When Is Listening Not Enough?

I’ve got kids who are concerned about their world. Some fourth graders started a wiki about endangered animals last year. The year before, some different kids in the same age group had begun one called the “Earth Protection Club.” Another group this year (also in fourth grade) started one about the destruction of rainforests, and they even have a campaign going to write to the president of Brazil to get him to stop its destruction. Our fourth grade teachers do a geography unit that apparently brings global issues to the forefront of kids’ minds. I think that’s pretty cool.

Kids think about making a difference. India has blogged about being humane to animals, despite her uneasiness sometimes. Noa has made a wiki page about her confidence in changing the world. Nicolas, 2 years after he left my school, is still thinking about the need to reform school.  And, I can’t even begin to cite the number of verbal conversations I’ve had with kids who care about different issues and worry about them.

Several weeks ago I began something called “Conversation Calendars” with my literacy group. I had found the idea online, and knew it came from a book by Cris Tovani,  Do I Really Have to Teach Reading(106-110).  I was really interested in the kids reflecting each day on their participation, and it’s not been a great success for that.  However, many folks who have implemented this strategy talk about the relationship building it allows and I have found that to be true.  I’ve gotten comments from kids that hardly ever speak out in class, and that’s been pretty cool.

My group is made up of advanced readers–kids who are motivated, highly engaged with books and passionate about their book interests. They also, for the most part, like to talk.  They have lots to say and often are seeking an audience. So, for several kids, the conversation calendars have been a godsend–they have a direct pipeline to the teacher, and since they’ve been taught since Kindergarten (birth probably) that that’s their audience in school, they want more.  So I have two young ladies who asked if I could make the box bigger–or if I could give them more room to write.  One of them said, “We have a lot to say to you,” and the other one was standing by her side nodding.  I thought about it and decided I would provide small notebooks for them and let them go–and see if I could possibly nudge them to move what they say to their blogs or wikis and go for a more global audience.  So yesterday, I provided them their small notebooks, which they were thrilled to get, immediately put their names on and I had to chuckle as they almost skipped out of my room, they were so excited.

My kids have strong opinions about their rights and beliefs, but they also recognize they are usually not empowered to act.  Today I got an email from a former student who continues to follow what I do with kids.  Here’s his email:

“I decided to look over the discussion your current students are having, when I came across stuff from my former neighbor Ricky. I looked at the discussion between you two (not all of it), and I realized that there are obstacles that stop us from reaching our dreams, and that one of Ricky’s obstacles is being a kid. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your age should not stop you from doing things.”

I agree, age should not be a barrier to doing what you want to do.

We’ve simply got to find ways to give kids voice in ways that matter and that they feel heard.  We’ve simply got to stop making them feel squashed, and like we steal their dreams.

If you haven’t read Wounded By School you should.  If you haven’t read Readicide you should.  If you haven’t read what my kids say about dreams being stolen from them, you should.

We’ve simply got to find ways to validate their feelings,  empower them to act, and not just listen to what they say.







4 thoughts on “When Is Listening Not Enough?

  1. Hello Ms. White,
    I am glad that I am able to read another blog post of yours. I would like to share a video from Dr. Randy Pausch, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo, which might be of interest to you concerning the topic on this blog, because he talks about his dreams as a child and how he overcame his obstacles or as he put it his “Brick Wall”. Dr. Pausch stated, “Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things”. Your students want to make a different in the world but feel they cannot act on it because of their age. Students should be able to overcome any barrier that is placed in front of them. I am confident that I will continue to enjoy reading more of your blogs and you view points regarding education. Thank you.

  2. I have had some expirences with middle school aged athletes when I coached 7th grade football last year at my kid’s middle school. I saw something that kid of disturbed me. The coaches seemed to have a “I am better than you” attitude. I guess it comes from the position of power these men hold over the kids. I can’t say for a fact that they act the same way in their classrooms, but if they do, I feel sorry for their students. You have to be able to connect and relate to your students on their level. I know I am an adult and I know I have a position of authority, but that isn’t what is important, they are! I am there to teach them football tactics, but that is only at the surface. The real point of coaching any school aged sport is to help mold them in to adults by teaching them valuable life lessons like respect, teamwork, sportsmanship, and fair play. Treating them like they are less than I am is not a very productive technique, in my opinion. I cannot change the attitudes these men have towards the kids, but I can set an example of how it could be done so they can see and hopefully change their own practices.
    Thank you for this quality blog post, Ms. White!

  3. Ms. White, this blog made so much sense. I love the idea of giving kids who are interested the chance to speak about what they believe in! It’s amazing how empowered they feel when you allow them to make such decisions. Your title for this post was more than perfect. Listening is definitely not enough!

  4. Mrs. White,
    This was a powerfully inspiring post. I agree with everything you had to say. Children do have strong feelings about their opinions and beliefs, and they always want to have people listen to them. They want to make sure that everyone hears what they have to say, and often not everyone listens to them. Age really shouldn’t be a barrier on what you can do. As educators we need to find a way to be sure our students have a voice, and make sure that they feel like they are being heard.

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