Posted in Challenges, Education, Sixth Grade, STEM, Teaching

Helping Students Overcome Learning Challenges

In first and second grade, I received Title I support for reading.  I met with the reading specialist at my school with a small group of peers from my class two or three times a week.  I used to hate being pulled away from my class while they had “fun” doing stuff I wasn’t a part of.  It wasn’t until the sixth grade when I started to truly enjoy reading that I appreciated being given extra support as a developing reader.  I faced learning challenges as a young boy that I needed help in overcoming.  Luckily, I had supportive parents and an accommodating school that assisted me on my learning journey.  While I was able to overcome my challenges as a young student in early elementary school, not all students are as lucky.  It takes some students many more years and much more support and guidance to help them address their learning challenges.

As a teacher, I love teaming with my students as we go on learning adventures together in order to help them overcome their educational challenges.  Teaching sometimes feels like playing that always fun video game from my youth, Super Mario Brothers.  Some students need little help and support to grow, like my friends growing up.  They didn’t need the extra help I did.  They were also the same ones who finished Super Mario Brothers in one sitting without any cheat codes or extra lives.  A few students end up flying under the radar through school, never really learning much of anything.  Those are like the kids who beat Super Mario Brothers by using the cheat codes available in magazines or special books.  They took the easy way out so that very little work was involved in the process, just like some students I’ve worked with over the years.  They were able to make it to sixth grade barely knowing how to read or write.  Then there are those other students, like me, who keep trying and trying to learn, but just can’t defeat Bowser in the castle level of every round without extra support or help.  I usually just called my friends who walked me through the level over the phone.  I did it myself, but with extra help.  Those students are fun to work with as well because with some support, they can achieve much success.  While I never completely beat Super Mario Brothers, I never stopped trying.  Students like me, almost never give up.  They persevere through the challenges, but they will eventually stop trying without help and guidance.  My goal is to help give them the boost they need to reach for their potential before it’s too late.

Today in STEM class, the students worked on The Friction of Pinewood Cars activity.  A few of those accelerated students worked on the final stage of the project before building their car while the rest of the students still needed to finish the earlier phases of the project.  Those students were the ones who needed support to overcome their learning challenges.  Some of them, of course, needed more help than others.  A few of the students finished making their screencast video quite quickly once I answered a few of their questions or posed some questions to get them thinking.  A small group, though, needed much guidance and help to accomplish the task.  Two of those boys are ELL students and one is a domestic student who needs much scaffolding to process and understand concepts and ideas.  I worked with each of them, asking questions regarding the assignment and content covered, reteaching concepts they struggled with, and watched and rewatched their iterations of videos until they achieved the goal I set for them.  When the students figured out what they needed to learn to overcome their challenges, they were elated.  Each of those students shouted out in joy when they realized what they had accomplished.  The most amazing thing was that those students who struggled at first, ended up creating the most detailed and creative screencast videos.  Their understanding of the four forces of flight and aerodynamics was far superior to that of the accelerated students who constructed a video meeting the objectives the first time through.  It was so much fun watching their brilliant videos as they exclaimed in jubilation that they had achieved what they once thought was impossible: They had overcome their learning challenges.

Sometimes, it just takes a little extra support and help.  I do wonder though, is there anything I could do earlier in the learning process to help those students understand the concepts or skills earlier so that they didn’t have to struggle so much?  Would that make a difference?  Isn’t failure part of the process?  If I take away their process, then will the real learning every happen?  All great things to keep in mind as I continue overcoming the challenges I face in the classroom daily.

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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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