(A note from Wendy Tye, our BMS Upper Elementary Guide, to her parents regarding the events of the classroom last week… Of interest to all parents with children of all ages!)
I gave a lesson this week on banned words. Banned words are words that have become trite or over used. They include but are not limited to very, cool, like (unless it is used in a comparison), awesome, really, and good. Luckily, I’m nice enough that they may be used in speech, but in writing? There are far better, more powerful, expressive words. The banning of these words in writing allowed me to introduce the thesaurus. Here are some replacements for “very”: extremely, exceptionally, extraordinarily….see what I mean? One of my personal favorites from the thesaurus is “deadly”. Our example was “very smart” and we tried “deadly smart”. While it might not work all the time, I do think it might describe Gilgamesh from the book we’re reading aloud!
It can be surprisingly difficult for children to release use of words they have relied on in their limited vocabularies. But soon, it will be fun to see all the different ways we can express ideas!
We started work as a community on the differences between compliments and encouragement and how people commonly misuse them. A compliment is recognition for a job well done. We talked about how a compliment is often misused when encouragement is actually what is intended. As adults, we do this all the time. Our child does a mediocre or poor job at something and we let them know that they did a “good job.” We all know when a false compliment is being offered and it feels kind of crummy because the person generally knows when s/he did a mediocre or poor job. This is where encouragement comes in. Someone who attempts a shot in basketball and fails to make it? That person could use some encouragement, not a compliment. “Keep trying Kiddo! You’ll get it!” Is an example of encouragement.
We’ve been offering compliments to each other after PE, after presentations, and in birthday celebrations and letters. We’ll start working on offering encouragement to our community members over the next few weeks. Encouragement is a harder concept and is more difficult socially, but it is often times much more necessary and helpful than compliments.
We were able to watch the construction workers pour cement for our new classroom. Matt joined us and agreed that he’ll look into us writing our names in some concrete somewhere as we’ll be the first class to occupy the new classroom! You can imagine how exciting that news was! We got to see how hard those workers worked and how difficult it was in the heat. Many of us came away with a new admiration for the work they were doing.
Anyone who has been in a meeting with me knows that I hold the idea of “action steps” dear. I also consider this idea a foundation for my work with children of the 9-12 age.
Until this point, children often approach adults wth their thoughts and feelings:
“Alexis hit me.”
“Sanjay dropped chalk on the floor and didn’t pick it up.”
“I can’t do this math problem.”
While this expression is useful, it is only a first step. I encourage and expect children to take an action step. If Alexis hit you, what do you want to do about it? If Sanjay dropped the chalk and didn’t pick it up, what do you want to do about it? If you are struggling with a math problem, what action do you want to take about it?
This can be a tough concept for children because they are used to expressing their thoughts and having an adult meet their needs.
Child: “Sanjay hit me.”
Adult: “I’ll talk to him.”
C: “Alexis dropped chalk on the floor and didn’t pick it up.”
A: “Alexis, pick up the chalk.”
C: “I can’t do this math problem.”
A: “Let’s look at it. Remember to carry the tens.”
I work very hard to make sure there is at least an attempt at an action step so that children learn that in order to truly get what they want or need, and to do so from a place of strength rather than weakness, they usually have to do something about it. Wanting it, telling about it, or reporting about it usually are not enough. For example:
C: “I can’t do this math problem.”
A: “What action steps could you take?”
C: “I don’t know.”
A (at first, as we’re learning this): “I’m happy to help think of some options. You could ask me for help. (Please notice that the child did not ask for help. S/he simply stated their struggle.) You could look in the math textbook for a hint. You could get out the materials from the lesson and try it again. Do any of those actions steps work for you?”
C: “I’ll ask for help.”
C: “Could you help me with this math problem?”
A: “Sure. What seems to be the specific struggle?”
C: “I don’t know.”
A: “Talk about the steps you took and let me know where things get confusing.”
I won’t do any of this work for them. They will get better at the math problem if they are able to articulate the specific part that they are struggling with.
In taking this approach, children learn to anticipate an action they could take. They also learn to better articulate the specifics of what they need rather than relying on an adult to figure it out for them. This work is toward self reliance and the ability to clearly self assess.
Here’s another specific example from Friday.
C, with a shriek while we were cleaning: “There’s a spider! Wendy, there’s a spider!”
W: “I would expect spiders here. There are more of them than there are of us in the world!”
C, stands expectantly, waiting for me to take care of it.
W: “Do you want to take an action step or did you just want me to know about the spider?”
C: “I want it to be out of here!”
W: “What action step will you take to make that happen?”
C: “I can’t touch it!”
W: “Okay, so you’ll have to make sure your action step includes you not touching it.”
C: “I don’t know what to do!”
W: ” I’m happy to help with some options. You could ask a friend to help remove it. You could ignore it. You could put something over it. Do any of these actions steps work for you?”
C: ” I can ask someone to help me.”
W: “Let me know how that goes.”
Friend asked. Spider removed.
This may seem silly or even ridiculous. It is time consuming and one needs great patience to make it work. However, with practice and at the end of this, there is a child who can see a spider, acknowledge that they do not like it and then do something about it other than simply declare their dislike of spiders. I’m looking forward to a society that has adults in it who expect to take action about their beliefs, their ideas, and their struggles. Totally worth the effort!