Learn to See Student Short Comings as Strengths. A teacher works to see the benefits of students’ learning difficulties and uses them to help all students succeed. Nineteen years back, I trained two Latina girls in one of my eighth-grade English types. Julia and Lourdes (these are not their real names) always talk to each other in the back of the classroom. I used Dad’s closeness and gaze, often asking them to pay attention, but nothing worked. I was at my wit’s end. Finally, after class, I pushed them aside and said curtly, “I am constantly with you to talk. Could you tell me what’s going on?” Julia said, “You speak very fast.” Lourdes added, “We’re making sure we understand.”
The girls told me that they were trying to translate everything that was said in class into Spanish so they could understand it and then formulate their answers. Julia wrote her writing assignments in Spanish to express her thoughts and then translated them into English to send to me. She was amazed and amazed at her determination and resourcefulness.
Zaretta Hammond, the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, describes culturally responsive teaching as knowing your children well and harnessing what they come to you as a strength in the classroom to help them learn. Instead, I resorted to stereotypes and prejudices, which led to deficit thinking. Before talking to Julia and Lourdes. She believed that the English learners had a problem that needed to be solved. Instead, the girls’ use of Spanish was a strength that I was able to capitalize on to help them learn English. Help them in extra curriculum activities like art&drawaing, games, and building communication skills.
Find Ways to Create Time to Think.
I realized that instead of discouraging conversations between these two students, I needed to create opportunities for them to participate in the speech so they could check their understanding.
I restructured the class to create more speaking opportunities for all students. During lectures, I built time to think and pair share, where students first think of an answer, discuss it with a partner or a small group, and then share it with the whole class. This gives students time to activate prior knowledge and think about their answers. It also deepens their understanding by exposing them to their peers’ ideas. And when I incorporated thinking to share into the regular classroom routine, Julia and Lourdes’ conversation went from being a problem to a strength.
Be Open to Listening to the Needs of Your Students.
After talking with Julia and Lourdes, I realized that English /French learners, who made up 15 to 30 percent of my class in any given year, often couldn’t understand me. I began to pay attention to the cadence of my voice and lowered it so that my students would understand me better. I used a timeout, giving students time to think before asking them to answer a question so that they could process their thoughts. And I started asking students to explain my instructions to the class to ensure everyone understood them.
I also toiled out a system with Julia and Lourdes so they could tolerate me when they required support. They could raise their hand during a lesson and say, “Slow down, please.”
I extended this practice to the whole class: students were not only allowed to interrupt me if they needed clarification but were also expected to do so. Students who were uncomfortable talking in class thought of personal cues they could use with me, including a finger gesture, a raised eyebrow, and a traffic system with colored tokens: red to tell me to stop, yellow to ask. Me to slow down, and green to indicate I could go ahead. A student who preferred not to speak texted me during class when she had a question.
Leverage Your Students ‘Identities to Support Learning
Multiple years later, as a veteran teacher, I had a high-functioning autistic boy in my English 10 lesson. Due to his limited social skills, students did not want to work with him, and he did not like to present in front of his classmates. At first, it was a challenge, but eventually, his peers sought him out for collaborative projects because he could remember the details of the investigation. His academic ability helped bridge the social gap between him and his classmates. I also contacted a famous soccer player to invite the autistic student to contribute his ideas during discussions and help him have a voice.
My autistic student was also great at training other students in collaborative learning because of his ability to read closely and point out details others missed. By capitalizing on his strengths, he could show his worth and create situations where he could better show his understanding. Instead of having him present in class, I gauged his speaking level and knowledge by listening to him train other students. At the end of the year, he gave a speech, but I changed the assignment: he chose five people he felt comfortable with and gave the address to them during his lunch hour.
See the Strengths of Your Students
Students do not need to be groomed. They need teachers who make data-driven instructional decisions to match best practices with student needs. They need teachers who offer high support while holding them to high expectations by setting appropriate scaffolds and lowering them as students demonstrate increased proficiency. And they need teachers who own up to their mistakes and engage in ongoing professional learning
Instead of considering my students. Diverse identities as problems to be solved through professional development. I have come to understand that their differences are strengths. My English students speak two languages, and my autistic student may have an analytical mind. All of my students possess various visible and invisible abilities. After years of practice and self-reflection, I realized that if anything needs fixing, it’s my bias.