Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Highlighting Students’ Talents

I first saw this video in Yoyo Kid in the Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy blog which totally amazed me.

Watching this made me think of all kinds of questions:
1. How much does he practice this?
2. How long has he been doing this?
3. Has his mom told him not to do that in the house?
4. How many things has he broken in the house by a flying yoyo?
5. Has he demonstrated this in school?
6. Has he been reprimanded for doing this in school?
7. Has he done this during class and disrupted the class?
8. What is his behavior like in class?
9. Is he more interested in doing this than paying attention in class?
10. Does he do his homework?
11. Do other adults praise his talent?
12. What is his self esteem like?
I wonder if schools highlight students’ talents enough. I had a student who was extremely talented with a skateboard. In fact he would have his friends videotape him on the skateboard and many times show me the CD of him skateboarding. He loved skateboarding and anything about skateboarding so I tried to gear his lessons around skateboarding. I found articles for him to read about skateboarding and let him write up persuasive arguments on why he felt it was a safe sport. I also let him videotape a commercial (which he has to prepare and write up) about skateboarding and he also wrote a paper about the history of skateboarding. He did a presentation for the class about ramp building and all the things that have to be taken into consideration in order to build the ramp. I was very interested in his talent and he knew it so he was a wonderful student in my class with very little behavior problems. Unfortunately he had been diagnosed with ADHD and had issues with impulsivity so I tried to take that into account was preparing lessons for him.

Even though he was great for me and I was able to gear lessons to meet his needs and accommodate his interests, this did not happen in other classes. His behavior was atrocious (according to other teachers) and they could not control him. He would not fit into the “mold” that other students did. Because he had little interest in the subject, he would not pay attention or complete assignments. This was a shame because this boy was very smart and charming but other teachers hated him. I would ask him why he was so good for me and not others and he looked at me and said, “You like me and wouldn’t let me get away with any of that.” He felt the other teachers didn’t like him but he knew I cared and that made a big difference to him. It makes me sad to hear that after I retired, he quit eleventh grade. I felt like if I had stayed, he might have finished so I’m feeling guilty about that (but that is a whole other story).

I believe if teachers found out about students’ talents (teachers may have to dig for this), it would affect their relationships with their students. The yoyo kid obviously has the ability to focus and learn new things and persist until he gets it right. So did my skateboard boy. How do we harness this enthusiasm for the classroom? How can we learn from these students in order to make the classroom successful for them? I think we have to start by getting to know the students and find out their interests and abilities outside the classroom. If possible, integrate their interests into the lessons in order to hold their attention. We need to not take it personally when a student misbehaves in our classroom and think of how we can preempt the bad behavior so being in class can be a positive event for all involved. Let the students showcase their talents which will build up their self esteem. By doing some of these things, maybe schools will be a place where students want to stay and learn.


skip zalneraitis said...

Excellent feature and absolutely wonderful scaffolding for higher level thinking for teachers and parents.

Christine Southard said...

What a great post! You inspire me to be a better teacher. I would love to start the school year by showing the kids this video and having conversations about the questions you posed. Wouldn't it be great for each of our students to video tape themselves sharing their hidden talents? I wonder if they'd all want to share?

lloydcrew said...

You are spot on, Pat. Finding students' talents and using them in the classroom has been my "not so secret mission". What a wonderful story you told about engaging your student around skateboarding. I like Christine's idea about students taping themselves and sharing their hidden talent. It reminds me of the work Marco Torres does when filming teachers' B sides (that part of themselves that others usually do not see).

Fran said...

Wow! What an amazing talent. Now if his teachers in the upcoming school year could just see this!

One of the reasons we as educators need to see students as people is that we get a more well-rounded view of them. I have had students who struggled with reading but excelled on the football field. Others who have been just average in class, usually drumming their fingers on the desk!, but they are outstanding musicians.

Teachers need to attend school functions to see their students perform in their chosen activity. Just doing this and commenting to the student that you enjoyed the play or the basketball game lets the students know you care about them as people. And as you stated, Pat, students respond to those they feel care about them.

Great post to get us thinking!

loonyhiker said...

skip zalneraitis: thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

loonyhiker said...

christine: I love your idea about having kids tape themselves and share it. Remember the old "show and tell" time? Maybe older kids need this time too.

loonyhiker said...

lloydcrew: I like the thought of showing students a view of teachers that they aren't used to seeing. Once I hiked in the summer with a group including my friend's grandchildren who were high school students in another state. This one girl thought it was so cool to be with a teacher outside of school.

loonyhiker said...

fran: I think you are so right that it is important that teachers attend extracurricular activities to show our support of our students. I always worry when our school board talks about cutting out some extracurricular activities or the arts/music programs because these might be the only areas that some of our students excel in.

samccoy said...

I appreciated your reflective questions relating your experiences with your skateboard boy and the yoyo boy in the video. Children have hobbies, and frequently these hobbies are reflections of what they would want to do for work as adults. I am always concerned when these talents are dismissed out of hand.

While other teachers dismissed skateboard boy and his talents, you did not. "I would ask him why he was so good for me and not others and he looked at me and said, 'You like me and wouldn’t let me get away with any of that.' He felt the other teachers didn’t like him but he knew I cared and that made a big difference to him."

I am sure the other teachers may have thought they liked him, but as Dr. William Glasser, MD says in his classic, The Quality School Teacher:
"...we will work hard for those we care for(belonging), for those we respect and who respect us(power), for those with whom we laugh (fun), for those who allow us to think and act for ourselves (freedom), and for those who help us to make our lives secure (survival). The more that all five of these needs are satisfied in our relationship with the (teacher)manager who asks us to do the work, the harder we will work for that (teacher)manager.

Teachers also need opportunities to make appropriate choices, and they deserve principal teachers who are lead managers.

Sometimes not all teachers have the opportunity to work with those who will bring out their best, and they may revert to a more coercive stance. I believe schools can be greatly helped if everyone works to make their school The Quality School I hope you don't mind that I have included a link to one of my blog posts, n2teaching: The Quality School Teacher, that relates to yours.

Thanks for this thought-provoking post that reminds me why teachers teach.

Jim Leesch said...

Fantastic! I'm going to use this in our first advisory meeting of the year. I love your questions, and can't wait to see what reaction this gets amongst my colleagues.

Martha said...

I have taught in a magnet program for students with dyslexia. I have always felt that the program concentrates on student's weaknesses, having kids identify these weaknesses and then spending lots of time using drill and kill methods to improve the weak spots. I've never felt good about this and always tried to focus on student strengths. My students are so incredibly creative and talented in so many ways, but no one has ever let them explore their talents because they had weaknesses to conquer.

Karen Janowski said...

So many reactions to your post.
First of all - Love this - what a wonderful way to highlight the abilities of our students. Your skateboard boy story is powerful - is there some way you could get in touch with him and see where he is now, has he sustained his interest in skateboarding?
I am so curious to know what a class of MS or HS students would say about this video. Is their response different from a class of elementary school students?
Did you notice the intensity and concentration on the face of yoyo boy? What motivated him to excel to this level? How much time does he devote to practicing this skill each day? I'm also fascinated that he chose to film himself, edit the movie, add audio and post it to youtube AND say "thanks for watching." Yes, this is the "create content" generation, but this boy's talent at his age is quite remarkable.

On day one of the new school year, wouldn't it be wonderful to find out the talents, skills and abilities of each student in our classrooms?

Nadine N said...

This story is a wonderful example of how a dedicated teacher validates a student, sees him as a whole person, and capitalizes on his strengths to engage him. (My son was a skater in middle school, so I have a soft spot for skaters.) Thank you for writing this post. You are a model for us all.

loonyhiker said...

samccoy: Thanks for the link to your post. I enjoyed reading it and you made some great points.

loonyhiker said...

jim: Let me know what their reactions were. I wish I could be a fly on the wall.

loonyhiker said...

martha: sounds like your students are lucky to have you!

loonyhiker said...

karen: Yes, I keep in touch with my students so he lets me know what he is doing with his skateboarding. Unfortunately, real life is interfering and he is having to work and earn money. :)
I think many of our students don't realize they have talents and that is a problem too. If you had asked me as a teen if I had talents I would say no because I was very shy. Now I look back and think I was talented (I played an accordion and was ranked 5th in NY state) but too shy and embarrassed to let people know. Maybe we should involve parents too.

loonyhiker said...

nadine: I'm just trying to reach out to students even if it is one student at a time. Thank you for your kind words.

Matt Kanoon said...

What an amazing clip. I loved the questions you asked in your post as well as your story about your skateboarding student. (He was fortunate to have had you as his teacher.) It made me think of how often I have probably been guilty of not delving into my students' interests.

loonyhiker said...

matt: Thanks for leaving a comment. Hopefully it will make you more aware of your student's interests and help you in your teaching.

mindelei said...

What an excellent way to model "what a great teacher should be doing." As a pre-service teacher, this will really be helpful in assisting me to learn where to focus my attention once I am in the classroom. I think a lot of students feel overlooked because they don't fit into the mold of the perfect student. Yet, look at what they are able to accomplish once we are willing to break the mold! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

loonyhiker said...

Good luck in your teaching career! If you are already reading blogs and gathering strategies, I'm sure you will be a great teacher! Let me know if I can help you in any way.