What Do You Need Right Now?
School is challenging for kids. Every day they are immersed in new information, practicing new skills, and constantly being evaluated during the process. That can feel overwhelming to a lot of kids.
Sometimes when people get overwhelmed, they shut down. It isn't that they don't want to move forward, but they don't know how to do it. This is true for both kids and adults.
As a teacher, you can offer your struggling students a lifeline in the moments when they feel stuck. It starts, with a question. "What do you need right now?"
Just asking this question will break a student's thought patterns. That is because students aren't often asked what they need. In fact, adults aren't often asked what they need either. We get on autopilot, going through our day without stopping to think about what we need to be successful in our tasks.
Asking, "What do you need right now?" also shifts kids' attention away from their frustration. This allows their bodies to relax. All of the chemicals that had been swirling around their brains during an emotional response will subside. Instead of feeling frustrated, they will be able to think again.
At first, kids might not know what they need. This can be difficult even for adults. So, they might need some suggestions. Some kids might need a break. They can sit quietly at their desk, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, or do another quiet activity while they reset. The break should be long enough that the student has time to cool down, but not so long that the student misses the frustrating activity. It is vitally important that the student return to the activity and feel some success before moving on to something new. This will let the student know that he is capable of working through frustration to success.
Once a student has had a break (if she needs one), it is time to ask again, "What do you need right now?" or "What do you need to accomplish this task?" Again, the student might not know what she needs, so you should have some suggestions ready.
If it is a math assignment you might suggest:
- math fact chart
- an example done by the teacher
- a white board
- a better eraser
- definitions of new words
- the instructions read aloud
If it is a reading or writing assignment you might suggest:
- a different version of the reading passage (if you have one)
- an example sentence
- a graphic organizer
- a partner
- a new place to sit
- headphones to block noise
- a dictionary
- a different book
You will have a better idea of suggestions you can make once you have an actual assignment in your hands.
The beauty of asking the question, "What do you need right now?" is that it turns the teacher from an adversary asking, "Why aren't you working?!" to an ally. Your student will learn that she can trust you. This trust is vital to a student's openness to learning.
This process may feel exhausting and time-consuming at first, but you are doing the hard work of changing the climate of your classroom. Over time, you will not need to ask your students what they need. They will come to you. Maybe they will need to use a fancy pen to write a particular story, maybe they will need to sit under their desks while reading, maybe they will need to grab some place value cubes when working on a math assignment.
Students who make these choices are taking control of their own learning. They are feeling powerful and capable. These are students who will be successful.
What do you do to make your students feel powerful? Share your thoughts in the comments!