During recent conversations with my student teachers, they expressed concerns about children in their classrooms who seem lost and clueless about what is happening in reading, math, and other subjects. They are genuinely concerned about their little charges. You will find these struggling little children in almost every classroom in the US. Many of these children have not been given a solid grasp of concepts and the confident feeling that they can be successful. With the exception of children who have true learning difficulties, most of these children are in this predicament because of the lack of individual support. The issues that create this scenario for a child could include: the child couldn’t learn from or adapt to the teaching style of her teacher(s); her major basic needs are not being met at home or school; a lack of positive role models or encouragement; and unrealistic expectations for the child’s ability or age. Many teachers forget how truly lost a child can be without the solid grasp of academic content and a grasp that she can be successful. I remember once telling a small reading group in my kindergarten classroom that the letter ‘A’ says /a/. One little girl looked at me with great concern and said, “I didn’t hear it say anything!”
We all know what it is like to be ‘lost’ during a discussion, a book, a movie, or an explanation. This is much like the feeling a child has when you are discussing concepts the child does not understand. We teachers need to make sure the child has a firm grasp on concepts to keep her from falling into the trap of mentally ‘checking out’ or adopting the feeling that she cannot understand or be successful. I was so impressed with one of my candidates the other day when I was visiting her classroom. She sat down with one of her first grade children. I overheard her say to the little boy, “Looking at what is on this paper, tell me what you understand about this. That way I can help you with what is confusing you. What do you know about it?” The child began to explain a few things, but it was evident that he was behind in the class discussion. By the time the student teacher was finished working with him, he acted so confident and dove into the task at hand. I’m sure he will need additional support, but I was so proud of the student teacher helping him know that he had some knowledge and that he could learn anything else he needed to know. That is exactly what I mean when I say we need to make sure the child has a solid grasp on things to keep the child from falling. Many children are on classroom monkey bars and struggling to maintain their grasp. Let’s do all we can to help provide the grasp that will keep them from falling.
In my classroom management course at the university, we learn how children must have their basic needs satisfied prior to establishing an attitude where learning can be nourished and supported. When we think of basic needs, we usually think of food, water, shelter, safety, etc. However, there are basic needs in the classroom, as well. Those basic needs include: security, association, belonging, dignity, hope, power, enjoyment and competence. Teachers need to routinely ask themselves, “Do my students feel safe? Can they associate with others comfortably and do I make them feel like they belong to the group? Do I treat them with respect? When they are here, do they feel hope associated with learning new things? Do they help make decisions so they feel a measure of power in my class? Do they enjoy being in our classroom and do they feel success on a regular basis.”
Sometimes we educators are so consumed with teaching the appropriate skills that we forget there needs to be a fertile ground for those new sprouts of knowledge to grow. If the child feels uncomfortable about any part of the school day, he may not be learning at his capacity. In fact, he most assuredly is not. I hope those of us who work with children will take this holiday break to rejuvenate ourselves and be committed to creating the optimal learning environment. One where the children have basic needs met while expanding with new skills and knowledge.