As a teacher, whether permanent or substitute, we often think we must see huge strides in our students’ learning processes in order to feel that we have done our job. Sometimes, all it takes is a few moments in a one-to-one setting to see a student have an “Aha” moment. It is those moments that can have the greatest impact and perhaps, the greatest reward.
Take for instance an intermediate, special education student in an elementary school classroom. This child might be diagnosed as autistic, but considered “high functioning”. In a standard classroom setting, where a lesson is being taught to the entire class, this student might have a hard time paying attention. He might not be able to focus and do his own work. He must be constantly told to keep reading, keep taking notes, stop squirming in his chair, etc. He might not have the concept of reading quietly. He may also babble to himself about things that make no sense to anyone else. If you can find a moment when the rest of the class is busy doing their work, you may be able to reach him. Tell him to sit up, put the book down on his desk and start reading to you. You may want to pull up a chair so you are more at eye level with him. After he begins reading out loud, tell him to stop, and then continue reading, but this time with his “inside” voice. The one-to-one attention he gets from you might be the impetus that he needs to set him in the right direction. It may not last long, but in the case of an autistic child, bringing him out of his world and into the world around him is what he needs to get him back on track (even if only for a few moments).
Another small teachable moment might involve an intermediate, special education elementary school student who does not talk much. English may not be the first language for this child, even though the student is not in a bilingual classroom. He or she falls behind in their work and has a very difficult time spelling simple words. After checking the work, you feel the student is just not trying and you begin to get frustrated. Upon telling the child you will spell the words so that all he or she needs to do is to write them down, you notice the student is looking around the room to see if the word is already spelled. Your telling him or her verbally how to spell words doesn’t help at all. You realize that this student doesn’t know the English alphabet. Take a yardstick and point to the letters on the alphabet chart on the wall as you spell the words. The student will watch and write. He or she can now focus and do their work because you are giving them the visual cues needed to accomplish their goal.
If you find yourself in an intermediate general education classroom, you may have other students who are afraid to read out loud. English may not be the first language for these students, and they lack the confidence they need to participate in a group reading assignment (where each student takes a turn reading from a story.) Ask two students who are unwilling to read out loud on their own if they could read the text together. Let them sit next to each other. Since there is strength in numbers, they might be less intimidated to read as a pair. If all goes well, you may have at least one of them volunteering to read out loud by him or herself next time!
There are many different ways we can have small, teachable moments that will positively impact our students’ lives. The key is to have patience, take a cue from the student as to what they need, and do our best to make it work. If one method fails, try another. Rest assured, your students will appreciate the time you take with them and the effort you put in to their success. When you see the look in their eye that they “get it” or that they have overcome their fears, you know you have done your job. Truly, it’s all in a day’s work.