* Belief: a lesson from my friend

“I am an A student.”  My friend told herself that after failing her freshman year in college.  She never studied and wasn’t sure what “A students” did.  She asked a med student who was frequently studying, one who appeared quite organized with binders and notebooks.  That kind med student shared her studying routine with my friend, who went on to earn straight A’s.  Teachers remarked that no one else had ever earned 100% on their tests. The college dean requested a meeting with my friend to ask her how she had transformed her grades.

My friend told me that she believed she was an A student.  Even while she still had D’s and F’s, she simply KNEW she was an A student.  Her past grades didn’t define her.  “There was no F hanging over my head,” she told me.

How was my brilliant friend transformed?  To me, the power of belief, the power of faith, the power of encouragement, and the power of mentoring all played a crucial role in her success.  Today, this friend and teacher continues to share her wisdom and to mentor others, including me.

Successful teachers believe in their kids.  They help kids believe in themselves.  Successful and ethical teachers do not look at black kids and think, “Oh well, I’ll do what I can, but….”  Neither do they promote a false sense of “You can be anything you want!”  I don’t think any of us can be whatever we want, even if we are very smart.  My dearest teaching widower would agree that I can’t be an accountant, administrator, or statistician.  BUT could most kiddos be “A students?”  Absolutely.  

To my dearest friend, thank you for teaching me more than I can possibly express.

C and I

More tomorrow on another lesson she taught me.

* There is no average student

No average student?  Isn’t that contrary to the way our school systems, textbooks, and tests are designed?  In fact, ALL our kids have learning differences, whether labeled or not.  In my online class, I watched an excellent TED video featuring Todd Rose, a high school dropout with dyslexia (and 0.9 GPA) who now teaches Educational Neuroscience at Harvard.   

In an analogy to the current crisis in education, Todd describes the dilemma faced by the Air Force when designing cockpits for fighter jets.  They wanted a cockpit that would best fit the greatest number of pilots.  To their consternation, airplane designers found that there was NO average size among pilots.  Despite protestations that this was an impossible and expensive task, when the Air Force wouldn’t budge from their demands, the designers came up with adjustable seats and controls.  And today, the Air Force pilot pool is more diverse than ever.

Todd Rose makes his case that classrooms are the “cockpit of our economy.”  But we have plummeting math and science scores along with rising dropout rates (including about 50,000 gifted students in the 1.2 million+ high school drop outs every year).   Todd argues that our problem is “bad design.”  We design learning environments for the average student.  But he points out that all students have a “jagged edge” learning profile, so teaching to the average hurts everyone.  Teaching to the average makes talent a liability (“I hate boring school!”) and weaknesses make it hard for us to nurture students’ talents (“I can’t read the science textbook!”).  Todd says we have an opportunity to use technology in creating more flexible learning environments, such as “cockpits” where iPads can read for students, pronounce unfamiliar words, and allow all kids access to engaging activities.  For twice exceptional students, those gifted kids with a learning or social disability, technology provides the opportunity to “teach to the edges” and take advantage of our brilliant workforce in the making.

Now, how do we take the “average” out of testing?  Or put another way, how do we assess “to the edges?”