What Message Are We Really Giving Our Kids?

 I have been completing a number of strength and weakness charts recently. If you are interested in knowing how I do this, you may click over here.

Now, whenever I complete a chart like this, a child is ALWAYS able to identify a number of strengths. This does not surprise me.

What does surprise me, however, is the reaction of some parents when I call them to discuss the chart. I’m often asked, “Was he able to identify any strengths?” Some parents seem quite surprised that the list of strengths is so much longer than the list of weaknesses. I often feel the parent’s relief is greater than the child’s relief at realizing that there is this whole positive side too.

Which makes me wonder… when we have children who experience some kind of difficulty, do we spend so much time focusing on that difficulty that we a) totally reinforce the child’s problems for him and b) spend so much time focusing on the hard stuff that we completely forget about the good stuff?

Which makes me question… whether Special Education withdrawal lessons and differentiation into groups is always the right solution. It’s great for the high achievers – they are always the victors. But for the others, we are constantly reinforcing for them that, academically, they are nowhere near the top. Oh – there are so many positives to small groups with intense intervention and attention and some children thrive on it. Some children need it. But what message are we sending our kids? Are we telling them where they belong?

Which makes me think… Is our education system ultimately going to be responsible for making kids believe that their weakness pile of sticky notes is much higher than their strengths?

Does something need to change?

This entry was posted in Dilemmas, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Teaching Ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to What Message Are We Really Giving Our Kids?

  1. Camilla says:

    Sounds like it does. I have always thought that the way we manage differentiated activities WITHIN our classrooms need to change so that our activities meet everyone. But which way ultimately makes everyone feel ‘academcially’ okay?
    This is a challenge that educators are still grappling with and I am not sure we have reached a solution yet…or a solution that works not only in theory.

  2. I am not sure of the answer. I do know that our son who has learning challenges AND attends an extremely academic school is thriving. I often wonder why as the odds would seem stacked against this being the best option. Small student numbers are a major bonus. The way any extra assistance is given is handled well with no fanfare to differentiate. At 8years he understands we have strengths and weaknesses and ultimately it will work itself out. Most important is that he feels good about himself. Not different. Great post. Sorry for the long comment.

    • TeacherMum says:

      I love all comments – long and short – so thanks for yours Urban Mum.
      I agree that children do thrive in small settings and it is wonderful that your son is receiving the academic input he needs. He is obviously in the right kind of environment because he feels good about himself. I sincerely hope that it stays this way.

  3. Gary Hewgley says:

    You can also use strengths to attack weaknesses. This approach works really well as you can get a student to work on a weak area, yet still actually enjoy it because you are using an area of relative strength to attack it. However, the most important thing about strengths – it gives you sense of pride, and positive attitude, that can make you continue and do even better things.

    • TeacherMum says:

      Of course!!! I love the way you word it Gary – “Use your strengths to attack your weaknesses.” Will definitely use that when completing my next chart! Ta.

      • Gary Hewgley says:

        An example would be: love to play soccer – write about soccer. Visual learner – watch a documentary/make a documentary. Loves to hike – books/writing about outdoors/hiking/adventure. It really does work.

        • TeacherMum says:

          Nice idea Gary – although I have found it does not always work. When it does work straight out like that, it is great. But:
          We also need to be aware of the child’s motivational forces. (See my post on it here: http://www.teachermum.com/2011/07/motivating-forces-part-2/)
          I have taught, for example, a child who was obsessed with surfing and was out on the waves every day. Writing about surfing, and completing projects, blogs, visuals etc about surfing didn’t do it for him – surfing was his freedom and writing about it annoyed him because now it brought his difficulties into his freedom. I did get him to write weather reports on surfing etc and he got to go surfing with older students… but completing projects about it was out.
          Also – if hiking is your interest, you can’t always write about it if the curriculm dictates other styles of writing.

          For some kids, the writing aspect still remains hard and its tricky to get the right balance.

          Keep the feedback coming!

  4. amy says:

    What a great post…I wonder about that too…

    I know that as an adult I list my weaknesses over and over and over and over again in my head as opposed to focusing humbly on strengths. I wonder if that is a result of being raised in a graded school system. I did well in school, but do feel like the “grading” is difficult on children whether they do well or poorly.

    My children are just starting out in school, so I am concerned with bolstering their sense of strength without bolstering their pride and working on their weaknesses without breaking their spirit…such a lifetime struggle…

    • TeacherMum says:

      Absolutely – but I think your awareness possibly eliminates most of the struggle. I think I am like you – I focus too strongly on my weaknesses that sometime they consume the strengths… did I fail to make the connection between myself and children with learning difficulties?
      Perhpaps it is time to complete my own chart asap.

  5. Chloe says:

    Gary hit the nail right on the head. 🙂 Love this post.

    I’m your newest follower from the hop.

  6. Cathy Turner says:

    When a child is having difficulty in an area of learning, the best thing to do is to help them solve it. A classroom full of students and a lesson in progress may be the place if the solution is straight forward, quick and easy. But some problems need time and lots of it, possibly retracing lost steps to fill-in-the-gaps so the student now does understand, and can move back into the flow with everyone else. I had this experience as an 8 year old, still not reading and an atrocious speller. Into a special class for 6 months (with the trouble makers of my year). Out I came, academically jumping 3/4 of the population in my year over the following 2 years. The ‘success’ came from the people who taught me, talked to me, counted me as someone of interest – not a program necessarily. I still remember those 6 months with fond warm feelings – NOT the stress and trauma the preceding school years had had.
    I think it’s fine to separate children into a special class – but the atmosphere, attitude and personality of the teacher is more crucial to those kids succeeding and moving on or not, than the material they are taught.
    thisweekwiththekids.blogspot.com

    • TeacherMum says:

      I agree the atmosphere, attitude and personality of the teacher is crucial when it comes to succes. My concern is for students who have learning disabilites and are always placed in a special class, no matter how hard they work. No matter how positive the special class teacher is, the child will ultimately get his message from the broader school environment.
      Thanks for your comments Cathy – keep them coming.

  7. Mary Bearden says:

    I stopped by from the weekend blog hop and I am a new follower of your blog thru GFC. I did not see Facebook or Twitter buttons so if I missed them, let me know and I can come back. I agree with the messages. I thought a really bad one was given a few years back when Amy Winehouse won several awards for her song, Rehab. So, they awarded her for being a dopehead. What kind of message is that, especially now that she probably OD’d last week? I shake my head sometimes because if I am confused, then the kids must be even more so. I would love a follow back thru GFC when you get a chance. Thanks so much and have a wonderful weekend.

    Mary@http://www.mmbearcupoftea.com

  8. Lindsay says:

    that’s such an interesting point…and i agree with the comment about amy winehouse. definitely might have contributed to her unfortunate death because the weong ideas were being encouraged. i found you from thankful for friends thursday and i’m now following. i would really appreciate it if you could check out my block and maybe follow back! thanks 🙂

    lindsay @ http://lindsayelizabethm.blogspot.com

  9. Kids are more absorbent than we know. We must really be careful when expressing our thoughts when they can hear.

    Thanks for joining the Planet Weidknecht Weekend Hop. I hope you gain new followers and friends through the hop. Come on back next weekend and link up again if you can.

  10. I love this post – I have heard that a person can have 100 compliments and 1 negative and they will grab onto the negative – it’s human nature.. We need to see and acknowledge the positive and I think that can be hard at times – An example would be – my kid got an “A” in biology -yea -but I saw that she got a C – on her final exam… I asked what happened on the final – I was a little annoyed that she did not study – I forgot to acknowledge that she in fact got an A in the course – I know I need to stop and think and praise more often…

  11. Vickie says:

    What a great post. I am surprised that the parents were shocked to find out their kids strengths out weighted their weaknesses. Sometimes we truly under estimate our children’s learning abilities.

    Thank you for stopping by and participating in the Get Wired Blog Hop. I am following you.

    Vickie
    http://victoriasvoice44.blogspot.com

  12. Jennifer says:

    I love that you wrote this post. As a former special ed teacher I was always fighting for my kids to have them in the regular class AND have time with me in small group. I saw kids step up in their regular ed class and succeed to the same level as their peers. I’m not sure they would have been so successful only in the special ed room or only in their classroom. It really is a double edged sword in education. Once kids get a label often expectations are lowered for them but if they are not labeled they can often slip farther back.

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