Knowing When To Rescue

Today, I was thinking back to this blog post that I wrote last week about the 7 Crippling Behaviours of Teachers. The behaviour that was really in my head today was that we “rescue too quickly.”

With the cold and snowy weather this week, I’ve had lower numbers than usual on most days — often less than 10 students — and I’ve been trying to take advantage of these numbers by spending even more time observing and working with students. We’re just starting to learn about structures (as connected with our Science expectations), and as you can see in the Storify Story below, today we had a special Structures Day that capitalized on reading, writing, science, and math expectations.

After the students created many of the buildings this afternoon, we explored some different building materials that I purchased over the Winter Break. To get the students really working with the new materials and thinking about the properties of 2-D shapes and 3-D figures, I took away the instructions that went with the toys. I had them work together to create their own shapes or figures. This was truly a lesson in perseverance and problem-solving.

For about the first 20 minutes, I stood back and observed the students working together. I watched them struggle.

  • The materials wouldn’t fit together properly.
  • The shapes kept breaking.
  • The spheres kept rolling away and were difficult to contain.
  • Other students were using the pieces that a different group wanted/needed.

And then I made the choice about which students to help and why. 

  • One group I helped because it looked like the learning had stopped. I asked some questions to get them to think about how to attach the pieces. I sat down with them as they worked through the problem, and I waited until they made a shape. Then when I saw them celebrating success, I moved on.
  • One group I helped because they had split into two partner groups, and both needed the same materials. They were getting frustrated. Again, I helped with a question. I got them to think about how to solve the problem, and then when they did, I let them continue working on their own.
  • One student my EA helped because she had all of the ideas, and knew exactly what to create and how to create it, but she wasn’t strong enough to push the pieces together. My EA helped with the pushing part, and then worked with her to show her what to do and how to gain more strength to push the materials together. Then she ended up going and helping another group that was struggling.

On my drive home from school this evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if I “rescued” these students. Maybe I did, but not by giving them the answer. I gave them a question that eventually allowed them to get to the answer. In the case of the third example, my EA gave the student some help, but ultimately, “support for independence.” It’s hard to watch students struggle, but I think we need to “watch” this struggle, and then decide if we need to offer more support. Observation’s key, but it’s hard to just observe when our instinct is to jump in. How do you decide when to intervene? What counts as “rescuing students,” and are there times when they should be “rescued?” How do you offer support while still allowing for some independent problem-solving? Whether at home or at school, I’d love to hear more about what you do. 


2 thoughts on “Knowing When To Rescue

  1. I have been watching with envy, your progress week with your class (via Twitter). Envy because they are younger than my HS Ss and thus still game to try anything and also admiring for your enthusiasm.
    I do not think you rescued.
    I think you redirected and monitored the learning and intervened when needed.

    Is another question/s to ask: is this the work of children or adults? Would the chdn have achieved what they did left to themselves?
    Noted one group “stopped learning”

    I see much group work and PBL (both play and project based) which basic directions are given and then the students continue to teach themselves.
    imho you very carefully monitored and stepped in to redirect and to ensure all students continued to learn.

    You are a reflective practitioner – would you be asking yourself this question if the weather had been better and the group larger.
    I hear what you have not written – that you stepped back – as did the EA and kept moving. FOr the record I would love to be young enough to be in your class.

    Drive safely in that snow – why don’t you have the students design you something to help your snow parking ๐Ÿ™‚ ?

    • Thanks for your comment and the kind words! I think that there can be a very fine line between “rescuing” and “redirecting.” Maybe the key lies in who’s doing the thinking, and for us, in knowing when to walk away. I must say that I’m fortunate to only have about 16 students in my class, so even when everyone’s there, I still have lots of time to observe. Today definitely allowed for even more observation, thinking, and reflecting, and well, sometimes that can be a scary thing โ€ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚

      As for the parking, you may have just given me an idea. Last year, I used my poor parking as a provocation for my Grade 5’s and their work on translations: Maybe this year, my students could design a structure that could go on either side of the yellow line, so that I can always find a spot in the snow. It would have to be resistant to wind and rain/snow, so that it can stay outside. This could be interesting. ๐Ÿ™‚


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