
Can’t pass the failure test so borderline’s mine.
No help my woes to meet, but constantly facing defeat.
How many of you have known someone in that boat? Or someone who was there, but finally got lucky (?) enough to make it to help by passing the failure test? It’s a shame to wait till a precious child has failed repeatedly when we could help when the student first shows a sign of difficulties either behaviorally, emotionally, or academically.
We should be vitally concerned for preventive measures rather than always just approaching these problems from a crises oriented system wherein we do nothing till it has approached the tragedy level! What might have happened if we had done something long ago?
That’s the kids’ story. But teachers tire too, and they are a vital part of the education equation. I wrote this once when I saw too many a la carte specialists and a lack of real people in the child’s school atmosphere. (Many schools are right on top of being caring and involved in a child’s school life, but once in a while. . . )
Education A La Carte
I’m tired of serving education a la carte.
I’m weary and sometimes sick at heart.
I want to teach the whole child — not a part,
To be real in their world and give them a true start.
I don’t mean to be disloyal, but my soul begins to boil
Every time I see a kid left out, or teachers gripe and shout.
While trying hard to live with the system and teach
Missing the point that relationship is what trains each
To respect, to grow, to share.
To be real, to feel, to care.
And isn’t that why schools were first started,
Or have we since then from that ideal parted?
Sometimes the environment can prevent education from being rewarding. This reminds us to not take any educational theory too seriously, whether it be a dyslexia program, inclusion, etc.
Lost in Space
Lost in Space could be a great soap opera.
The terrifying story of what happened with “open teaching” when a startling accident of metamorphasis made it into “open space.”
Sometimes we forget that reward should include parents — they need to both hear and express the informational and the positive.
What Parents Hear From Schools
Sometimes when a kid has trouble all we do is burst his bubble.
We just deal out burning criticism, no attempt to bridge the problem-solving chism.
To the parents for the trouble, nothing but low feelings double.
Would it be wise to reverse the flow, and cause the positive gears to go?
Rewards should not just be M & M’s. Compliments, handshakes, cheers and other group attention and recognition as well as other ways of leading toward intrinsic reward systems are all valid. Celebrations of learning can be included, for not only does this reward, it reviews and cements the skills and the self-esteem growth. Of course the best reward of all is intrinsic – when the child rewards himself or herself. Teach your kids the habit of patting themselves on the back!
The Secret and the Skill
You can’t teach ’em if they won’t learn. If a candle isn’t lit it simply won’t burn.
But tell them a secret and they surely will. They’ll remember the secret and they’ll learn the skill!
Motivation is the magic which we can easily leave out in planning for our students. Yet what is the magic ingredient that stands out in successful people — a motivation or positive drive. Never understimate the value of time spent for the sole purpose of motivation. (This does not just mean entertaining, but focusing on the learning experience to be had.)
Planning and structure involve organization and a positive attitude:
I Can See Clearly Now
I can see clearly now, the plan is near.
We’ll have the battle won, have no fear.
Now that I understand, it’s all so clear.
Somehow I feel we’ll make it — this year.
Restriction may be the most feared of the three R’s for teachers and parents. This third R of restriction provides needed structure for the seedling concepts to be watered and grow. Love is indeed the framework, but it won’t cut it without structure, or organization.
Things we can structure include: furniture, schedules, grading (the pluses more than the mistakes), auditory and visual environment (eliminating distractions and zeroing in on the best learning channel), peer relations, diet, materials (suitable for level, age, interest and particular learning needs).
Give it a try. Ask yourself what this child needs. And remember, you write the plans that help the children learn. (I’m sure Barry Manilow would agree:-)
It is often thought that to build self esteem we should pat on the back and brag, but I contend we need to set fair goals and then in a caring way insist these realistic expectations be met.
The Structure and the Fire
“My only aim is to get my kid on level,” said a grown up one day.
Might they file his brain with a bevel, and later find out the heart is here to stay.
One wonders if being on level could have come straight from the devil.
For you see there’s the devil to pay
If we forget to consider the bell curve can’t be leveled . . unless we throw their souls away.
Don’t Frustrate — Manipulate
Consider the children and their need to manipulate.
Perhaps we unwittingly assign them a poor fate.
We tell poor achievers to study like beavers.
They sometimes must think we’re the world’s great deceivers!
So acutely do they need active learning play
That perhaps to omit it means in the long run we’ll ‘get it.’
Only active involvement leads to their problems’ resolvement.
Millions of things to do! If studying the desert, bring clothes of varying types and role play what to wear and why. If learning about globes get a markable globe and take trips like mad. Go to the CIA site online for information. There is no concept for which some manipulative activity can’t be dreamed up that would help with learning, and/or even building ego while motivating.
Let us not forget Methods:
The Everyday Things
It’s the everyday things that teach kids to read.
It’s the everyday things that develop math speed.
Not the time when one person can win or the time the top three wear a pin.
Cause we’re all together in this earth ride, and we must each have our own piece of pride.
So let’s not forget it’s the everyday growing that leads our kids to the process of knowing.
If a child asks how many days till Easter, hand over the calendar and ask leading questions but let the child have the think-joy. If you’re studying money, write a letter home telling how well the student has been doing and ask the family to include him or her in the shopping, grocery, auto parts, hardware.
Encourage kids needing coordination work to learn to crack eggs. Better yet, crack the eggs and bake a cake 9whose recipe you happened to have in math or reading) and tell about it or share it! Learning rushes on.
I’ve covered several things psychological and educational research has shown us about coping instead of groping when trying to help kids with learning challenges. I have a few ending comments.
It seems appropriate here to discriminate between research and reality, between fact and future. Often we read a “study” giving the facts, and we forget to note that facts, as known to date, do not need to assign future realities. We can be a change agent in future realities no matter what has transpired in the past.
Sometimes we let research studies make us think that things have to be “tht way” when even the researchers don’t intend with that idea. Research can only use past data in predicting the future and at best, predicting the future is still a relative of fortune telling and shouldn’t be allowed to give us excuses and doom our efforts from the start.
Because we have been observers of research in pure science for so many years, we often read research in behavior with the same tendency to allow limited studies — often carefully so defined by the actual researchers — to throw us into far-flung conclusions and self-fulfilling prophesies.
The fact that something statistically is most often true does not mean it has to follow that way in the real life case with which we are dealing. One particular diagnosis of child does not all have to have social difficulties, perceptual problems, etc. We must remember we are dealing with individuals who, when plotted on a bell curve, range a long ways in both directions. Normality is only a mathematical arrangement we have agreed upon for convenience in dealing with groups.
While we’re on it, we should be acutely aware of problems in using one-to-one testing for making decisions about group functioning. My blood curdles when I hear that any adult has made such assumptions about a child.
Let me stress the value of planning — one way to say it is Give Kids a Chance, Care in Advance! So with a clear eye distinguishing between past and possible, let us dream a bit and use some wit and score in solving our learning problems — our Challenge to Cherish!
Off and Flying
Off and flying! No more sighing for the job’s still to be done.
A child is here — he turns an ear: he grows and something’s won.
We watch, play, stretch forth today; at times we hug like Teddy Bears.
We’re singing, sweet music’s ringing in the ears of those who care.
Let us all join our lives together to deal with learning problems. This is our Challenge to Cherish!
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission from author for use either online or in print. The poem Things I Heard Them Say Today was first published in American Poetry Anthology, 1982.