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Repeating Third Grade

I was on assignment for my Teaching Professions Academy class. One-hundred-twenty observation hours— although they could be spent helping or observing; I prefer helping even when I'm assigned to work with an age group I have no intention of teaching. Third grade just wasn't my “thing.” I don't think third-grade was even my thing when I was in third-grade. Despite high praise from my instructor concerning my “natural” ability, I didn't always feel it. Perhaps it wasn't my fault, entirely, elementary students seemed curiously impervious to the joys of any works of literature besides The Diaries of a Wimpy Kid, The Bailey School Kids or Harry Potter, especially when they arrived at the math and science class I had been assigned to. In fact, third-graders have little knowledge of classic literature or American history at all. What I loved, for them, was a curious but optimistic enigma to be experienced in the future much like Health class, or driving. I had few comforts: I had a fairly solid grip on early 3rd grade math, I knew what it was like to struggle in mathematics and I had some conceptual knowledge of learning styles.

I tried everything I believed I knew how to do including finger counting and, “touch math”-- the concepts entered George's ear but what happened to my words after that point I can only fantasize about. Lesson after lesson, deployed, reiterated, all words reported M.I.A.

“How do you do math best?” I finally asked, resisting the urge to cringe as I considered the possibility that he may respond “Oh, people just usually give me the answers after a while.”

“Uh, . . .Number lines,” he said staring at the desk, dragging his finger from left to right as if to draw one.

A linear, visual, thinker, I could work with this! After a brief exchange with his teacher asking if she, or his I.E.P, allowed tools such as number lines, we began. He completed the worksheet correctly within ten minutes. In subsequent days and weeks, I shared with his teacher how George seemed to learn best so she could track his progress and adapt assignments according to his way of thinking. I slowly reduced his dependence on the number-line. George soon proved able to understand math well enough to do many subtraction problems using only pen and paper. George made progress! Once I started considering how he learned, instead of how I thought, the difficulties and discomforts eased.

I discovered that the minds of third-graders were puzzles perplexing me. While I still have no intentions of teaching elementary school, I have taken my experience working there as a lesson in how to instruct with the student's learning in mind—regardless of age. I was worried about my own mind when I should have been thinking of the student's. Once I changed my focus from my own learning style to his both of us were able to learn.

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