Sunday, May 01, 2005

May I have your attention, please?

I’m thinking about how often the success of a lesson is absolutely dependent on the sometimes mystical understanding I have about how much support I need to give a particular student.

Last week I really blew it with little Grace who is unabashedly dependent and volatile; we’ve been trying to wean her from one on one attention during work time, and she is making great progress during small group workshop time. When she is sitting with 3 or 4 other kids and a teacher, she is likely to accept prompts, wait her turn if she has a question, that kind of thing. But in the morning, as she enters our primary self-contained classroom, she demands the sole attention of one of the two teachers who are there to meet the immediate needs of 8 little ones. When I encouraged her to give her review sheet a try first, before I came to her desk, she lost it.

In other teacher’s classrooms, I know this reaction is considered extreme. But the same principle applies. Too much or too little teacher attention in nearly any teaching situation results in compromised achievement.

I’m reminded of the musings of Mr. K at A Difference. His post about the fearful student hit me on several levels (I posted about another aspect of his story previously); this time I see how his dilemma is exacerbated by this same problem. Time and attention are critical as we work to help our students succeed. But too much attention freaked his student out. He used his best instincts and training to address the frustration he saw in her, but it wasn’t enough. You could say it was too much. That’s the point. It’s so hard to know.

“And how DO you know?” asked my intern early in the year. Her eyes nearly glazed over when I admitted I couldn’t make a list or identify particular steps.

I am left with an untenable notion: it’s a skill I’ve learned over time, based mainly on trial and error.

It’s also the magic, the art that idealists know to be the best part of a teacher’ practice. But I want a better answer for my interns. I have to keep thinking on this and see if I can see some patterns in my teaching behavior. Oh, you know, like the mistake I made with Gracie last week. I may be practicing the art of teaching, but sometimes it’s very, very messy!

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