My experiences as a creative person, tutor of children, and teacher of creative writing

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dealing With School Discouragement

When my oldest was young, we dreaded school beginning.  Soon it would start again.  She would come home sobbing, “They called me dumb!”.  By the end of second grade, she knew she was “dumb”.

My heart ached to see someone so young already without hope.  I prayed and studied all I could about those who have difficulty learning.  I found myself remembering my own struggles in elementary school, and wondering why the Lord had not blessed me as others.  I was startled out of my self-pitying mood, as these words filled my mind, “You have not understood.  These are not your weaknesses, but the strengths I have given you.”.

From that moment, I sought to better understand the Lord’s perspective.  I read from Romans 12:6 how we all have “gifts differing”.  In I Corinthians 12, Paul explains how we are all like different parts of a body; each equally important and essential.  I felt uplifted when I read the 46th section of the D&C where the Lord explains how we are each given different gifts so we can help each other.

As our family became complete, we found it filled with a wide diversity of abilities.  This made family unity challenging.  One logical child could see no value in another sibling’s creative abilities.  An outgoing child could not understand a quiet soul’s  need to have time to think and ponder.  Another declared that studying was a “waste of time” for the only effective “way to learn was by doing”.

Drawing from the Gospel plan, and our backgrounds in education, we discovered some ideas which helped strengthen our family, and protect our children from discouragement in school.

Teach Gospel Truths
Remind children that our purpose in life is to learn and grow.
The Holy Ghost can help us progress.
The Lord has also given us families, and expects us to help each other.
The Lord loves each of us equally.
He has given all of us gifts which he expects us to share.
Provide Perspective
Different situations in life require different abilities.
Elementary school requires primarily the concrete ability of working with letters and numbers.  Our son who easily memorized words, names of States, and multiplication tables, soared.
In the higher grades, more and more emphasis is placed on understanding.  This is why our “soaring son” from elementary school occasionally “crashed” in high school.  As he declared, “How should I know what it means!?”  At this point, he needed extra help in developing this ability.

Develop Appreciation
We try to help our children identify and appreciate which abilities are being used in any activity by using words such as:
“He sure is gifted with his hands.  Look at that beautiful cabinet!”
“What a great painting!  She must have worked hard to develop that talent.”

Don’t Use Labels
We also try never to use labels, but instead, attempt to identify specific gifts.
When a child says, “He is so smart!”  We might reply, “Yes, he certainly has a great ability to memorize the times tables.  That is a nice gift to have.”

Develop Talents
We find helping our children identify and develop their own talents helps them increase their self confidence, and be less competitive with others.
Such things as having s bulletin board where awards can be posted, and attending their performances has helped to give them the positive attention they need.

Don’t Allow Excuses
A son, hoping to get out of an English assignment, announced that he wasn’t creative.  We reminded him that he would just have to work harder when something doesn’t come easily to him.  Perhaps he might need to pray, and seek help from someone who was gifted in this area, but he still had to do the work.

Set Reasonable Expectations
If the child is becoming overwhelmed, it may be time for the parent and the teacher to evaluate what are reasonable expectations for this child. For a child who laborious fights his way through one page, requiring him to read a 300 page book could be devastating.

Also, the child may need extra assistance in learning.  They may need help in developing little used abilities, or in learning how to use their strengths to help them cope in their areas of weakness.  When we accept the child strengths and weaknesses, and teach him in the way he needs to learn, then we are showing our respect for them as children of God.

We need to remember that our child is in school to help him develop his unique potential.  When we try to see our child as the Lord sees him, instead of as through a narrow worldly perspective of  “smart” or “gifted”, then we are better able to help our child progress.

Some children may be weak in the few specific abilities which are emphasized in a school setting, but they do not have to become discouraged.  They can still develop a strong sense of self worth, if we, as parents, help them to know they are sons and daughters of God who have each been given different gifts.

People Learn Differently

Being a person who struggled in elementary school myself, I really believe that people learn differently. Based on my own experiences and what I have learned in over thirty-six years of tutoring children, I  agree that most children are not disabled learners, but simply people who learn in a different way.
Some of us can not learn merely by hearing something. We need to see and experience to learn. Visual aids such as pictures, time lines, graphs, demonstrations, and DVD’s really help me follow a lesson, but they don’t always have to be things you can touch. Stories, parables, examples, and analogies also enable me to “see” the ideas. I have found  Teaching No Greater Call to be a invaluable resource of teaching ideas.
While visual aids are a great help to me, sometimes there are problems. Though it really helps when the teacher writes the key words on the board or draws simple pictures to represent the idea as she teaches, I must be able to see the teacher’s face and  lips when she talks, or I can’t “hear” what she is saying. I find it helpful if the teacher says something, THEN turns around and writes on the board, or has someone else write on the board for her. I also struggle when the room is dark such as during a computer presentation, and I can’t see the teacher. Having what she is saying also printed on the screen, aids me in following the presentation.
Another problem I encounter is when we are asked to read a scripture in class. Reading scriptures out loud is difficult for me, so I really appreciate it when a teacher doesn’t just call on me to read before the class. If she does, I am further embarrassed because I don’t know what  verse we are to look up. It means a lot to me when the teacher writes the verse number on the board, so I can be a part of the scripture study.
It also helps me when a teacher begins by giving the “whole picture” or purpose of the lesson. This allows me to understand what is being discussed. For me learning is like putting a puzzle together. I need to know what the finished puzzle should look like, then I can fit the pieces together.
One way to help me grasp the main idea of the lesson is to begin with a question written on the board. I appreciate having time before the class starts to think about the lesson. It also helps me when the teacher pauses and gives me time to think after she asks a question. I have many ideas I want to share, but it takes me awhile to put them into words. Sometimes teachers assume that since I usually can’t answer “simple” detail questions such as when or where something happened that I certainly couldn’t answer “harder” questions. Actually, these are the questions I enjoy answering.  I love it when I am given to opportunity to answer the “big picture” questions which ask me to explain what the concept means, or how to apply a Gospel principle in my life.
I am grateful for all the teachers in the Church who use a variety of teaching methods, so that those of us who learn differently can participate in classes and learn the teachings of our Savior. One of the most important things I have learned is that I  am a unique daughter of God who is not “disabled”, but who has been given special “whole picture” talents to share with others.