Thursday, May 5, 2016

Helping Students Help Themselves

     In my infancy days as a teacher, I taught in a multi-grade classroom, similar, I guess, to my arrangement now. As I said, I'm referencing my early years as a teacher, when I wasn't as seasoned, some may call it more "raw," I didn't have the patience I've acquired since then. The result? I'd often get miffed by students who clung to me for every direction. Being a more independent, self-starter personally, I was stymied by kids who clutched a teacher for fear of a misstep. I knew I needed to make them more self-reliant, but how? That is the topic of today's reflective teacher topic. The one I was supposed to complete in 30 days? Yeah, that's it. How do we as teachers get students to work on their own?
   I'm a huge proponent of the 4Cs philosophy, with one of them being collaboration. I think by not offering students opportunities to work, and problem solve, together, we are robbing them of vital real-life experience they will need in their futures. But, I also see value in learning to work, and think, on your own. If a student can't think independently, he/she will have problems bringing anything to group work. Instead of being a contributor, they will become a drain on the rest of the group, slurping up the collaborative juices just as they begin to flow. I've seen it happen time and again. To be a good groupie, students need to be able to think and reason on their own.
     In steps the teaching involved in learning that discipline. For the most part, that's all my students know. They work independently, asking for help when needed. That's the theory of how my school works. The reality is I have kids each block who have invested in cling wrap. They want to affix themselves to me in hopes they never make a mistake or misunderstand something. For every assignment, the have multiple questions.
      What does this show me? It reveals just how insecure the learner is. It peels back the layers of self-doubt to reveal a student who may have received negative reinforcement from teachers in the past. It gives me a glimmer of a student swimming in a lack of confidence.
     So how do you handle these types of students? I believe they need to feel a sense of achievement. Some success to build their confidence. Some reassurance they are able to accomplish the task at hand with minimal input from me. I start out with small things and build from there. Is writing the problem? No topic sentences in their paragraphs? Too many ideas? I'll break it down to work on having them identify topic sentences in paragraphs and telling me WHY it's a topic sentence. Once their confidence is up a bit, we move no to writing our own topic sentences--together. Eventually, the student will write a topic sentence on his/her own until finally we work towards writing a cohesive, unified paragraph.
     This definitely takes time, but the payoff can be great. You will end up with a student who not only can identify the topic sentence, but who can also formulate the rest of the sentences so that they support the topic sentence. It sounds easy. It's not.
    Not only are we to teach, we are to empower our students with the ability to help themselves. When we can instruct them in the art of becoming independent learners, we can lead them to be better collaborators. And that can make all the difference in their lives.

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