This year, I was given a class of LTELs (long-term English Language Learners) and recently exited SPED students with the goal of focusing my lesson implementation on engagement and more social-emotional learning. So we’re leading up to our first grade-level assessment. It’s a doozy, a beast in what it asks of our students and their literacy levels. And as a goal-setting activity prior to the test, I asked why many of them have struggled on assessments in the past. My thought was by identifying what plagued them going into the test, perhaps they could combat those demons when taking it.
The answers showed real reflection and a deep understanding of themselves. Nevertheless, it also shows how little the students understand how to counteract the habits that contribute to their own failure. That’s where we, the teachers, come in.
Check out some of their answers. Some of what they mention they just clearly need to get into the habit of doing (“reading directions,” echem!), but others require us to help students learn strategies to fight off the now-habitualized behavior.
Here are just some of their telling responses:
“I get distracted to the littlest things.”
“When I see huge questions that come with reading I give up.”
“When the reading is too much, I would skim through it not really reading it”
“Sometimes I don’t have faith in myself than I should”
“I’m not interested in it. When I’m interested in something or have experience in it, I would want to do it and do better.
“I like to skip to the easy parts and then I never get to finish the hard parts.”
“I sometimes don’t read the directions and finish fast.”
“I start thinking about other things and don’t concentrate.”
“I was never good at writing essays.”
“When there’s too much writing I shut down”
“When people finish I feel like I’m the last one and put whatever I think and write it fast.”
“before I start the test, I always think negative thoughts.”
“I tend to skip directions.”
“I am always tired and misread stuff.”
“I get distracted when I sit next to people that I get along with.”
“If I see a lot of reading I give up.”
“I skip questions that are long and guess.”
“I always think that I will fail.”
“when there is a whole page of reading and no color.”
“take awhile to start my engine/start my writing”
“day dreaming/zone out”
“I shut down when the going gets tuff”
“I sometimes skip big reads”
“I can lose my focus and get distracted.”
“My brain always freezes up and forgets what I learned when I have tests.”
“I see a huge page that I have to read”
“I skip directions”
“I feel tired”
“my mind is somewhere else”
“when stuff is too hard”
“I gave up too easily”
“I didn’t ask for help”
“When I would run out of thoughts, I always type or write something different to fill in the space.”
“Don’t know what some of the words mean.”
“I have a habit of shutting down on hard things fail challenges while being impacient.”
“I skip the reading and guess.”
“When I do the test, I shut down – like I can’t think”
“I get scared and not know what to do.”
“Sometimes that requires a lot of reading that ends up shutting me down.”
“I sometimes read the questions incorrectly.”
“I have negative thoughts like I feel like I can’t do good…”
“Things that shut me down are usually when there are a lot of text in a test question.”
So I categorized these answers to create a short list of seven categories that help with my own strategizing. But they come with the full knowledge that the student must also work to change their habits if failure is to be avoided.
Iend this with a note to self and a call to action: let’s start, as a profession, to think about ways we might be able to become a more positive voice in their heads. We need to be the hopeful and persistent whisper that balances out their internal negative scream.