Sunday, August 26, 2012

Moving Beyond the Surface

            I had to smile when I saw this cartoon that George Couros (@gcouros) tweeted recently. It also got me thinking about making sure I listen with greater intent when students share a rationale with me as to why an assignment was not completed. I think I have been guilty of dismissing the response before it was even fully shared with me and as I reflect on that, I think I missed an opportunity for a deeper connection and deeper understanding of why kids don’t always get their work done.
            I was working with a high school in the Los Angeles area and the topic of homework came up. We were having the usual conversation about the value and intent of homework when one of the teachers shared a story from a student that brought a new viewpoint. After reminding the student again about the lack of homework completion, she was surprised when the student asked if he could talk privately with her. He proceeded to share with her that it was the “home” part of “homework” that was a problem since he and his family were homeless. He didn’t have a place to sit down and do the work nor did he have access to resources. Another powerful reminder that asking the next layer of questions (beyond was the homework completed) yields valuable information that allows us to plan appropriate next steps
            As the school year gets underway, we should all commit to asking the next layer of questions in an effort to get to the real challenges that impede a student’s ability to complete all that is asked of them. Sometimes bravado is much easier to demonstrate (and more face-saving in front of their peers) than confusion. Looking beyond that moment may be the start of a stronger relationship developing.

She told Mr. Jones some of her story. Not as an excuse, 
and not looking for sympathy, but to let him 
know how much she truly did care. Sometimes, 
life just got in the way. “Don’t look at me as I am and 
determine I can’t get there. Look at me as I could be 
and help me to achieve that goal,” she said. *

            While, “the dog ate my homework”, may be a stretch to consistently believe as a rationale, perhaps it should not be as easy to dismiss offhand as I once believed.  The cartoon is a subtle reminder that there is much more than the surface story and in digging deeper we may find something that turns students on rather than off.

* (Excerpt from the book “I Am the Future” by Tom and David Hierck)

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