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Little-known ways to find every student’s hidden potential


There’s no greater reward than to see my students return to their hometown to pass their knowledge on to a new generation of learners

education-students-potential

I was walking down the halls of our school recently when a little girl approached me. “Mrs. Rogers, what do I have to do to get into your classroom?”

Her comment made me laugh. This particular girl was a straight-A student, and I’m the Title 1 teacher for at-risk students. I was thrilled that she thought of my class as a fun, exciting place (and it is!).

This interaction confirmed just how important it is to create a positive, welcoming environment for every child, even the ones others identify as “troublemakers” or “bad students.”

It starts the moment a student walks in my classroom door. “I am SO glad you’re here! I know you’re having some trouble with fractions, but you are a smart kid, and we’re going to have so much fun today.”

Once we’re off on the right foot, students often start with a simpler lesson they have already learned. The benefits here are two-fold – students can build their confidence by showing off a little bit, and I can identify holes in their thinking that may be causing them problems on more difficult lessons.

(Next page: Finding student potential to help them succeed)

To connect with a generation of digital natives, I’ve found an online curriculum that uses catchy songs and videos to help students remember their math and reading lessons. They get so much more out of it than a “boring” lecture.

My one-on-one time with students also allows us to target exactly what they’re struggling with. If their teacher has told me they are having a hard time with fractions or short vowels, I can pull the corresponding lesson up on our whiteboard and work directly with the student until they reach that breakthrough moment.

Until a student has scored 96 percent or higher on a particular lesson’s assessment, we won’t move on to the next one. This guarantees that the learning has really stuck in their minds, and they aren’t just parroting back the right answers.

Even if we repeat a lesson five or six times, there’s one sentence that’s always off-limits in my classroom: “I can’t.” If a student is feeling like they will never understand a particular lesson, I’ll look them right in the eyes and say, “You know, school is not easy for everyone, but you are patient and you are a hard worker. I think someday you could even be a great teacher!”

Their eyes get as big as saucers when they hear that. Right now, they can’t see past the frustrating problem in front of them, but to think that someday they might know enough to be a teacher?

To them, it seems almost unbelievable. But now that I’ve worked in this school for a while, the reasons to believe it are appearing before their eyes. This year, two of my former students are student teaching in our school!

There’s no greater reward than to see my students return to their hometown to pass their knowledge on to a new generation of learners.

I have full faith that they will be phenomenal teachers because they have already learned the most important lesson of all, and it’s one I remind myself of every morning before opening the classroom door:

Some students may stretch your patience, but they all have potential.

Paula Rogers is the Title 1 reading and math specialist for Langdon Area Schools in Langdon, N.D. She has taught in North Dakota for 37 years. The online curriculum she mentions throughout her post is Learning Upgrade, a collection of song- and video-based reading and math lessons designed for compatibility with Common Core standards.

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