This post starts with a story.
Many years ago, there was a little girl. She was in Grade 4. She worked hard — really, really hard. But sometimes it seemed as though that hard work was never enough. One day, she came home from school with a Ziploc bag. Inside the bag were all of the provinces of Canada. It was a puzzle. All she needed to do was put together a map, glue it on a piece of paper, and colour it in. Easy, right? Never did this little girl struggle so much. She couldn’t manage to fit those map pieces together. The provinces were upside down. The water was in the wrong spot. Her sister, also in Grade 4, had the same homework and was done in about 15 minutes, but she struggled for hours. Her parents, both educators, hated to see their daughter so upset, so they worked with her. They found a map. They showed her the different lines and different patterns, and they helped her see those lines and patterns on her smaller map. They gave her a guide, and they helped her use this guide to meet with success for this map assignment.
This little girl was on an IEP. She had a non-verbal learning disability, and geography was a struggle for her. She couldn’t do the same assignment as everyone else, but she could still be successful — with support, with modifications, and with a different plan. I was this little girl, and I still remember this map activity. I still remember how I felt that night. And I think often about this “one assignment for all,” and how I needed something just a little bit different to move from failure to success.
I’m sharing this story now because on Friday, I was talking to a friend of mine. She has a daughter in Grade 2, and the teacher is doing Mad Minutes to review the math facts. Her daughter knows the math facts, but she’s consistently failing the Mad Minutes. Why?
- The timer is making her anxious. As soon as she hears the ticking start, she shuts down, and doesn’t know where to begin.
- She’s overwhelmed by the number of questions on a page. She sees all of the questions, gets nervous, and is reluctant to start.
- She has fine motor difficulties. Forming the numbers is hard for her, and keeping them small enough to fit into the spaces on the page is a challenge. Her answers end up everywhere, and so the teacher doesn’t know what to mark.
When her daughter brought home the marked Mad Minute the other day, the mom asked her one of the incorrect answers. Her daughter gave her the answer right away. She knew the other ones too. I wonder what would happen if each of the Mad Minute questions were written on cue cards. What if, instead of writing down the answers, she went into a quiet corner of the classroom, used a device, and recorded a video of her holding up a question and saying the answer. Maybe by eliminating the need to write the numbers, navigate a busy page of questions, and stare at a ticking timer, this student would succeed. It’s a small change, but would it work?
Curriculum expectations may apply to everyone in a given grade, but students aren’t all the same. As teachers, it’s up to us to figure out how to reach each of our students. My own struggles in school remind me of this even more because I was often the one child that didn’t get it. I was often the one child that needed more time. I was often the one child that needed a different way. But small changes had huge benefits, and I’m a teacher today because there were teachers that made these changes so that I could succeed. How do you reach all of the students in your class? What have you noticed as you try to do so? I hope that we can share our stories here. As teachers, we have the ability to make a positive difference in a child’s life. Let’s make that positive change!