The following piece was written for the Exceptional Learner class I took at FB this summer.
Learning Disabilities–A Call to Explore
Empathy. I really cannot understand what it is that they go through. Compassion. I can treat them with love because I know that they have struggles beyond what I can comprehend.
No child chooses to have a disability.
They would choose to focus, read correctly, perceive correctly, and do what we ask them too. They want to please us but their disability makes it impossible to do what we ask from them. We need to learn how and what to ask them so that they can achieve and succeed. I believe by working through their way of thought alongside of ours, we will reach our goal.
Many roads lead to Rome, but we as teachers are often scared to go exploring. We unintentionally use many harmful and degrading methods to keep these children on our road when they really are a train and need to stay on their tracks. We get frustrated, because we do not understand. We wonder, “Why won’t this child at least look at me?” Naturally, humans run from or, at least, look away from the thing that causes them anxiety. Is it any wonder that a student will look away from a teacher who’s hard on them or lose focus on the work they cannot understand? Yet, we can use sarcastic remarks to accentuate their lack and make ourselves feel like better teachers. We destroy their sense of risk and exploration, because when they do dare to explore, it takes them to a hurtful and frightening place.
These photos were taken just this afternoon. Chaos vs. Perfection
Learning disabled children are different from the average, like a train is different from a car. They see, understand, and do things differently than we do. They cannot help that they have never been taught for example, what a zebra is. Yet, we may ask them what a zebra looks like and expect them to know that it has stripes. Their brains go at a different speed than ours. Lets return to the car and train analogy. Consider that the fastest car ever recorded goes about 435km (270 miles) per hour. The fastest locomotive goes about 100km (60 miles) per hour. This slowness in processing prevents learning disabled students from keeping up with the teacher and the class. Is there anything wrong with us, as teachers, talking slower, using fewer words and more pauses, and using visual, kinesthetic, etc. methods to reinforce as we teach? Absolutely not! Even the regular child can benefit from these methods.
A learning disabled child may be weak in fine motor skills or hand eye coordination. We need to help them to learn more, but at the same time have different expectations of them then we would of a perfectly capable student. We cannot blame children for what they don’t know. We are there to teach and increase their knowledge.
We need to see lack of knowledge as an opportunity to teach and explore new paths of teaching.
The biggest issue, however, is recognizing their inability. So often, we hurry through our days seeing any errors as someone’s fault. We don’t want it to be ours. Instead, we blame the child. Is it any wonder that these children don’t care to try to do their work or that they cover up for their mistakes by blaming others? They learn from the best. Too often, we don’t try to work with them and cover up our mistakes by blaming them.
We need to recognize that an error is not a fault. It is an opportunity to learn.
Perhaps, the simple lesson for one child may be to slow down and do a better job. Others need assistance and a different style of teaching. There are many academic lessons any child can learn of course. However, perhaps, the main lesson here is for us teachers to slow down, do a better job, and ask for assistance when we don’t know how. We need God’s wisdom to discern where the error truly lies and to find where the answer is. I also believe that an self-less attitude can help us. We cannot be too caught up in our agenda to help our students accomplish theirs.
I am calling myself and all teachers with me to live with compassion and be open to exploring new methods of teaching. An adventure awaits!
I am half way through the year now. Reading these words, I am ashamed of myself for how often I have gotten frustrated this year. The truth is that if I were to count the exceptional learners in the class of little people I teach , I would overflow the fingers on one hand. There are students who despite my best efforts are failing. I have sung more songs this year, made more visuals, led more exploratory discussions (instead of just saying it), played more games, and used more manipulatives than ever before. Each day, the children have opportunity to leave their seats for multiple places. I make sure to ask those who struggle questions I know they can answer to build their confidence. Yet, they fall behind the norms.
Does this mean that these methods don’t work?
No, they are learning, but like the locomotive, it is a different speed. Some of them will need help beyond what can be given in the regular classroom. You know what? I still love them. It is from these that I get bouquets of weeds or leaves…
Just today, a book full of rainbows…
And exuberant freckled smiles. (Due to school policies, I cannot post one here.)
I know that it is in variety that there is beauty. Like those clusters of budding twigs (pictured above) that we hope will pop out leaves, many shapes and sizes make beauty. It is the twisted ones that catch the eye.