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Monday, January 17, 2011

Teacher Tip: Getting that dang straw into the Capri Sun is a skill

So, it is MLK Day today, and we are off of school.  I'm doing my lesson plans (late...I know) and thinking about a lesson I learned in my first year of teaching.  I've applied this lesson in the classroom and with my own kids. 

I was teaching first grade and had a student who struggled in her independent work, but seemed to know it during whole group lessons.

There were small clues of the culprit throughout the year:  She couldn't do a lot of things the other kids could, like opening her chip bags, getting a straw in the Capri Sun, organizing her desk.  But the biggest red flag was when she needed to open the flip-top on the ketchup bottle.  "Mrs. Adrienne, could you open this for me?"  I couldn't believe that she had never had to open a ketchup bottle before in her life??? 

Then, we had our Christmas party.  All of the moms were invited.  Well, it all became clear as her mom began opening all of the Capri Suns,  putting napkins on laps, opening chip bags, etc.  When there were no more bags to open, she began emptying and cleaning out her daughter's desk.  She was left with an immaculately clean work area.  You get the point.  This little girl seemed oblivious to anything going on around her that may require any effort.  She was completely taken care of by her wonderful, but well-meaning, mom.  She was a wonderfully sweet lady who adored her children.

The Lesson:  Kids who are never allowed to problem solve will not be successful problem solvers in the classroom either.  Math requires problem solving, of course.  However, this is also a key skill for reading comprehension (figuring out why and how something happened even if the author did not clearly state it.)  This skill carries into Science, Social Studies, and every other subject learned in school.

Problem solving is a skill that we must teach our kids to ensure their success.  I teach 4th grade now, and I guarantee you that my most successful kids in the classroom are also my best problem solvers.  This skill comes easily to some, but not so much to others.  Of course, there are the kids with developmental delays, and this post does not include that group of kids.  Some of our kids will struggle, and that's okay.  But, even those kids will benefit from learning independence.

When we don't teach our kids to figure out things on their own, we are handicapping them.  When teachers are taught how to teach, they are taught to include "HOT" or Higher Order Thinking in every lesson.  These are those questions that you have to think of the how and why.  You cannot answer yes or no to them.  These are the hard questions on tests that some may perceive as tricky (those meanies).  They really only require extra thinking to figure out.

Now, when a student comes to me b/c they can't open a piece of candy, I refuse to open it.  Not because I'm a meanie, but because I am 100% positive that if the kid really wants the candy (and she does), he/she will figure out how to open that wrapper.  If I really get my way, they will also teach the next kid on the playground how to do it.

So, do your kid a favor today. Refuse to do something for them that you know they can do.  Let them open their own Capri Sun.


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