Hate to beat a dead horse…

I recently received an email from a teacher of one of my middle school clients.

It opened, “The binder I ask students to maintain has sections for: (1) Literature Notes, (2) Writing & Grammar Notes, (3) Vocabulary, (4) SSR entries, and (5) Texts – the short stories and myths I’ve passed out.”

I see this often- highly organized teachers who require students to maintain highly organized binder systems like this. While I appreciate the intention behind this, it is overkill and counterproductive for many kids. Let me break this down:

Kids who are naturally organized often love these systems. They’re concrete systems, there is no confusion about what goes where. Everything has an orderly place. It feels good to these students to manage everything so precisely. But to the kids who are not naturally organized, this can be a very different experience.

To illustrate how difficult this can be for right brained students, I’ve copied this email from my student’s mom. Note the word choice as it illustrates the magnitude of the needless suffering of this student.”Hi Seth, My son has been incurring the ire of his English teacher for not having his binder, so I wrote a brief note of explanation. I understand her concerns regarding the things he needs for class , including ongoing projects. I don’t think her needs will conflict with what you are doing but if you could touch base with her that would be greatly appreciated by both me and my son ( who is the brunt of her displeasure). I haven’t heard from any of his other teachers re this.” (note: we revamped his entire system of managing schoolwork and personalized it for his needs)

This sort of stuff drives me crazy since it’s so unnecessary for a kid to suffer like this. If I had a magic wand, teachers like this would take a step back, really notice the incredible human being in front of them, see the opportunity to inspire, deeply contemplate what the student needs in order to fall in LOVE with the content, change their strategy with this aim in mind and start over with the student. By start over, I mean heal the relationship, take stock of the students strengths and build upon them rather than push and push and push for conformity.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about pushing students beyond their comfort zones when it would benefit them, but it’s a very delicate balance. My strategy is to babystep students forward from where they are, not where they “should” be according to “developmental norms” or arbitrary expectations. Push too far and they become discouraged. Push the right amount and they are encouraged. And that my friend, is a difference that matters.

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