My most recent year teaching I taught in a unique classroom. I was the teacher for 14 students with profound learning disabilities. This was a class for 12 year olds, and these children had average or above average intelligence, but most couldn’t read or write.
Why? They learned differently.
Each child had struggled through school for the 7 years they had attended. For good reason, almost every one of them hated school.
Most had developed quite effective strategies for avoiding work. Unfortunately, some of those were aggression or anxiety.
After my first day working with these children I was terrified, sad, and deflated. Not only did these kids not want to be at school, they didn’t want to learn. And they certainly did not want me to be their teacher.
It was time for me to try hard to get back into the kindergarten classroom where I belonged!
A little bit of time, and a little bit of thought, (and a little bit of wine), made me begin to see this situation differently. Perhaps my feelings towards my new class were similar to the feelings my new class had towards school.
I felt incapable, under prepared, and frightened of what might happen if my kids found out I felt that way. I realized these kids had been ill prepared for school, they felt incapable of learning, and they were most likely frightened of letting others know in fear of looking stupid.
So what to do? Learn a new strategy. All of us.
I needed to learn how to teach these children. And they needed to learn strategies that were effective in helping them learn. And learn to believe that it was possible for them to learn.
It was a lot of work. For all of us.
Many things I tried did not work. But some things did.
Now let me fast forward about 6 months, hundreds of tears, hundreds of smiles, thousands of successes, more than a few failures, and a desk being launched at my head …
What did I learn? Kids learn best when they are engaged in what they are learning. Some kids get engaged in learning very easily. For others, it takes some unique thinking.
One wonderful way to engage children in learning is by using a multi-modal approach. Let them see, hear, and touch the learning. Let them use their whole bodies, not just a pencil and paper.
The beautiful thing about this approach, is that it helps every child engage in the learning. The little ones who were going to learn it by simply listening to it, will still learn it. And those little ones that struggle will be able to engage better, and therefore learn better.
Now let me fast forward again to the birth of my third child, the transition to maternity leave, and the wild notion to keep my kindergartner home for kindergarten.
You may have noticed many, many of the activities I do with my Sam are multi-modal. I don’t think there is a pencil to be seen in the 300 posts on this blog.
This is not because I believe my Sammy to have trouble learning the “traditional” way. It is because this method engages him, and therefore his learning is deeper.
One of the most recent activities we did on the move was this patterning activity.
I started it with Sam, who is almost 5, and Ben, who just turned 2, joined it and patterned brilliantly!
The idea was simple. We lined up the kitchen chairs and the boys moved over them, under them, over them, under them.
Simple, right? But powerful.
We added in some stools and the pattern changed to over, under, through, over, under, through.
The pattern got complicated (and fast, as most activities with my busy boys end up) – over, around to the left, over, around to the right, and so on.
The pattern moved to the stairs (which is not for the faint of heart). Up one step, up two steps, up one step, up two steps.
Then they came down – feet on step one, feet on step two, bum on step three, and so on.
They would say it with their words, move their bodies, hear the different sound each movement makes, and see it while watching each other. And they were having a blast.
When I had started writing this post it was simply going to be about an activity to burn off some steam on a wintery day – and it certainly does that too. But it is so much more.
There are so many fantastic and engaging ways for children to learn. I truly, truly believe that each and every child is capable of learning. The 14 unique children who left my classroom were proof of that.
Every single child leaving that classroom could read and write. And one could throw a desk like nobody’s business.
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