They Still Can

“They can’t write sentences.” I was completely stunned by this statement. Sitting in a meeting with other teachers, the group was talking about the challenges our students were facing due to Covid. Now admittedly, I had only seen these students several times since March of 2020, but still, really? And, well, they already had. In the library I had been working with the third graders on research skills. Each student wrote sentences with a range of sophistication, but all within the realm of early third graders. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had not read closely enough over their work, perhaps only some had written sentences. And of course, we were still in the beginning of the unit, so all of the students were working together with me studying the same topic, Big Ben, on Pebble Go. Perhaps I was not seeing clearly enough.
I spoke with the teacher who made the comment and shared my experience. They were surprised and encouraged. Their own experience was that when asked for work students were not producing. So I checked in with the teacher from the previous year, who affirmed that they absolutely could write sentences. Yes, there were some things that were not studied in the usual depth last year but the basic skills were firmly covered.
I continued with the unit, and in the second half each student chose their own topic on PebbleGo to research. They pulled five facts in their own words and then wrote sentences from the facts. We stressed that the notes should not be in full sentences, thus helping to prevent them from copying the text word for word, and then we talked about pulling the information together into their own words. This is hard, not just because it is a hard skill, but the reading level on PebbleGo is low enough that the sentences are simple and straightforward. How many ways can you actually say an animal can grow to be a certain weight? The students then worked to organize their sentences into paragraphs, which they needed substantial support with, but that is to be expected at this point in their development.
I write all this not to brag, although let’s face it, I am always thrilled when students work hard and achieve their goals, but to remind us not to make assumptions about student abilities. We have spent so much time in my school around trauma-informed teaching, making sure that we are sensitive to student needs. I think we may have forgotten that stretching, struggling and then achieving is also a student need. Students didn’t write this in the library because I was a better teacher, this particular teacher is outstanding and always in demand. I think it just never occurred to me that they couldn’t do the work. And students so often rise when they know people believe in them.
This is not to discount the difficulty of the virus for everyone. We are all struggling all the time. It is because of this that these self affirming triumphs are so important. The students were just so proud of themselves and their work. Every single one wanted to take it home to share with their parents. What I learned from this is to constantly check my own lens around what students can and can’t do. To remember that even in challenging situations and maybe because of them, student achievement and the self confidence this produces is another layer to trauma informed teaching.

Research Project

3 thoughts on “They Still Can

  1. “stretching, struggling and then achieving is also a student need.“
    Well said and worth remembering at every stage of their education.

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