I have been thinking about a statement Adora Svitak made in her TED talk...”Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations as we have implemented our schoolwide mastery extension this year. See my post here to get an idea of what my dreams were for that time: Time to Explore Passions in School? It hasn’t come to full fruition for my groups yet, I don’t feel, and even so, the kids are clamoring for more. (See the comment here: Scream When Someone Takes Your Spoon.)
“Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities.” Adora says. . . and I think about my working with a fourth grade literacy group, where I asked them to choose one of three books to read and some followed through to read their book and some did not. I kind of let that go because I am an “extra” class to many of my teachers–and while they send their kids to me, they also expect them to do every single thing they miss in the classroom as well–so the kids DO get double duty. Then, there’s the fact that these are typically kids who LOVE to read, so they have their own books to read (Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Mysterious Benedict Society, H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, etc. . . not easy reading necessarily.) Today, though, I talked with them about why they didn’t read their book, and basically the one that wasn’t read was because the kids didn’t like it–they didn’t relate to the historical period it was set in, they found the action way too slow and they were confused by the set up in the book of the chapters being time driven and jumping around in the time described within each.
I asked one kid to give himself a grade on the book, deliberately not describing the standards for the grade, anxious to see what he came up with. He gave himself a C, and when asked why, he said it was because he didn’t finish it. He could describe what he liked about the part he’d read, and what he didn’t like. He specifically spoke to the confusion he felt with the chapter names being dates and jumping around. He cited details about the characters and their actions, making comparisons to other books and other characters. WHY would he give himself a C because he chose to stop wasting his time, and do something more worthwhile?
How incredibly sad that was to me that he saw that as something that wouldn’t be appreciated in school. It blew me away that he saw his perfectly good common sense behavior as not valued. We DO underestimate kids, and beyond that, we often negatively reward the very behaviors that will stand them in good stead in their own life experiences.
“No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.” Adora again, near the end of her TED talk…I would add, and be open to those opportunities.
Today, some kids were playing Blokus Trigon. (I had gotten it for Christmas and brought it in for the kids.) One of my girls was unfamiliar with Blokus, so we got the duo version and I said I’d teach her. This is an absolutely brilliant child–she can read and write like nobody’s business, has an amazing general knowledge of the world, catches onto mathematical concepts fast–and makes connections with other similar ideas–and is just a delight to work with in any and all areas. So, I figured that after I showed her the general idea, she’d easily give me a run for my money in this game.
Surprise, Surprise… She began putting pieces down randomly, and seemed to be paying me no attention whatsoever. I was offering suggestions, sharing my strategy, and she really wasn’t giving me the time of day. The pieces she placed seemed almost without thought, and as I monitored the 30+ kids in my room doing different activities and tried to be strategic in my placement of game pieces, and as I answered other kids’ questions or responded to their comments, I was also thinking that I really needed to do some spatial thinking/reasoning work with this kid. I was thinking that I needed to help her visualize better how shapes could fit together better.
Turning back to our game after helping another child with a laptop issue, she gently touched my arm, smiled her sweet smile and said, “Look, I spelled nature.”
Adora says, “it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.”
My student doesn’t need to grow up to blow me away. She managed it just fine.
Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t smart enough to get the camera to take a picture of her rendition of the word nature. . . this picture is of a word that three of us (2 adults and a 10 year old) created after struggling for about 10 minutes together to build the word with these odd shaped blocks. My little thinker did it in about 2 minutes by herself.
So, does she need help in spatial thinking and visualization? Don’t think so. . .I simply need to be open to opportunities to see what I didn’t think I was seeing. I need to be open to learning from my kids, and I need to know them well enough to think about what their strengths are as well. Oh, yeah, and when I was listing her strengths, did I say she’s also crafty and artistic?
“You need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us, and expect more from us.” says Adora at the end of her talk.
For me, it’s not just about expecting more, but it’s also about providing the right kinds of support, the right kinds of materials and changing the environment so that kids can be themselves and use those brains in ways that both make sense and stretch themselves. Don’t underestimate, let them blow us away, and trust them. What would schools be like if that was every school’s mission?