My BookChat With @KimBearden

She could have said, “No.” She could have been too busy to even respond, and I would have understood, but I asked Kim Bearden to join my weekly bookchat anyway. I reached out to this amazing woman, educator, author, mother, wife, Believer, and leader because I had learned so much from her! I had met her in person in December 2015 at The Ron Clark Academy, a school she cofounded with Ron Clark, and is still teaching (her 34th year!) Language Arts and leading as Executive Directer. I had even been blessed to sit in one of her keynotes that year during my former district’s convocation. But to sit down with her to pick her brain and talk about her three books, well that was just a dream… until she answered, “Yes!” For weeks I looked forward to this time with Mrs. Bearden, and the night before our book chat, I couldn’t even sleep!!

Kim took a selfie with me right before I was “Slide Certified” at RCA in 2015! I talk about Crash Course in an ealier post called the Cost of Encouragement.

Purpose Infused Stories

Kim Bearden shares how each book written had a unique purpose.

Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me is her first book, but actually the catalyst for her to write her latest release, Fight Song. Crash Course became a book about the woman and educator she became after leaning into some extremely difficult life events. She may be in the Teacher Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t without facing some brutal, personal hardships. Her honesty about what life and her students had taught her over the years is extremely easy to read as she tells it through engaging stories.

Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done is so important to me, I packed it in my suitcase when we moved to Alaska from Dallas in 2019! In this book, Kim Bearden shares six princples that have helped her personally and professionally to have successful, open communication, even when she is “all up in her feelings.” She wrote it to help others understand that we can find some common ground with anybody if we are willing to learn how to listen, first. This book is not just for educators, either! It is a book I have written many notes in and refer back to, often.

I have read all of her books and they have meant so much to me!

Fight Song: Six Steps to Passion, Power, Peace, & Purpose

Her first two books are important reads, but her latest book, Fight Song, has left me with the deepest impact. Like her previous two books, Mrs. Bearden weaves personal stories throughout, and they come from a place of complete vulnerability. I even admit that I had to put the book down after the first couple of chapters as many emotions from my own life came up. She begins her story from a place of complete brokeness, a brokeness that is no stranger to any of us, and her stories continue to build us up through the hope and life that comes when she chose to fight back. A choice we all must make if we want to know joy.

Like real life, we will be knocked to the ground more than once. Kim Bearden talks about this and how facing each challenge has given her a new perspective and hope. In spite of these challenges, she has actually learned how to appreciate life more deeply! She describes how her relationships, both personally and professionally, run even more true because she continually chooses to see purpose in each, sometimes crazy, life event. This message is for all of us!

In our conversation, she talks about releasing her book during this pandemic. While it wasn’t planned, it might have the been the best, worst time for it to come out. The truths revealed are even more relevant now as we face uncertainty. I was able to attend one of her Zoom Book Study calls this past summer, so I know it wasn’t just me who felt extremely touched and grateful for her words in Fight Song as there were hundreds gathered to reflect!

Forgiveness is a Central Theme

In all of her books, Kim Bearden addresses forgiveness. She even shares that forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. If you have read any of my blog posts this summer, you know how important forgiveness is to me, but honestly, dealing with forgivness is something we all must face in life. Because I am a person of faith, like Mrs. Bearden, I grew up with the knowledge that forgiveness was a MUST. In her books, she explains why it’s a gift.

After our conversation, I smiled for hours. I couldn’t help it! Kim Bearden is a source of brilliant light! When you read her stories, you know it came with a cost. If you look at her and judge, you might think she’s beautiful, she has fame, she’s got talent, heck, she’s got it all! But if you read her stories, you’ll find she is a woman who has been deeply hurt and abandoned by a life partner. She is a mother who has fought for each of her four children when faced with dire circumstances. She is a daughter who knows both intense love and grief. She is a woman fighting not to compare herself to others. She is a wife who found love again, after parting with the dreams she had in her youth. She has faced life with honest humility and she remains faithful, but she has fought with her entire being to remain faithful. That’s why I love learning from her. It’s the kind of legacy I want, too.

Here’s to each of our Fight Songs! I hope you will give our bookchat a listen and be encouraged!

Also, follow Kim on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @KimBearden

RCA has many PD opportunities starting soon! Check out what is coming up this October!

Benefit of Schooling At Home: Grading Doesn’t Kill the Learning Process

Today Was a Good Day

Today was a good home schooling day. I sat at our large dining room table and worked with my kindergartner, second grader, fourth grader, and sixth grader. We finished schooling in two hours. But one thing really stood out to me as we talked through frustrations, especially regarding math. As I checked their independent work, I reminded my two oldest, “It’s okay if you get it wrong. It’s not like I’m going to ground you for it. It’s sometimes confusing for me, too. That’s why I like to check my answers in the back to see if I’m on the right track.”

When I check my kids’ work, I don’t mark it all up. I circle items that they need to go back over and try again. I don’t assign letter grades. Then they are commended for going back and finding their mistakes and trying again. This happens in reading as well as math. The best thing about my kids learning at home is that we aren’t focused on getting the “right grades.” The focus on all that we do is “Do you undestand? Why are you frustrated? How can I help? How can we move forward?”

Dealing with Frustration is FRUSTRATING!

We do get frustrated a lot, by the way. Home schooling is not perfect for any of us. I get easily frurstrated with them and they with me. They make each other mad super fast, too. The social emotional component is a minute by minute thing as we work through it all. There are days when I think they are the most disrespectful students I’ve ever had and for them, they think I’m the worst teacher they’ve ever had! hahaha! THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

Grading Doesn’t Rule Our Learning

BUT. One positive thing that I’m truly grateful for is getting away from the wrong answer conditioning. My two oldest were in public school long enough to know that wrong answers bring down your grades. Wrong answers keep you back in one form or another. I love being able to encourage them through frustrating learning when things don’t come easily. In real life, that’s how it is, we have to constantly improve our skills because what really comes easily? Raising kids has not been easy, learning on the job is not always natural and inside of my talents, and marriage, well that has definitely been a challenge, too. So yeah, the best things in life, we often get wrong before we get right. Thank goodness my husband and kids aren’t grading me as a wife and parent! I’d be happy with a C but probably don’t deserve an average rating!

This is just a reflection on a good day of teaching my kids at home. I hope I will read it again and remember that getting the right answer isn’t the most important part of learning and be grateful I can pass this on to my children.

A card I received from my friend when my husband was healing from heart surgery. The most important learning in life comes with frustration and new learning.

3 Ways To Help Kids Get Back to Zero with @JoyWorkEdu

Last month, my beautiful friend and colleague, Dr. Joy, published her first children’s book called Back To Zero. It was a story she originally wrote for her own son and its purpose is to help students learn how to understand and process big emotions that can easily instigate meltdowns.  You can listen to our interview about this sweet book here:

Click on this picture to watch our BookChat!

But today, I received my own copy of Back to Zero in the mail! I joyously read it as it is a very quick read told in poetic form. In the short time it took me to read, I was very moved.  This book needs to be in all of our home and classroom libraries. Not only can students learn how to name and regulate their emotions better, it gently guides us in ways we can help them through this process, as it offers follow-up discussion questions and activities.

My Back To Zero Selfie!

3 Ways We Can Help Prevent Student Meltdowns

  1. Read this book with our kids to initiate conversation with constructive vocabulary to help students name their emotions with common language that helps us teachers know exactly what they are communicating. 
  2. Provide a space where students can go when they begin to feel their control slip. We need to model how this space is used and what it communicates to the classroom community. Add activities there that students can manipulate easily like playdough or clay or a waterbottle with beads that help them focus on something other than their anger as they champion themselves back to a calmer state. 
  3. For students who need more help in this area, with parents, form a plan of action that might include another trusted adult on campus, or the school counselor, when emotions are at a level of 7 or higher and the child knows they need help to come back down to zero, or a place of calm. The number 7 might be too high for those students, so work out the number that helps your students, individually. 

Giving Joy in the Form of Hope

The more control a young person feels, the less often they will be at a 10, or full melt-down mode. For transparency’s sake, while I implemented these strategies in my fifth grade and first grade classrooms, when students left to use the safe space, I had to teach myself not to react or exude some control.  Sometimes letting go of control is hard for us in our classrooms. But oftentimes, it’s that control and compliance that sets our students off needlessly.  We have so much to learn and do better in schools.  This is a great way to start, and help all of our students process “big emotions,” as Dr. Joy says, in a way that empowers them instead of making them feel like they don’t belong.  

Dr. Joy, author of Back To Zero

If you are interested in this awesome book, you can purchase it at bit.ly/BacktoZero and please follow Dr. Joy on Twitter at @JoyWorkEdu and joyworkedu.com

About Melody McAllister

Melody McAllister is a wife, mother of five, educator, and author. She and her family relocated to Alaska from the Dallas area in 2019.  McAllister is 2017 Garland NAACP Educator of the Year and author of the I’m Sorry Story, a children’s book about taking responsibility for mistakes and making sincere apologies.  She is also the Logistics Manager for EduMatch Publishing.  McAllister has spoken at ISTE and ASTE about equity issues in education, and writes about her journey in her blog, HeGaveMeAMelody.com.

Laura Gilchrist & ParentCamp: Connecting Families, Schools, & Communities

Check out our LIVE session! (I didn’t see my spelling error until after our LIVE session;)

This past week, I was able to go LIVE on my social media platforms and talk with an educator hero of mine, Laura Gilchrist. Laura and I became friends from Twitter about three years ago and it was during a Twitter exchange we found out we were from the same city and state and my cousin graduated with her! Since then, we’ve connected on Facebook and have other friends in common. And while that’s amazing and makes me think we live in a small world, the coolest thing about my friend is her advocacy.  After spending more than 20 years in the classroom, she is now a full time educator consultant and works with an organization called ParentCamp, where she helps connect families, schools, and communities. 

So much fun going LIVE with Laura! Hope we can do it again, soon!

Connected Communities

Connecting these three entities has always been important to me as a public school educator and as a parent advocate. ParentCamps are in 38 of our states and is free to anyone who wants to learn more about being connected.  Since the pandemic has shut down our public schools, they have gone virtual!  Their work was not canceled! They are still working hard to connect because, as Laura put it, “Without connection, there is no collaboration.” We need each other. Our students need for their families, schools, and communities to be connected so we can educate “whole” children and they see themselves living out the lives they choose to live while feeling empowered to share their voices and abilties with the world.

Without connection, there is no collaboration.

Laura Gilchrist, Education Consultant & Parent/Family Advocate

When Laura talks about ParentCamp, you can feel her excitement and passion.  When she talks about tearing down the old way of parent engagement, where we managed parents, and explains how a new system connects us and transforms our community, I couldn’t help but get excited!! She talks about how communities, schools, and parents problem solve TOGETHER to face the needs and challenges that are unique to their area, and I think to myself, “This is what it’s supposed to be about.”  

Transformation Awaits

Most of us love and support public schooling, even though we also know that it needs an overhaul to really grow ALL of our students. So if you find yourself invested because you are a parent, educator, community member, or all three, ParentCamp has found a way to help us tackle the challenges we face, together.  I don’t mean for this to sound like a fairy tale because the work in front of us for equity, restorative practices, and remote learning/teaching are huge. It will take the whole village, and that’s what the work is all about.  No one group should be shouldering the burden that affects each of us.  Only together, can we find a way to transform a community.  

Are you as excited as me? Sign up at parentcamp.org and let’s get going! They are offering virtual webinars over the next few weeks and my hope is that you will feel empowered to help bring about the change your community needs. 

No One is Above an Apology

And I’m not referring to the Hollywood half-apologies that strongly rely on the word “if.” A genuine apology takes ownership of the burden we placed on another that they should’ve never had to bear. A genuine apology can soften the ground for real healing in a hurting heart. The truth and ownership of wrong doing can help a mind stop struggling or cycling on the “What did I do wrong?” thoughts that haunt us.

And because we are all human, we will all make mistakes. Because we have strong emotions, we will say things out of spite and arrogance. Our words will become gasoline on a burning building.

When we recognize the pain we’ve caused, we can choose to ignore our part, or we can choose to be humble. We can choose to blame others for how they made us feel or we can choose to take full responsibility for our actions. We often try to teach our children and students this lesson, but all of us have seen that many adults still struggle in this very process. It’s not an issue tied to age. It’s an issue tied to the conditions of our hearts and spirits.

Could you imagine the wave of healing that would begin in our communities if we liked, shared, or retweeted the humble words of a leader who took responsibility for unchecked power? No one is above a sincere apology. No one is above taking the blame for their part. No one is too good to start the peace process, and we can only imagine what it be like if our leaders all admitted that they have been wrong and then explained a path that would move us all forward out of the ashes of our burning cities.

You see, with true humility, action will follow. Words run hollow when behavior doesn’t change. Spirits are damaged deeply when apologies become more lies.

Honesty and deep reflection for our own actions is an important place to start. Courage to change will follow.

S’more Math & Science, Please!

For many the school year is officially ending. Students and their families are breathing sighs of relief from the pressure felt during this teaching and learning crisis caused by the pandemic. But many teachers’ kids all over the country are not screaming with joy because they know they are still going to learn this summer! In fact, many parents who aren’t professional educators have decided that this summer is going to be spent exploring different areas of learning because of the way this pandemic shut down regular schooling.

Making S’Mores turned into a math & science talk with my kiddos!

Do parents need to invest in expensive and boring curriculum to maintain healthy learning this summer? PLEASE, for the love of learning, DO NOT! For the love of children, do not! Then what is a parent to do? My answer, turn everyday life into learning sessions. Don’t worry about hitting every academic area daily, but inviting meaningful conversations and thinking through ideas you come across are absolutely going to help your child’s brain stay engaged and learning. Reading and playing can be your focus together this summer break. Umm…and eating, too. Kids love to eat (and many parents also LOVE to eat), so reading, playing, and eating, those are the areas to focus on this summer!

My son was able to describe the growth of marshmallow size increase because the oven heat sped up the atoms inside!

Today we made S’Mores in my house. We counted by twos, divided wholes, and problem solved in a natural way. We talked about states of matter. We even used our observations to explore the physical and chemical changes taking place. Most importantly, we had some fun, and then ate a yummy snack together. No one was fighting. There was some peace in our house, and as a mother of five, this is super hard to come by these days. This “lesson” took about 20 minutes altogether, so none of us are stressed.

So pack the learning and fun together in the ordinary things. It might not be fancy, your kids might be like mine and be wearing the same clothes for days, but the likelihood they will remember these learning moments is very high. The stories of students and families checking out of crisis learning, or not even having the opportunity are real and dismal. While we can’t change this overnight, we can make the moments we have with our family count. The connections we make now will have an impact on everything they learn from here.

For a few minutes today, we had some fun and no one was fighting!

The present and future are unpredictable in these unprecedented times. But one thing we can bet on is that our children and families are going to need more social emotional support from this day forward! So, yummy math and science lessons are definitely needed wherever they can be found. I would love to hear how you and your family are finding moments of social emotional support, and if you need more resources, please reach out to me and I will help you find a starting place.

In the meantime, stay well and stay safe. And have a delicious snack!

Also, you can follow @EveryoneCanMath on Twitter for fun math learning moments!

You deserve something yummy today for working so hard;)

Sincerest Apologies

Right before the pandemic, the I’m Sorry Story was published. The greatest part of its release has been sharing it with young people all over the country, and even in Germany! Kids have a lot to say after we read this story together. They may be young in years, but they have already felt the pain of insincere apologies. Their youth and honesty are refreshing to hear. Their voices SHOULD be heard more often and hopefully, we’ll have many more #ImSorryStory read-alouds!

One important takeaway of this story is addressing the “It’s ok” response after an apology. When asked if that response is a good one to use, there is quite a bit of thought and discussion. For many, they’ve never thought about how often they’ve said, “it’s okay” but one young man spoke up today and said, “If we always say ‘it’s okay’ then people will still do wrong stuff all the time because they know we will say ‘it’s okay.’” He wasn’t wrong. This happens all the time in real life. Do the words “it’s okay” mean automatic forgiveness? Is automatic forgiveness sincere forgiveness? Young people sense the truth when they are involved.

Another question that brings up more thoughtful discussion is “Do you have to forgive?” For some, it’s a matter of faith to always choose forgiveness. While that is understandable, just because the words “I forgive you” are spoken, it doesn’t mean the heart work has truly been processed to genuine forgiveness. Young people talk about things that can’t be forgiven. They talk about how moms shouldn’t forgive some things. There is even discussion that we can forgive others, but we don’t have to keep people in our lives who perpetually hurt us and expect us to get over it. This is deep and something we all have to think about.

Today a very important question was brought to our attention when reading with Mr. Dene Gainey’s class. This question was offered by one of his fifth graders. His student asked “Does it help to use the word IF in your apology?” The discussion went on to acknowledge how that tiny word separates responsibility from the person who caused hurt to the person who was hurt. That tiny word is actually a huge reason why I wrote this story. This tiny word is a reason to teach social emotional lessons because we’ve seen how this tiny, insincere word ruins an opportunity to show hurt people that a person is truly sorry. Mr. Gainey offered this question, “What if you asked the person, ‘Did I hurt you?’” That question right there takes the IF off the table and guides us to the sincerest of apologies.

The I’m Sorry Story has activities and follow up questions that a person of any age can reflect and learn from. If you would like me to do a virtual read-aloud with your class, please contact me and we will set it up. For all of the teachers and students who have let me tell my story and share in discussion, I want to say thank you from the depths of my heart! It has been the greatest joy of having the #ImSorryStory published!

Mother

As Mother’s Day 2020 approaches, comes, and leaves there are so many emotions to process. Through this pandemic, I’ve analyzed my failings in motherhood, but one thing brings me back from the pits and that is knowing my kids are safe and sound.  God doesn’t give us the future, just day by day, and since there is no way to know the future, it’s the deepest blessing to have all of my children here with me.  Well, all but one.  My Angel Baby is in Heaven with other loved ones, and while I think more of my loss today, I also reflect that without this precious and short life, I would not be enjoying the blessing of my youngest son’s life.  God doesn’t give us the future, there was no way to know what would come from the pain of loss, but day by day, the deepest blessings find their way to us. 

There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for the first time during this holiday. There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for years, and the loss is just as fresh as it ever was.  Maybe “Happy Mother’s Day” isn’t the greeting that fits, but the honor of your role as mother is still worthy of deep celebration.  

There are Mothers who’ve lost their only babies before they ever took their first breaths outside of their wombs. Mother’s Day may not feel like the event you are invited to join, but the honor of your role as Mother is still worthy of deep celebration. 

There are Mothers caring for children whom they did not biologically give life to, Mothers who could not care for their children and made a way for them to be raised by others… and Mothers who have a combo of biological, step, halves- adopted- and choose to love like their own without labels.  The honor of your role as mother is worthy of deep celebration.  

For the future Mothers, the ones who’ve been trying for so long it hurts, and for the ones who wanted to be Mother but that dream (for whatever reason) was never realized…for the Aunties whose love has shaped the lives of so many children, your role as Mother is so worthy of deep celebration! 

For the Mothers who are doing this job without a life partner, feeling lonely and needing a break, needing some encouragement, hoping someone sees them, we see you! We love you! We are awed by you and virtually draw you into a safe embrace.  

This holiday can be full of joy and full of loss at the same time. Some of us have waited so long to be invited to this one that not having an invitation, or feeling like our invitation has been revoked, is devastating. While I don’t have the answers or the ability to mend broken hearts, I do have words. When you can’t hold your baby, hold to your memories. You are deeply loved by a Creator who understands your pain.  And while it doesn’t change your reality, my prayer today is that you experience the deepest level of love from God that you’ve been waiting for and didn’t know was possible. 

And if you feel like me, and struggle with all sorts of emotions like feeling unworthy of the precious lives placed in your care because of all your mistakes, I pray for us, that we allow God to help us forgive ourselves.  Each day is a new day to start fresh. The honor of being Mother is not to be taken lightly nor hinges on the amount of time you’ve spent in the role. For the first-time Mommies, still in the midst of days of no sleep, it’s okay if all you do is sleep on your day!  Giving life, pouring into life, sharing life, and more often than not, putting life ahead of your own happiness are all aspects of what we do daily, though our roles can look so different, as diverse as we are as humans.  Wherever you find yourself today, your role of mother is deeply honored.

It’s Ok To Have A Bad Day

A couple of days ago, I had a really bad day. That’s not entirely true. Since we’ve been practicing social distancing, I’ve had several bad days. But two days ago it felt worse. The day began okay but when my husband came home from the grocery store, worry set in. All my worries and the reality that my kids might have to face came crashing down on me. Then the physical symptoms began: fever, chills, and fatigue. I ended up going to bed with a headache.

Before I went to bed, one of my friends tweeted me asking me how I was doing. It’s a typical thing we do in our #PLN but I decided to be honest and admitted that I was having a bad day and there wasn’t anything I could do to get out of it. In response, came messages of support. It was definitely needed and appreciated.

Fortunately, when I woke up the next day, I felt better. Wanting to share my experience, I posted an honest summary of my bad day because posting those truly honest emotions of feeling anxious and sick are not things I usually post about. But maybe someone else needed to know it’s okay to have a bad day? The response from my community was of overwhelming support and love. Friends messaged me on my post, texted, and sent direct messages asking me how I was doing. It truly made me feel loved, encouraged, and strengthened. If you are reading this and you are part of my community, thank you.

However, I don’t normally post about those kinds of feelings. Why? Because I am afraid that I’ll appear weak, that my faith in God is lacking, and fear that others would assume wrong things about me. And while I did receive some well-intentioned messages along those lines, I chose not to feed that kind of spirit.

This past week we celebrated Easter. When you read about Jesus and the hours leading up to His arrest and eventual Crucifixion (Mark 14 or Luke 22), He prayed with His friends in a garden. His friends, unfortunately, did not stay awake and pray with Him as He hoped they would. His prayers were of desperation that God would take this cup from Him if there was any other way. He was emotional, to the point of sweating blood, about what He knew He was going to face, and understandably so. I mention this because being scared and feeling anxious is part of being human, as we see in our Savior. It doesn’t mean our faith is lacking. It doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for all we have. It means we need support, and like my friend Mandy Froehlich says, it’s our responsibility to get the support we need. Sometimes just sharing what we are feeling helps us, but other times, we need to see a mental health expert. Because we are human.

Two days ago, I had a bad day, and I know I’m not alone. This pandemic is proving to be a roller coaster of emotions for many of us. It’s wonderful to find the good things that come with social distancing, but it’s also okay if you need extra support. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out. It’s a sign of strength.

Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class. 

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin. 

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too. 

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.  

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math… 

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.  

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood. 

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students. 

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negatiave self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.  

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.  

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.  

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar! 

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand. 

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!! 

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With It, Mathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book called Math Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruption by Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!  

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle!