A few months ago, a friend here in town asked for some help with her daughter. Her daughter, then at the end of 3td grade, has severe ADHD, accompanied by some pretty intense emotional needs that make it difficult for her to be successful in school. I agreed to do a half hour of tutoring each Saturday until the summer, when schedules didn’t align.
The student is in fourth grade now, and our first tutoring session of the year pretty much followed the same pattern as all the ones in the spring. She was working on writing numbers in different forms–in expanded form, in words, in standard form. As soon as I picked up the homework she had brought, she immediately said “I can’t do that,” “I don’t know what to do,” and so on. She literally didn’t let me speak–she was “done” emotionally. It was a long half hour!
This week was totally different.
I brought out two worksheets I had printed, one with rewriting numbers as words and one with rewriting in standard form. I also gave her a list of vocabulary words I had typed up, basically the numbers 1-20 and then 10s beyond that, for her to use to check the spelling, since she continues to struggle with that. Although she made a face, she then picked up a pencil and started on one of the practice sheets. When I asked if she wanted to do one together to start, she said yes and followed up with “we aren’t allowed to say we don’t get it–we have to say ‘I don’t get it yet.'”
Ah. The power of “yet.” By no means am I am the first person to discover this as a teacher, although I am not sure if I have ever experienced it quite so directly when working with a student of mine. What a powerful transformation! Instead of spending the half hour arguing with me, the student asked for help (“Can we do one together and I’ll do the rest?”), used resources to self-check and generate answers, and celebrated her own successes (“I know how to do these without the place value chart”). It was a complete transformation.