Language. We don’t often think about the words we use and the messages we send. Yet it is something we inherently know and do every day. We communicate with people using words, but communication or language is not just using words.
We use body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Language is something we understand, even if it is difficult to explain. Words mean things. Sometimes language can paint a picture, or express an emotion. Language can provide a window to our thoughts. Can language portray how we really feel?
Language is something that we can feel confident about until we get into a fight with a loved one. We think we make sense. We think people understand us. And then out of nowhere, we feel frustrated, flustered, hurt, for being misunderstood.
Language is not only the words we say out loud, but the words we think in our minds. The messages we tell ourselves to deal with the struggles we face.
My Canoeing Challenge – A Story
I found myself in the nose of a Coleman canoe, paddling a week’s worth of gear in hopefully waterproof garbage bags. We had begun the first part of a weeklong high adventure trip in Idaho. Half a dozen fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys and a few scoutmasters maneuvering the river from one point to another, pitching tents on the bank of the river. It was exciting and scary. A challenge that men accomplish. Something to tell my future grandchildren about as we sit by a campfire.
Each person had to prove that they were capable of participating in this adventure. I was a confident swimmer. But swamping a canoe, lifting it to dump water, and turning it upright is a solid challenge for any young man. Especially in the chilly, early summer snowmelt river. We proved we could do it, which put everyone in high spirits. Now we each hoped that we wouldn’t have to repeat that terrible process, potentially losing, or at the very least, soaking our clothes and gear.
We set out, enjoying the sunny morning, keeping our eyes open for eagles in the sky. I was paired with an adult by the name of Bart. He was a kind and encouraging leader, though he wasn’t afraid to keep us in line when we needed it. We made it for several miles without a problem. It looked as if we would make it through the day without incident. The river split into a fork. All of the canoes in our group floated to the left. Bart and I steered to the right hoping to stay in deep, moving water. We weren’t that lucky. We tried looking ahead, hoping to avoid logs or rocks close to the surface but with the sparkle of the sun on the water, we failed to float through a clear path. The bottom of the red plastic canoe scraped slowly against the bottom of the river until we stopped.
We were high-centered in water deep enough to potentially tip the canoe over if we attempted to get out. We tried to shift our weight and push with our oars, knowing if we broke the blade of the paddle the rest of the trip would be difficult. I had never really experienced such a difficult situation before this. I could see Bart getting frustrated. I was trying everything that I could without much effect. He was trying to be encouraging without being too mean. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I didn’t want to tip the canoe. I didn’t want Bart to think I wasn’t trying. I didn’t know what I could do. I didn’t feel strong enough to move the canoe. We were stuck.
Bart didn’t take my reasons or excuses or anything else I said. He became a coach, aggressive and encouraging. He said things like, “We can do this!” and, “Pull that oar like your life depends on it!”
I tried to lean into it, pulling the oar through what seemed like inches of water. I didn’t think we would get out of this unless one of us got out to lift and push the canoe. Bart might have. It was a serious struggle. I didn’t like being stuck there in the middle of a river. I didn’t like being thought of as weak. I didn’t like worrying about whether we would tip over and get all of our gear wet.
We made it through. I was sore and embarrassed, but we caught up with the others in our group. It was a struggle and one that I will never forget. It helps me to remember that it is okay to struggle. It helps me to see kids, young people, my students, struggle and reminds me that they are not broken. They have not failed. They are simply struggling and haven’t figured out how to get through whatever it is that they are dealing with.
What About You?
Does anyone really like to struggle? It is frustrating, but it is a part of life. It is something that everyone experiences, regardless of age, status, nationality, and gender. At one time or another, all of us have tried to do something and failed, or at least not been successful the first time. What keeps us from quitting?
When our babies first try to walk, and fall, we think it’s cute. We smile, lift them up, and encourage them to try again. However, shortly after we become proficient walkers we start to get frustrated when we try to do something and get stuck. We think there is something wrong with us when we try to read new words, can’t get it, feel stupid, and quit.
Struggling isn’t fun. Nobody really wants to struggle. We might accept it, and learn from it, but it is a challenge and takes time for a person to change their attitude or perspective, or accept that it might just be time to grow in some unknown way.
But what is worse? Struggling when we have support all around us, at school or at home when it is manageable to some extent. What happens when we are expected to struggle and live with other people who struggle? Shouldn’t we have some confidence in our ability to struggle?
Shouldn’t we understand that struggle is a part of the process? If we are struggling, we are learning and growing. We are finding out what we are capable of. We start to learn that we can do hard things, even if it isn’t fun. We can do things and survive, and hopefully in some instances, thrive.
What are you capable of? Have you given yourself time to get there? Don’t give up! Keep trying. Find a new way to think about the problem.
Who has inspired you to not give up? How have you overcome a challenge?
Who can you inspire? Who is struggling that needs to hear your encouragement?

IMG_-vt68e8
Why do we have to study the English Language you ask?

One of the questions that I get from students is, “Why do we have to take English when we already speak English?” The best reason I can come up with is that it’s less about the language itself, and more about learning how to communicate.

 

Communication includes sending signals and receiving signals. That’s basically it. How good are you at communicating? Miscommunication happens all the time. Especially if you communicate through text or email messages. Do you mean what you wrote to come across happy or angry? Does the recipient know that?

Body language is an important part of communication when we are in the same room with someone. It’s easier to understand meaning with words, volume, tone, and body language. It is a lot less likely that the message someone is sending is going to be misunderstood. And even if it’s misunderstood, there is the opportunity for instant clarification. The receiver can ask questions to make sense of the message.

Students haven’t always been taught how to communicate in school, with teachers and administrators. The only adults that they regularly interact with live in the same home as they do. They are familiar and not threatening. Teachers and administrators shouldn’t be intimidating, but young students don’t know or understand this very well.

My objective this year, is to explore how students and teachers communicate with each other. Hopefully the stories and scenarios provided will help you to figure out a more successful path for your student, or maybe even yourself.

I would love feedback or questions. If there is a specific situation that you need help with, let me know.

I’m on Instagram @lit_teacher_dave, or on Facebook here.nametag.png

Shoot me some questions or comments there.

Good luck this year! You got this!

Read on-
Dave

 

I’ve been absent from this site for a while. Things have been changing and I’m excited to share them with you!

I started Wasatch Reading Club with the intention of helping students who struggle with reading. I value the experience of reading a good book and believe that reading is the best way to learn about everything and everyone around us. However, I realized that students who struggle with reading are likely struggling with school as well.

I needed to broaden my scope. I needed to change my offering. I have been producing YouTube videos and writing blog posts for Wasatch Reading Club, but I also teach high school English and English 1010, 2010, and 2200 for Weber State University through our high school’s Concurrent Enrollment program. Wasatch Academic Coaching is different. It’s more broad in covering all of the different elements of education, not just reading.

Every day I see students not motivated to do the work. There are many reasons why students struggle. It is possible that there are as many ways for students to struggle as there are students. And this is the problem with our Public Education System. How can I as a caring and demanding teacher, help all of my students where they need it most?

It is a daunting task.

Is it possible? Sure, why not?

Is it going to happen? I don’t know.

What would it take for me to help each of my students feel successful in school?

What about actually being successful in school?

Time. Time, and effort.

So, Dave. What is it you do as an Academic Coach? Is it the same teaching?

Kind of. I’ll explain.

  • Academic Coaching is helping an individual make discoveries about themselves.
  • Academic Coaching is about providing an outside commentary about what I see and hear from an individual.
  • Academic Coaching is helping an individual understand what they want, and what steps it might take to get there.

It’s like Athletic Coaching, but Academic.

  • Academic Coaching is not talking about the past, like therapy. It’s not a never ending schedule of appointments forever talking about the future.
  • Progress is made IF you’re ready to act.

Academic Coaching is dependent on trust.

Academic Coaching is for the student who has a hard time with homework completion, procrastination, turning homework in, being organized, and understanding assignment instructions. It’s a big process that can be overwhelming.

I can help break down what is expected, what it takes, and guide students on the ways of getting it done.

That is Academic Coaching.

I have experience not doing well in school. I understand the dichotomy of pleasure and pain as it relates to procrastination, homework, and grades.

I know what it’s like to go back to college as an adult with a family.

I know what it’s like to desire change and improvement and not know how to make it happen.

And, I have made it through.

I am available to work individually with students (and parents) through school and what teachers expect.

If you want to have a chat about your student and what it might look like to work together, drop me a line.

Dave@WasatchAcademics.com

Good luck comes from good work!

Read on!

-Dave

It is the end of the year. It’s on many parents’ minds. Should I let my student fail?

In the few years that I have been teaching, I have learned some new acronyms. I don’t remember where I picked this one, up but I’ll never forget it.

F.A.I.L.

What Does It Mean To Fail?

Nobody likes to fail. Nobody I know likes to feel dumb in front of other people. The problem is, we don’t really learn until we do something wrong. Once we recognize that we’re off target, we adjust our action and try again. If we don’t meet someone’s expectation we have to decide if we want to try again, or give up.

The acronym is First Attempt in Learning. Is it okay that we try to do something, and not get it right the first time? Of course! How many of us can do things exactly right the first time? How many of us have had to try something, get feedback, and make changes? This happens when we’re babies. It also happens when we start a new job. We don’t know all of the rules and expectations. It’s frustrating to know that you’re capable of doing the job and need someone to help you figure it out.

When it comes to school some students get instructions and what it means to pass a class immediately. They know what the teacher expects and can produce the assignments easily. However, if a student doesn’t care or doesn’t try, they haven’t shown what they are capable of doing in class. Motivation is problem for another day. However, if the student tries and gets it wrong, the teacher should be encouraging and helpful so that the student can adjust what they’re doing.

As the school year gets closer to ending I get more and more parents emailing, concerned about whether their student is going to pass English. I want every student to pass, if they have demonstrated that they can write. If they haven’t submitted work, I don’t know if they can do the work. I can’t sign off that they can read and write at grade level.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

It’s a difficult thing to say, but let them fail. Don’t bail them out. Don’t give them the false message that they are above the rules. If they don’t pass the class make them do the most difficult make-up work possible. Be supportive. Be encouraging. Be helpful. But don’t do their work for them.

What’s the worst that could happen if they have to do the work over again? Maybe they’ll figure out that it’s better to do it right the first time.

What happens if you bail them out? What happens if you manage their work for them? They learn that it’s not really important unless mom or dad is involved. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be involved in another persons adult problems and decisions.

Do you think that the books read in school are boring? Are parents really worried about what their kids are reading in school? I can imagine that some parents don’t want their kids reading certain books because of language, or inappropriate scenes. How often does that happen? How often do teachers push their own agenda in the classroom? I don’t think it happens in elementary school or middle school. It might happen in high school, and more than likely happens at university. However, by the time our kids get to be adults attending college, shouldn’t they be capable of analyzing what others say, and deciding for themselves?

My Experience

I’ve worked in two different school districts, both of which are populated by fairly conservative families. When teachers talk about what they’re teaching, they’re limited to a list of books approved for a specific grade, or lexile level. The books that are available to use in class aren’t always physically available in the school. So, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. In most cases, teachers teach from books that are approved, and that have been purchased by a teacher and administration consensus.

When I write, “books that are approved”, I mean books that have been submitted for review by a teacher who would like to use it. A committee of teachers, librarians, and community members read the book and decide if it has literary value, anything that might be seen as inappropriate, and if it fits the grade level of the students being taught.

In my experience, most books are classics. They’re older and have some historic and cultural value. Books that will probably be around forever like To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, and nearly everything by William Shakespeare.

My Philosophy

Obviously young kids shouldn’t be exposed to books that have foul language, or excessive violence. Sometimes adult books will have kids versions that are significantly modified. I think that’s fine, but there are so many things to read that it isn’t necessary. I don’t know how it happens exactly, but kids get to middle school, and they start to hate school. They might like to read, but then they’re told what to read and when to finish and it becomes a chore. I would much rather have kids read something they like on their own time, or even during class time so they don’t lose that interest.

When I taught 8th grade we read Ender’s Game in class. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books. It’s interesting, it’s unusual, it’s violent, has some foul language, and is on the approved list. When reading out loud, I usually replace the words to something silly, which helps kids keep reading along. They giggle when I change something which causes the bored kids to wonder what’s up. We can talk about cause and effect. We can talk about what they would do if they were there. We can identify what is appropriate according to our cultural norms, and what is inappropriate. It is a great community learning experience.

What about Shakespeare. When was the last time you read Shakespeare? High school? College? Did you really read it, or did your teacher simplify things for you? Go back to the famous “love story” Romeo and Juliet. It’s not really about love. It’s a story of infatuation between two teens over a three day period. The opening scene between Gregory and Sampson is typical of Shakespeare’s punning; talking about maidenhead and salted fish. Seriously, parents complain about things, but not Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Shakespeare. I think he was the most clever writer of drama in the English language. Do parents remember reading Shakespeare? Do they really care what their students are reading, or does Shakespeare get a pass just because his writing is old and everyone reads it?

Why Read Together In Class?

When everyone in class has experienced the same story at the same time, it’s easy to have a conversation. It’s easy to address social or environmental concerns. Kids can ask questions and hear what multiple people have to say about it. As a teacher, I can guide the conversation. I can act like I don’t understand what students are talking about, forcing them to think about what they really think and explain more specifically. I can put kids into pairs or groups to help those who are shy or timid communicate in a less stressful environment. I can then provide other whole class experiences that force the kids to band together.

Standing Up For Who We Are

When we read about Anne Frank and World War Two, students had a hard time understanding why it was so difficult for Jews to stand up for themselves. They didn’t understand the community pressure to report traitors to the German government. I tried to give students a feeling of this during class. I started class in a very stern, almost angry way. I told students that we had a lot of things to do during class, and that we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. I divided students into groups to read picture books about The Holocaust, but I didn’t give them enough time to do it. I had them switch to the next book before they could finish. Students started to complain that they weren’t finished, so I sent them to the hall. The first few students to complain were really scared. Usually they were the on task students who never got into trouble. They couldn’t understand why I was in such a bad mood. Eventually six or seven kids were sent out into the hall, and kids still in class were totally silent, totally on task.

Time To Process

After 10 minutes or so, I called the students in the hall back to class. Everyone was silent. I asked them what they experienced as they tried to read the assigned picture books. I had them take out a piece of paper to write down their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and anything else they thought about the activity. Their eyes got bigger, and some smiled as they started to understand the connection. They wrote about their fear and frustration. Eventually, we could talk about why it was so difficult to stand up against Hitler’s government. They were much more sympathetic to the situation and realized how easy it can be to give someone else power.

Reading can be a powerful experience whether individually, or in a class of 30 other people. Sometimes we read to escape, and sometimes we read to understand others. Teachers try to choose books that they are confident will help students. Teachers try to help students become thoughtful, sympathetic, empathetic, caring, and patient.

I don’t know how, but I missed reading a lot of books that others read in middle and high school. I’ve read many of them as an adult, and for the most part loved the experience each book offered. Some are still not great, but that’s a matter of personal opinion and I’m OK with that.

What did you read in middle school or high school? How did those stories change your perspective on life?

 

Read on!

-Dave