A NOTE FROM STACEY: “Nice” children are often overlooked in the classroom because they go with the flow. I’ll admit, I was one of those teachers who often sacrificed a conference with one of the “nice” children in my class and met with a student who was having greater challenges in writing. When I looked back at my conferring notes each week, I often noticed the “nice” ones had less writing conferences. I made changes once I noticed this, but again and again, I noticed a similar pattern develop. When I read Linda Baie’s slice of life story (on her blog) in November about “nice” kids, I asked her if she’d share her writing on this topic with another audience of teachers… the ones who might not have seen her post because they only read this blog, not hers. (BTW: If you don’t read “Teacher Dance,” then you should start. Click here to view Linda’s blog.) I have no doubt in my mind that many excellent teachers of writing skip over the nice kids to help students with greater challenge. Hence, before the new year begins, please read through Linda’s post to get thinking about how you can regularly make time for the “nice” kids in your class in 2012 and beyond.
In mid-November, I wrote about my new granddaughter, born at the end of July. My daughter returned to work in early November, and my husband and I began staying with baby Imogene Marie on Mondays to help out until a more permanent nanny was found. Her older sister, two and one half, attends a Montessori school. I am thrilled to rewrite this post as a guest blogger for Stacey and Ruth, for the topic is important to me: the continuing challenge for educators to meet all students’ needs.
We have spent seven wonderful Mondays with Imogene; she was five months old a few days after Christmas. As I wrote in the earlier post, and as we continued to spend time with Imogene, including now the uproariousness of the Christmas holidays, she has not stopped being the most serene and contented baby we’ve known. She is quite different from her older sister as a baby, is undemanding, smiles and coos at us whenever we talk to her and hold her, rarely cries, and only then if we’re a little slow in readying her next bottle. When fed, she loves to play for a while, then goes to sleep when we lay her in her crib. Amazing. We are all in awe of this little person and wonder what she’ll be like as she grows older. More than a month has passed since I last wrote about her, and other than gaining weight, kicking and moving more, now laughing and loving to watch her older sister, Imogene continues to be mild-mannered, self-contained, only wishing for a little drink, a little sleep, and a lot of cuddling and playing.
When Imogene’s parents and I have talked about her, we believe her demeanor connects to others we know, to students I’ve had in the past, both girls and boys, whom we often call nice. They are the students who carry out assignments with enthusiasm and meet deadlines, are friendly and respectful to everyone, yet who also often stay in the background, allowing others to take their turn first, share materials they own, and so on. One could also call them generous in spirit, but relatively calm and quiet.
We in education worry over and plan for a variety of identified at risk students. We work hard to help meet needs that are vital to fill in students’ lives and for their future success as productive human beings. We speak of students who cry out for extra support because they have extraordinary challenges; they are diagnosed with ADHD perhaps, and struggle academically until scaffolds are put in place. There are others who have physical challenges, and take time from teachers in order to be taught adaptations for their learning. Numerous kinds of students take educators’ time.
And then there are the nice students. I worry that they remain low on lists of priorities because teachers just run out of time to notice if these students are being all that they can be. They don’t ask, don’t need, and can continue on with little attention. I want us to notice them, too! If we didn’t make extra efforts for Imogene, I wonder if she would just smile and coo and even continue to progress in her baby ways, as she has? But is that what we should do? Should we say, oh, she’ll be okay; she’s such a nice baby? I want to be sure that she and all the nice kids get the attention too, to receive extraordinary instruction because they can receive it so well, to learn to self-advocate, and to add to their repertoire of skills because they can, if someone offered. Am I being too picky? I’m not sure. I certainly realize that there is a finite amount of time and energy that teachers have to spend.
Stacey has asked me to revise this post in order to share my concerns as well as to give response to what I might do as a teacher to ensure attention to the nice students. I am excited to offer a number of ideas that stem from experiences in the classroom. And I welcome ideas from others.
First, I would be sure I identify the students I’m talking about. They would also be put on the list I make that is titled scaffolds needed. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, one definition of scaffold is a supporting framework. According to this ehow site, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed that learning depended on the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which he defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers. I am interested in the words potential development especially with the nice students.
So what scaffolds might be helpful? I would be sure to confer often with the student, teaching how to approach different assignments in order to find the next challenge in literacy that the students needed. In writing, it might be good to offer new mentor texts to show a student how her writing can be re-visited with new eyes. For example, one student I remember was a whiz when writing research reports that had one thesis statement. She was organized, used good vocabulary, supported statements well, and used a variety of appropriate sources. She was a good student! Through conferring, I discovered that she liked working in non-fiction, felt proud that she did well, and was satisfied. I also knew that two of her favorite topics were history and social history in particular. So I challenged her by asking her to complete a number of projects by fictionalizing her content as she communicated the research. She was researching the last Tsars of Russia, particularly the Romanovs. And she created a series of letters from various members of that family that included the details of their tragic lives in the final year of their lives. As the year’s history of the Romanov’s progressed, she included the tragic facts of ignorance, eventual deprivation, loss, grief and anxiety that occurred within the family, all by having family members write letters. It was a satisfying project, gave her a new kind of experience in writing, but also ended with much attention for the project from other classmates. She ended by creating a book of the letters, and presented it to the class. The scaffold I created for the student gave her a chance to do different things that were not her usual path to success.
Scaffolding also means letting go when the student is ready to be on her own. After the activity explained above, the student began independently to find other ways to communicate her research that again were not the usual report. She was excited to create new kinds of products, and became more interactive with others because of her new accomplishments.
One other idea that I have found helpful to the nice student is to give them opportunities to lead rather than stay in the background. After noting some different things that they can do well, with conversations of planning support first, they could meet with a small group as facilitator, giving peers new ideas found useful in writing. The groups could meet a few times in order to answer specific questions in discussion, like ‘where do you get the best ideas for writing?’ and ‘what kind of outlining do you do to help with organization?’ or ‘how do you begin writing a report?’ I’ve noticed these students do not often volunteer for leadership roles, but prefer to stand back, take the information, and run independently with it. I believe the payoff is that teachers might find extraordinary sharing of information happening if these students were asked, and the esteem earned from holding a leadership role is priceless. Who knows what a wonderful next step might be after this experience?
Yes, my granddaughter Imogene has managed to remind me of that child in the classroom that rarely demands anything of me as a teacher, you know, the nice one. After writing these words and working out my own thoughts about not leaving out the nice students, I realize that what a teacher’s goal must be is just to ensure these students are noticed and challenged to keep growing as students. No settling on the laurels for them, not at all. And after all, isn’t that what we want for all the students?