We Must Be Clear

The other day while I was waiting for the elevator, I heard a tiny and squeaky voice coming from down the hall, accompanied by an older, reassuring voice. The two arrived to wait beside me at the elevator, a girl about two years old and her caretaker.

I don’t speak Toddler too well, but I did hear the little girl using the word, “Mommy” in each of her pleas. The woman with her assured her, “Soon, soon. We are waiting for the elevator.” Each time the girl pleaded for Mommy, the caretaker’s response was some variety of, “We are waiting for the elevator.”

As I observed, I thought about past students of mine. You’ve probably had ones just like them, too: the kinds of kids who can’t do just with, “Soon” as an answer to, “When?” Some kids need their answer to, “When?” to be much more explicit.

I had one student last year who was constantly asking, “When is this period over? When are we going to lunch? When are we going home?” It became exasperating to answer his same questions over and over. In my mind, I thought, “Dude, what don’t you get? We’re doing math now.” But the more I thought about it, I realized that maybe this kid needs something concrete to indicate what was happening when.

The flow of the day in front of the classroom had always been there, but he never took notice of it. He took it for granted as something in front of the room and I took it for granted that he knew how to use it. Once I had this epiphany, I was able to teach him how to use the flow of the day so he could get information for himself. It also made him realize that I was not arbitrarily deciding what we did during the day. Instead, he saw there was a set schedule that I would lead the class through. Once he became able to tell time more fluently, it was even better because he could go to the clock and start to figure out how much time there was left to go.

I don’t know if it would have worked with the little girl in the elevator, but in a pinch, I wonder if the caretaker could have done a quick little lesson for her in which she wrote and showed her numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and tried to explain how the elevator worked. As we waited, there was relative silence between them other than the girls pleas and the caretaker’s reassurances. The teacher in me saw lots of teaching opportunities, though. While waiting, perhaps they could have looked at the floors counting down while referring to those 5 numbers she wrote:

“The elevator is on 5 now. We need it to be on 1. Oh, look! Now it’s on 4. Now 3. Now 2. Now 1. That’s the number we need! Now the doors will open and we will get on. We are going to number 5, so we will push 5. And let’s watch the numbers go up. First it is on 1, now it is on 2, now 3, now 4, and now 5! We’re here! Now you will see Mommy!” 

I realize the girl may have been too young for something like this, but toddlers need the concrete, so I wonder if it might have worked. Regardless of the elevator scenario, surely there are many ways to make sure your students who need reassurance about timing and schedules will benefit from your sensitivity to their needs! What do you do to make that happen?

Lots of kids need something concrete, like a clock, to help them understand the pace of the day.

2 responses to “We Must Be Clear

  1. Hi Matt, I’m reading a great research-based book about teaching, Making Learning Visibile for Teachers: Maximizing Impact by John Hattie and his research points to the power of explicit teaching and targeted feedback just as you suggest in this post. You’d love this book–it will affirm much of what you do, challenge you to try some new practices and give you evidence to use when discussing your practice with colleagues, parents and administrators. Thanks for writing.

  2. Hi Matt,
    I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your blog. I am a preservice teacher in Alberta, Canada and my specialization is inclusive education (special ed). I liked how, upon reflecting on this student’s constant questioning you asked yourself, how can I “teach him how to use the flow of the day so he could get information for himself”. Sometimes a simple thing, like a visual schedule posted at the front of the classroom, can give the student the power to take responsibility for their own learning. Communicating expectations clearly and providing enough structure to to the day will lead to students being more self-directed and independent in their learning.

    Regards, Barb

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s