Expect More. . .

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?

9 thoughts on “Expect More. . .

  1. Thanks for sharing your classroom insights. Let’s change the structure of schools so this quote no longer applies, ” 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.” It’s important that we streamline services so we aren’t making students do “double duty” and we’re providing regular meaningful opportunities for learning in an atmosphere where young children have the chance to develop a relationship with the instructor. Thanks also for emphasizing high expectations.

    You’re exactly right, Maureen, the kids shouldn’t be doing double duty. In this age of testing, though, some teachers are afraid NOT to have the kids do each of the worksheets that prepare them for the test–and honestly, the kids can handle the classroom work in a very short period of time. The idea of being an extension or a replacement for regular classroom work is solid in a couple of my grade levels, so that I am seen as the third math teacher, or completely responsible for the literacy work. The grades where that doesn’t happen are typically with insecure teachers–and I simply work to help them get over it. I love that you went for that needed change to highlight! Thanks for responding.

  2. Paula, I love the reflection!! It is truly revealing to rethink ones actions and you seem to be doing that as they happen!

    I particularly love the story with the girl and the Blokus. I play from time to time different board games with my older daughter — including Blokus — and your reflection makes me rethink about my own approach.

    I sometimes let her “play” the games the way she likes it, but sometimes struggle with the idea she needs to follow the rules. As in your example, the question is what kind of learning do we expect — spatial thinking and visualization or Blokus Trigon? It is so easy to mix them up and think one represents the other! 🙁

    Kima, what an insightful comment–“it’s so easy to think one represents the other.” One of my instructional coaches and I were talking the other day about what teachers see when they work with me–I have one teacher, who whenever we do something with her kids together, walks out from room saying something to the effect of, “Thanks–that was great–they had fun playing today.” Games like Blokus, for her, are time killers, but don’t necessarily add value to the curriculum. How sad.

    I often have “game day” in my room, and beyond that simple “game day” I have days we call YOU make the rules. The kids have a ball when that happens, and some of them are ready for it–they’ve been thinking about what rules they’d put in place the next “your rules” day. I laughingly tell my family that some day one of these kids will create their own game company and then take care of the teacher in her old age who helped them develop their skill. LOL

    Seriously, though, the discussions we have about the rules they make up–topics like fairness, probability possibilities, inequity, etc. are some of the richest we have. They’ve come to look at things like who goes first as being part of the strategy, and “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to?” is now a question they think about before they answer.

    Thanks for sharing. Today, I am going to ask that girl to recreate her word so I can get a picture–then I’m going to let her play with the blocks and see what else she does. I’ll post pics. 🙂


  3. Paula- As always I love how you share your experiences with the world to give us real stories to reflect and connect with. Thank you for continuing to give your students the opportunities and freedoms to guide their own learning, not to mention, your learning. And the best part is that you respond and RECOGNIZE this!

    I wish that more educators would slow down, observe and listen to their students and then reflect on what the students are doing, saying, asking, etc. So often, we as educators have our own plans, our own worksheets, our own state-driven curriculum, our own bubble sheets, and we don’t let students lead their learning. I wish we understood that we can do the standards as a minimum in most cases, the mundane bubble sheet if necessary, and so much more relevant and fun learning, if we truly read and respond to our students and their interests, curiosities and reasoning… we can guide at a much deeper level when we do this!

    So, how can teachers learn to trust that this kind of responding to students can lead to not just the minimal standards but deeper lifelong learner standards. I think we should always think about our own behaviours when watching our students… don’t we not finish books because we don’t like them? Don’t we disregard rules of games to make it what we want/need? What are the habits of mind that we want to instill?

    And the even bigger picture of all of this…When is it okay to not follow rules? When is it okay to use something in a completely different way than it’s intended… Think about how science, technology and the arts have grown from this action!! How does the world really work and what is our role in this world. Okay, I’m rambling and not able to articulate what I want to end with… but I LOVE this posting and I hope when I go back to the classroom, that I can follow my hopes and dreams of recognizing and responding to student learning in powerful ways!

    Your questions are great and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in responding. This post was done the same week one of my kids began her Saturday by posting this: What I Think (http://indiacres.wikispaces.com).

    It’s amazing how we do treat kids like they’re idiots just because we’re bigger. (Because We’re Kids – 5000 Fingers of Dr. T-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhCwQ8ETdoc) That’s a video I showed my kids this week, trying impress upon them that they have the right AND RESPONSIBILITY to be advocates for themselves. I also showed “What is Your Excuse?” (http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-your-excuse.html) to help them think about the traits of perseverance and initiation.

    Love having you in the conversation!


  4. Paula,
    This is such a thoughtful post. You have me wondering if I provide opportunities for my students to “blow me away” and, most importantly, do I pay attention enough to notice? It seems sometimes our students are only limited by our vision.

    Loved this!

  5. I enjoyed reading this post. We can learn a lot from our students today if we just take the time to get to know them and let them express themselves. I agree that we underestimate them at times and do not let them express their ideas and show how intelligent they really are. I think we need to change our mindset and realize that ever child is full of knowledge beyond our expectations. We should always try to find ways for students to teach us.

  6. Hello Ms. White,
    My name is Erica Savage and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. As an assignment, I will be visiting your blog and commenting on your posts. If you would like to read my summary about your blog please visit my blog: savageericaedm310.blogspot. com.

    This post was very inspiring to me. As a future educator, I think so much about what I will teach and how I will do things in the classroom while giving little thought to what my students will teach me. I don’t want to be a teacher that limits my students. I want to give my students every opportunity to excel. This post has opened my eyes to the bigger picture of educating. Thank you!

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