Things got rowdy at my son's sixth birthday party. Young boys, balloon swords, and way too much sugar! But it wasn't until the birthday cake came out that I resorted to kung fu:
Happy birthday, Jake!
Aigamaeate by the numbers
1 week ago
Learning to ski last winter, I took a lesson from an accomplished skier and certified instructor. He initially amazed me, as his instructions were very similar to the ones I use with my students. He spoke of the importance of relaxation, going with the contours of the slopes, and trusting my body to feel weight, balance, and flexibility. His images were creative and useful. I was inspired and immediately put to use what he was telling me. But after a point, I got stuck. The instructor came over, reeled off the terrific aphorisms, and I again tried to put them to use. But there was no use. Something was missing.Real teaching means more than passing on good information -- take it or leave it. It also involves the contact that Heckler complains was missing from his skiing lesson, including observation and trouble-shooting, and establishing and maintaining a positive learning environment.
I realized that he wasn't making contact with me. He wasn't seeing me and what I needed to learn in order to move ahead. His wonderful information lacked a connecting bridge to the more essential part of me. ... Perhaps if he had tuned in, he might have brought forth the suffestion to turn my hip a little this way, or lean slightly that way, or even work with the energy of my emerging frustration.
[T]here was one boy for whom Kumon did not seem to be working its magic. Ali was the boy's name, and he seemed to be in such serious trouble that Kumon seemed beside the point. When he did sums they were all over the place. Answers were totally wrong, and figures written the wrong way round. He could hold a pencil and write, but what he wrote was crazy. We seriously doubted if there was anything we could do, and we were ready to give up right there. He would make repeated mistakes, both of calculation and in the way he wrote numbers, and we even started to believe that he might be "dyslexic", or even brain damaged. Also, Ali seemed to be an extremely arrogant little boy. He had a way of lowering his eyelids and raising his head that made him look as if he thought the world to be populated entirely by fools.So there you have it, a real-life an example of inspired, outside-the-box teaching. You can read more in Brian's post.
At which point I got very, very lucky. I said, let me have a try with him. I decided to do some teaching.
I separated the task he faced into a succession of tiny steps and got him to do each step right before proceeding to the next. You start by writing your name there. No, there. What's your name? Ali. Good. Can you spell that? Good. Please write Ali there. Good. Now: what does this say? I point at a two. Two. Good. And what does that say? I point at a one. One. Good. What about that? I point at the plus in between the two and the one. No? That says plus. That means you are adding two to one. What does this say? Don't know? That says equals. That means what does two and one come to. What's it the same as? What is two plus one, two and one, two added to one? So. What's two and one? Don't know? It's three. Do you know how to write three? You do. Good. Please write three there, which is where the answer is supposed to go. Excellent.
And so on. I never made him guess more than once, and I was unfailingly polite. I always said please before asking him to do anything, and I never raised my voice. I never, that is to say, confused Ali being ignorant with Ali being stupid. I did nothing that would be unfamiliar to an averagely capable aerobics instructor working with a arthritic old-age pensioner, but for some reason this sort of thing, when needed by a child, is not always supplied, even in something as widely known as simple arithmetic.
Aside from not knowing the answers, Ali's biggest problem was writing the numbers the correct way around. He would routinely write mirror reflections of them instead. Not all the time, just rather a lot. (This was what had prompted the dyslexia diagnosis.)
When Ali did this - getting, say, the answer right but writing it mirrored - I would say well done, you got the answer right. The answer is five, and that's what you wrote. Well done. However, you wrote the five the wrong way round. Please rub out the five you did, and rewrite it the correct way round. Good.
As I say, you aren't supposed to do this in Kumon. If all the children were to get twenty minutes of solid attention, the way I was attending to Ali, the place would have stopped being the learning factory for everyboy and everygirl that it's supposed to be and would have reverted to being a few tutors helping a few rich kids. But I didn't care.
And the reason that I didn't care was that it worked. After about three sessions along these lines, Ali reached his personal plateau of arithmetical excellence (a few sums wrong but almost all of them right), just like any other Kumon kid.
The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self. -- Whitney YoungAim to improve. Draw inspiration -- not envy -- from the achievements of others.
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