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Why Aren’t Our Students Mind Readers?

I’m often confused when my son doesn’t do exactly what I want him to do.  If I tell him to feed our dog, he will give him fresh food but not fresh water.  Why?  It doesn’t make any sense.  If I tell him to empty the trash, he doesn’t replace the garbage bag.  Why not?  I told him what to do.  Well, actually I didn’t.  He did what I asked him to do.  He gave our dog food and took out the trash.  I never told him to give our dog water or replace the trash bag.  Those were all implied things I never said.  I expected him to read my mind and know what to do.  However, kids aren’t like that.  They are very cut and dry.  I need to tell him specifically what to do or it won’t get done.  Clarity is crucial at any age but especially in young adolescence.

Today in my STEM Class the boys worked on the Group project portion of the Astronomy Unit.  One group worked on their space vehicle design using Google Sketch-Up while another group finalized the design of their space vehicle and uploaded their work to Haiku.  The other two groups worked on the space travel map.  Things went well.  The boys worked diligently throughout the period, for the most part.

One group struggled to function like a unit.  All four students seemed to be working on different tasks.  The facilitator in the group didn’t even know what was going on.  When I first saw this today, I talked to the whole group and told the facilitator to be sure that everyone is working.  I felt as though I was clear with them, and so I walked away.  When I came back about 15 minutes later, nothing had changed.  One member of the group was sitting in his chair staring off into space, literally.  He was doing nothing.  The other three group members were on their laptops looking at an online resource regarding the solar system; however, they were all doing the same thing and nothing was getting accomplished.  They were not working like a group.  Why not?  It didn’t make sense to me.  In their PEAKS class they worked on how to be an effective group member.  They discussed strategies and practiced applying them.  So what was going on with this group?  Why were they having so much trouble working together.

I then pulled the facilitator aside and told him what I saw.  His group was not working together.  Everyone was doing their own thing.  I said, “You are working and not leading your group.  Look around the room at the other groups.  The facilitators of those groups are not working but guiding their group members through the various tasks.  They are checking in with them and making sure they are doing what is being asked of them.  I need you to not work on your own work but to tell everyone in your group what to do and guide them through the process.  Your computer should not be opened.  You are the leader.  Go lead your group to success.”  Then I walked away, a bit frustrated that I had to speak with him twice about his group’s lack of teamwork.

A few minutes later I glanced over at that same group and noticed that the facilitator was helping a member of his group update their Haiku page while checking to be sure that another member of his group was effectively using his computer.  I then walked over to the group and observed them for a bit.  The facilitator was guiding his group through the task.  He wasn’t doing the work, but he was helping them.  He made sure that each group member was on task.  He was being kind and patient.  I pulled him aside very quickly and told him what I saw.  I praised him for changing his behavior and getting his group to operate like a unit.  He seemed pleased and happy with this.  This great work ethic and focus continued throughout the period.  So, why?  What happened?  Why had the facilitator of this group started to do his job suddenly?

The answer is simple, because I told him what to do.  He clearly didn’t understand his role in the group and had no idea what to do with the previous comments I had made.  So, he kept doing the same thing he had been doing.  I needed to clearly tell him my expectations for him.  He needed direction and specific things to do.  After telling him how to do his job, he did it because he finally knew what to do.  I was not being clear with him.  I needed to spell out what I expected him to do in his group.  When I did this, he met my expectations.  I can’t expect my students to do something that I don’t tell them I expect them to do.  I need to be clear and direct with them.  While on most days I do wish that my students could read my mind, they can’t and I need to remember that.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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