“Learning is like a puzzle you just have to figure it out.”
That was the last sentence of my student’s 5th grade culmination speech. Her thinking is brilliant but she wasn’t the academic star. No, quite the opposite. She is a student with significant learning disabilities.
Alyssa had struggled all of her school years and entered my classroom apologetic about her failure to succeed. She felt she was pretty dumb and wrote how it hurt
so much to watch the other kids pass her, while she struggled with lower level books and spelling. Every word was a struggle — getting her thoughts out on the page, reading the page — was so hard for her. In spite of that struggle, or maybe because of it, Alyssa was able to piece together ideas that other more proficient students were blind to. Decoding was difficult but she was brilliant at synthesis. In read aloud she was the star — all of the physical work of reading was done and she was free to think and piece the puzzle together.
More PD, Please…
Alyssa and the many students like her are the reason we teach. The reason we go to professional development on our own time and dime. In fact we are desperately looking for these opportunities.
This past week, I had the privilege to be with 60 educators from my district who had the drive to learn. They all came looking for something to help them teach students like Alyssa to read closely. We sat and learned about Know and Wonder thinking based on What Readers Really Do. We worked with some of the Sign Posts from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note. We read aloud. We charted. We read slowly, carefully. We talked. We wondered. We planned book groups to have with colleagues. At the end we hung around wanting more.
Strength in Weakness and the Beauty of Partnership
Teachers’ conversations were really thought provoking and inspirational. One
teacher confessed to being just like Alyssa. She said she still has to read slowly and re read to understand. This confession brought out something from her colleague and book club partner: while the “struggling” partner may be slower, the depth of her understanding was often greater and thereby enriched the thinking of the partner who read with greater ease. In fact with the call to read closely, perhaps those with the practice of reading slowly will be doing more of the leading. Ah, the beauty of a partnership that finds strength in weakness. Win, win. Made me think about reading partnerships in my classroom. Would it be possible
to pair students like these two teachers? Could be a wonderful thing.
Seeing each other for what we bring to our community, weaknesses and all give
us strength. I saw that in our community of teachers looking to piece the puzzle together, willingly in fact joyfully. All of these educators had Carol Dweck‘s growth mindset: no one with the answer, no excuses, no one had to be the star. We were in it to figure it out. We have to for all of the Alyssas in our rooms.
Learning and Growth — The Struggle is the Same
As I look at my students and create learning groups and partnerships, I will remember those conversations with my colleagues. We all are like Alyssa struggling to figure out the puzzle. Piece by piece, little by little we will get there.
Things I plan to keep uppermost in my mind this year:
1. Growth includes failure — don’t fear it, figure it out
2. Celebrate success — acknowledge what it took to get there
3. Look for brilliance — hold it out for all to admire
4. Know that some things take time — foster patience