Friday, 23 March 2012 21:50

Understanding Student Vulnerability

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Last Wednesday morning, at our school’s monthly professional development meeting, each staff member was given a few minutes to solve a challenging math word problem involving fractions. One teacher, who normally pays obsessive attention to detail, misread the question and then, during the share-out, unwittingly revealed the result of this error with the group. Of course, that teacher was me, and I was a bit embarrassed at what I had done.

  We open all of our professional development sessions with these types of questions, and they are great because they remind us what it is like to be a student. Because, as teachers, we are always the ones posing the questions, rather than the ones attempting to answer them, it is easy to forget how it feels to make a mistake in front of your peers and feel vulnerable. Students feel this way all the time, and though I try to be sensitive to this fact, my experience last Wednesday brought my understanding of student vulnerability to a new level.

Since then, I have noticed some subtle changes in how I communicate with my kids during lessons and whole class discussions. Before introducing challenging material, for example, I find myself prefacing my instruction with sentences such as, “I know this part may be a bit tricky” and “Be careful when you’re doing this step because I sometimes have trouble, and I need to remind myself to slow down and be extra careful.”

When I communicate in this manner, I’m helping my students relax, gain comfort with the idea of making mistakes, and realize that both adults and children struggle sometimes. As a result, I believe I am creating a more understanding learning environment.

There are many well-known quotes about mistakes and about how it is important to see them not as something bad, but as valuable learning opportunities. As teachers, we all know this, but I have learned that this positive view of mistakes becomes even more relevant when we have just made one publicly ourselves.

Read 8511 times Last modified on Monday, 18 November 2013 19:04

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