Friday, May 7, 2010

It's All in How You Approach Them

Ok, so yesterday I had two different experiences that tie into what I want to talk about. I have learned (and been constantly humbled by the fact) that kids are like cats...when they want to be petted, they let you...when they don't...well, it takes a lot of coaxing to get them to let you get near them.

Here's how that relates to reading. Kids (especially those who struggle) will put up defenses to "prove" to you they don't need you to help if you don't approach them in the right way. Now, there is not just one way, but here's what is essential -- THEY NEED TO TRUST YOU AND KNOW YOU THINK THEY ARE CAPABLE. They like to feel successful - we all do - and they don't like to show weakness (who does?).

So here's my examples. The first was working in a third grade collegue's (yea! I can say that!) classroom. I haven't spent much time in the classroom itself (I have been working with kids in the library most of the time), so the kids don't know me that well. Yesterday, when I was working with them I had little to no relationship with them. I sensed the questioning - who is she? what is she doing? will she like my work? will she criticize me? -- So I approached them like cats. First off, I offered a compliment. I appreciated something I saw. Even if it was the daydreamer I was getting back on task, I commented how I liked they were working at their seats. If they gave me a funny look, I simply introduced myself and told them I was just there to help them however they may need me. You could literally see them breathe sighs of relief.

I spent most of my time with a newcomer to our country. He has made incredible strides this year -- thanks to a lot of hard work. Yesterday, he was struggling with a writing project for Mother's Day. I could sense his hesitancy when I first came over. Then I asked him if I could sit down next to him. He said yes. I complimented him on having done so much hard work. He smiled. I asked if he would mind sharing some of what he wrote with me. I told him I was a mom of 4 boys, and I hoped they would be writing as wonderful things about me as he did with his mom. I had a connection. I made myself vulnerable and told myself something about myself. We moved slowly, and I was careful not to point out every place where he needed correction. That would have been too overwhelming. I picked things that were essential to having it make sense to his mom. He was awesome. I had him correcting things with a smile, and each time, I made sure to praise how he helped make the change.

Something we worked on was spelling. I know that many kids struggle in this area if they are strugglers in reading. I used a strategy called "what looks right?" I wrote the misspelled word a couple of ways including the right way and asked him to pick out the correct one. Most of the time he found it. And I immediately said, "See! I knew you were a great speller! It takes a good speller to pick out the right one...if you see it, that's awesome!" Big smile!!!!

So remember, approach is everything.

Now...the harder experience. My son Sam. Oh yes, my son Sam.

He has a project due Monday with a chapter book, Arthur and the Cereal Crunch Contest. He forgot it at school Tuesday and Weds. nights, so he was behind in his reading. We had planned to pace it two chapters per night, but...

He brought it last night, but at the end of two chapters, he was ready to stop reading to me. "Oh no," I reminded him, "you have to read a lot more tonight to catch up!"

The brake lights went on, hard and fast. He began squirming and whining. I knew this was going to be a showdown.

Before it got worse, I got over and knelt down next to him. I put my hands on his knees and whispered, "Sam, I know you are disappointed to have to do more, but that's what it is going to take." He protested again, telling me that Ben was done, why couldn't he? It wasn't FAIR (ever hear that one????).

So I tried another approach, ignoring the "fair" comment and counting to ten under my breath (don't think that I don't get worked up in situations like this! I wanted to yell - just do it!). I told him, "Hey, I am reading this with you by you reading to me, and I am really into it! I want to know what Arthur does next! Here he is, trying to put a band together, having nightmares, and you are going to stop reading??? Help me - I want to know what happens!"

That worked for another chapter, then he was "done" again..."No, one more chapter," I responded. Another tantrum began brewing.

This is where I want to lose it, take away his DS, ground him - you know...but that isn't going to help, I knew that. I would just be feeding the resistance.

Another slant. "Ok Sam, let's do this. I am still very interested, but I realize you are tired. How about you read a page and I read a page?" He was on board.

Here's where I got tricky. After a few pages, I started saying, "Keep going. I like hearing how you read it" or "Wow! That was amazing how you read that so smoothly! Keep it up." And what did he do??? He kept reading.

We did make it to Chapter 8 (they aren't very long chapters, by the way) and accomplished the goal. I celebrated his success by telling him exactly how he had made it through. And we talked about the struggle too. I pointed out that it was hard, but I wasn't trying to "make" him do anything...I was helping him achieve what he needed to do.

Switch up how they percieve the task.

I can't promise it will stop the tantrums and the resistance, but it sure will help!

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