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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Are We Finding Student Strengths or Just Performing Weakness Management?



Fall is a tough time, getting used to schedules again.  Football, cheerleading, tennis... so many things are going on.

And yet, if you forget that amidst all of this, as a parent, you should help your child figure out the answer to the perennial question, "Why am I here?  What am I made to do?"

We want our children to be well rounded.  Finding things both inside and outside of the classroom that they enjoy and are proficient at doing.   This takes time, listening to your child, and often looking at them and finding things they are good at.  However, I LOVED the insight from Jennifer Fox's book,

This book is based on a movement I just don't think we've heard enough about called the Strength's movement.  I've had this book since June and spent a good amount of time reading through it and also asking my children the questions in the inventory.  I really loved how she guides you into helping them find the chores they enjoy too.

This doesn't mean my children run happily through the punkin' patch singing songs -- my oldest two are middle schoolers!  However, it has given me insight into the things my children love that I didn't already know or think to ask.

The thought behind this is sound... for example, grammar is very difficult for my oldest -- he has a diagnosed mild LD in the area of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.  So, of all the things he could work on, grammar is is most hated.  We still work on it, but he also is able to do other subjects too!  Could you imagine his chagrin if he was pulled out of every other class and told that he'd have to work on GRAMMAR all day!  Oh dear!  It would be total rebellion! 

So, amidst remediation and helping children work on their areas of weakness, they need to have HOPE.  They need to have something that they look FORWARD to!  That they are excited about!

This happened just today, we make sure that every child in Accelerated Reader reads at least 30 minutes a day AT SCHOOL.  This is tough.  So, in homeroom, I have to make sure they read 10 minutes a day as part of our 15 minute homeroom period.  I have a homeroom class that enjoys talking.  This would have been heartbreaking as is.  So, this morning, with permission, I took it to the class and said --

"OK, class, we need to do 50 minutes of accelerated reader a week IN HOMEROOM.  Now, we can do 10 minutes a day, or if we can figure out a way to do more on Monday - Thursday, we could take time off."

So, they came up with a plan.  On Monday, they will start reading when the bell rings and read the whole time.  On Tuesday, they will start after I finish their character ed time -- we have a longer homeroom for activity schedule on Tuesday, so they will actually be able to read 20 -25 minutes if they start pretty quickly.  Then, they'll read 10 minutes on Wednesday and 10 on Thursday!  This means that they will actually be reading MORE than 50 minutes. 

I've told them that they all have to come in and I'll set the timer.  We're going to have a chart on the wall with 5 minute squares and after everyone sits down to read, I'll set the timer.  Then, we'll color in the blocks and see how well we do. 

They are excited because they had a choice.  They were part of the decision.

How does this relate to strengths?  Well, I think that empowering students to make decisions and holding them accountable is part of a good self esteem. No child wants to feel helpless.  The older they get, the more they want to feel like their opinion counts.  So, children should also be able to choose some things that they want to do that they ENJOY.  Something must be exciting or interesting to them.

They need hope!  We're not entertainers, but my goodness, we shouldn't be the wicked witch of the west out to steal the joy of all of the little children! 

I love it when my students become engaged and excited.  When they are excited to see me.  When they don't want to leave my class.  When they are having fun.  AND when I know that they have learned something very tough.

It excites me to see my Accounting students playing Monopoly using their T-accounts and analyzing the debits and credits of their transactions.  Interestingly, they have already learned how to enter transactions with four parts due to the land / money combination trades that they've created.  These are things I would usually struggle to teach and yet the students love it.

Strengths.  Choices.  Engagement.  Creativity. 
I wonder if somehow by extracting the spark of fun and energy from the marrow of teaching in lieu of stringent guidelines that both teachers and students smack their gums wondering where the taste went from their classroom experience.

It is great to see people with Jennifer's credentials taking a hard look at quantifying strenghts.  Jennifer also has a strengths movement Island with a strengths inventory there on the site.  I encourage you to go by and take a look and let me know what you think.

Our little tiny school really has a lot of opportunities for students to do things.  But I have to wonder where schools have gone to extended time for math and reading for those students falling behind what is cut.  I've heard that art and music and creativity are completely removed for students who are behind.  Is this true?  Are we leaving any joy for students?  Anything to look forward to?  I think there are many of us that would be interested in your story.

If your school IS incorporating opportunities for children to enrich their strengths -- what are you doing?

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