Apr 29, 2014

Horses and People

4/29/2014 — cori

I just love days when a light bulb goes off and I get an epiphany.  They don't come all that often, so it tickles me on days when I can actually remember them and even relate it in a way that makes sense to another human being. Normally, my epiphanies only make sense to me - kinda like a dream.  It makes perfect sense until you start telling someone else about it and then you sound a little crazy.

I was in the middle of teaching a student today.  He is such a sweet, young Hispanic man.  He's a bull-rider and farmer.  He speaks, reads and understands English well, he just can't write it - unless he's copying something already written for him.  This baffled me.  There was no 'rule-book' for figuring out his situation.  I was asked to help him write better.  Where do you start?

I came to the understanding that he knew the name of the letters in the alphabet, just not the sounds they made.  He doesn't have all the tools he needs for writing since writing is made up of the sounds of letters.  The words he reads, he's memorized by seeing so often.  Many immigrants learn to read in order to survive, so that didn't surprise me.  I'm just surprised by how many words he's memorized.

As I was praying for wisdom in how to help this young man, I was reminded about when I began teaching Gavin math.   He was 5.  I had a curriculum with the exact words to say for each lesson.  How hard can it be to teach Kindergarten math, right?!  The problem was that the curriculum didn't take into consideration Gavin's brain.  He would interrupt my teaching monologue with brazen questions or observations saying, "you can also do it this way" or "why, mom, why?".  It was maddening.  I ended up ditching the daily teaching monologue and just asking Gavin questions.  Often times, I would be the one who would learn something new.  The kid just sees math on a completely different plane.  He literally sees the patterns math makes all around him and does an excellent job explaining the hows and whys of it.  My brain does not.  I needed  the monologue - not him.

Then it dawned on me.  Raising children and teaching people (be it kids or adults) is very much like riding a horse.  When you ride a horse (you've never ridden before), you can't just get on it and start making it do what you want or teach it new things.  You have to learn about the horse first, get to know the horse and his nuances. Once you take the time to learn the horse, he can trust you more and you can have a better ride.  Only then can you teach the horse what it is you want to teach it.

Sounds alot like my situation with Gavin.  It didn't take but a few weeks for me to realize that my little teacher's manual was of no use.  He was having none of my daily teacher reading from the book.  He wanted to do math in a completely different way.  He had  to do math in the way that made perfect sense to him.  I backed off and let him lead.  Math became way more fun.  I loved his excitement about it.  When I made him do it my way, neither of us were excited.  But once I learned to understand his style, we both grew in math by leaps and bounds.

The same holds true for adult students.  The most wonderful thing about adult students is that they want to learn.  They choose to take time out of their busy, work-filled day to come and learn English so they can better their lives in their new country.  My student and I finally figured out how to work on exactly what he needs, but it took me listening to him first.  I had to learn about him first before I could do anything to help him.  Now he trusts me to help him.  I like that.

Like I said, I just love epiphany days!

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