Teaching Today For Tomorrow
Issue Nine (Winter 1997)
Building a Supportive Classroom
Judith M. Newman
Six year old Danny and I are playing checkers. He's just
recently developed an interest in the game and while he wants to play, he finds it quite
frustrating. Melissa, his four year old sister, doesn't understand what's going on and so
he can't hone his skills with her; his father, Jordan, plays quickly and wins so that's no
fun for him either.
I had barely walked into the house before Danny had
started nudging me to play checkers with him. After a couple of attempted put-offs, I
agree to play. We set up the board.
"Do you want to be black or red?" I ask.
"Black," Danny replies.
"Why do you choose black?" I wonder.
"Black goes first." he answers.
That's interesting, what rules does he know, I wonder,
and where has he learned them. This is the first time we're playing so I'm willing to see
how things proceed; I choose not to ask him what he knows about the game.
With the pieces laid out (he knows to arrange them only
on the black squares) I say, "Let's go."
"Danny reaches to make a move, stops, looks at me
and says, "Don't play your hardest."
I pause for a moment, not quite sure what to say.
"How do you want me to play?" I finally ask him.
"Just play medium," he returns.
"Okay." I've been told clearly Danny wants a
chance at winning . I'm inferring that 'medium' means he's doesn't want me to throw it;
but he also doesn't want me to play at an adult level. So I comply. I make moves that
allow him to take a number of my pieces; I also, however, take some of his. This first
time, Danny wins.
We set up the board again for another game.
"How hard to you want me to play this time?" I
ask. (See, I've learned something here.)
"Still not your hardest," he answers.
As we play, I allow him to take some of my pieces, not
quite so many, but enough so that he wins again.
With each successive game I up my level of competition;
each time Danny lets me know "how hard" he wants me to play. On that occasion we
played six games; he won them all.
About a week later I visited the family again. Once more
Danny wanted to play checkers. We started as before, Danny telling me not to play my
hardest. The first three games he wins. As we're setting up for the fourth game, however,
Danny says to me,"This time, play your hardest!"
Ah-ha, he's just let me know he's feeling confident
enough to handle losing. So I play as an adult and I win. No big deal. We set up the board
one more time, I win once more.
We play one final time, I let Danny win, but not too
easily; I make it a close game.
What remains so vivid about this episode, which occurred
more than twenty-five years ago, is that it taught me an important lesson -- the learner
has to feel some degree of competence in order to be willing to risk engaging in learning.
At the very least the learner has to believe that he or she has the capacity to learn
successfully, to trust that he or she won't be made to feel too stupid or embarrassed in
I think about how this six-year old structured the
situation for himself. A relatively confident learner in the first place, Danny had no
qualms about telling me, an adult, how to engage with him. He clearly set the boundaries
for my participation in the situation. I realize his confidence came, in part, from my
being a long-time family friend, not a teacher, and we were playing in his home, not in a
school setting. Nevertheless, the incident certainly started me thinking about how, in my
teaching, I make it possible for learners to take risks. How could I intentionally create
what I would now call a supportive classroom?
I first came across the notion of a supportive classroom in
a small monograph of that name developed by the Halifax County-Bedford District School
Board (Church, 1988). In the monograph the authors describe how they have been striving to
create learning environments in which children have the opportunity to learn through
andabout language in the context of meaningful, purposeful language use. We have also been
developing and refining our own roles within the classroom, working out how best to
facilitate and support children's learning (p.5).
The monograph discusses the contexts supportive of
children's early language learning and goes on to explore how similar supportive
environments can be created in classrooms. As the authors explain -
In school, the aim is to create classroom environments like
the ones which are supportive of children like Daniel before they come to school. The
challenge for teachers is to create situations sufficiently rich and flexible to meet the
needs of 25 or more very different individuals who come to school with a range of prior
That kind of learning situation offers children experiences
that help them to extend the learning strategies they have used so effectively in
real-world settings. It provides the support children need to continue to develop their
knowledge about language and their ability to use language for a variety of purposes.
Teachers, like parents, offer many different kinds of support depending upon the needs of
the child at a particular time. They constantly make decisions about the environment and
about the teaching strategies they will use (p.7).
A child's learning occurs in many different ways; in whole
group activities, in small group situations, in one-to-one exchanges with the teacher and
other children, as an individual. A fundamental aspect of a supportive classroom is that
the teacher attempts to monitor learners in all of these learning situations and attempts
to offer support which meets the diverse needs of each learner.
Precisely what constitutes support is not well understood.
In 1994-95, I began working with some teachers in the St. Boniface School Division in an
effort to flesh out an understanding of what a supportive classroom might entail. The
teachers began by selecting a couple of children in their classroom, children they
considered 'at-risk', whom they found puzzling, and about whom they wanted to learn more.
We created situations in which the teachers could work with these students both
individually and in small groups and we monitored those children's learning in a wide
range of classroom activities. The point of the project was not to fix these
at-risk children but to learn, through observation and activity with the child, what
learning and literacy strategies the child was actually using and how to use the
instructional situation (individual, small group, and large group activities) to discover
what instructional tactics supported these particular learners and facilitated their
Eight-year old Savannah transferred to our school from
BC, in the fall of '94. Cumulative file records indicated she was reading at a grade 1
level. I observed her during independent reading activity early in September. Savannah was
fidgety and had difficulty staying in her seat. She said she couldn't find a book to read
on her own because "I can't read the words." The classroom theme was friendship
and I had made many books at various reading levels available for the children to choose
from. I sat down beside Savannah to read with her from the book she had chosen, Making
Friends. It was soon evident that her strategy for reading was to "sound
out" the letters in the words. She wasn't very successful at it; she miscued
frequently. "I can't read words too good," she said. It was then that I
encouraged her to tell the story using the pictures. With me directing her reading (What
is happening? What will happen next? How do you think?) Savannah was able to predict what
the story was about but could not use this to help her deal with the printed words. I also
observed that in small group situations Savannah had a lot of difficulty staying focused.
By the end of the month I could see that Savannah
- lacked confidence as a reader and did not find reading
- read very little on her own
- had difficulty choosing an appropriate book to read
- did not see reading as meaningful
- knew some decoding strategies but could not use them
- could use pictures to tell a story (LN, June, 1995).
We learned a great deal about observation. Our focus on
learning about the children through close and systematic observation helped us become much
more aware of the children's avoidance and anxiety behaviours and to intervene more
quickly in supportive ways. Our increased focus on observation raised the need for
developing new record-keeping strategies which in turn raised questions about
instructional strategies in general. We discovered, for example, that the behaviour of our
at-risk students demonstrated a high level of anxiety and avoidance. This
anxiety/avoidance took many forms: withdrawal, acting out, inattention, defensiveness,
dependence. Sometimes a child demonstrated a predominant anxiety/avoidance behavior,
sometimes a range. We became more adept at noticing and identifying these behaviours.
Being able to observe and identify the children's anxiety/avoidance behaviour made it
possible to engage in instruction that sought first to diminish and subsequently to
eliminate their anxiety. We explored a range of ways of providing instructional support to
discover what worked with each individual child.
I began by providing Savannah with frequent
opportunities to read with me on a one-to-one basis; my goal, at first, being to lessen
her anxiety about reading. I collected several predictable books for her to choose from. I
noticed she consistently chose ones that seemed familiar to her. To introduce new stories
to her, I invited Savannah to do shared reading with me. I carried most of the load at
first, Savannah, beside me, echoing along. She was very comfortable with this support and
soon became more actively involved in the reading. She made comments such as "I like
this story." With repeated readings, Savannah took over more and more of the reading
herself. As she became more familiar with the story, her reading became more fluent. Next
I noticed she began using picture clues more independently. Savannah was still attempting
to "sound out" words but her efforts became more accurate as she used context to
help her predict. By the beginning of November I felt that Savannah was ready for another
audience. After she had successfully read a familiar story, One Dark Night, (with
virtually no support from me) I asked her if she would like to read it to a grade one
student. She thought she could do that because "I know the story." On her return
to the classroom Savannah was exuberant. "I really did good," she said. So, I
made arrangements with the grade one teacher for Savannah to read on a once-a-week basis
to one of the grade one students. Savannah was now beginning to view herself as a reader,
she was taking more risks with unfamiliar books, she was learning to choose books that she
could handle independently. I noticed she was even beginning to help other students with
their reading (LN, June, 1995).
We observed the children's anxiety/avoidance behaviours in
one-to-one settings, in small groups, and in whole group instruction. We discovered that
the opportunity to work with a child individually enhanced our ability to pick up on
anxiety/avoidance behaviours in the classroom and, rather than attempt to deal with that
behaviour directly, we became more adept at providing support which allowed the child to
engage. We learned that not every child needs the same support.
When he felt insecure, ten-year-old Andrew would become
very disruptive in the classroom and often needed to be removed. It was difficult to
assess his ability accurately and his refusal to cooperate caused most adults to walk away
from him. Andrew was perfectly prepared to take any power struggle as far as he could and
often the administration would have to intervene to make him behave.
Andrew's behaviour continued to frustrate me and too
often he was diverted from his academic work by refusing to cooperate. It became clear to
me that we were engaged in a power struggle and he was determined to be in control.
I believe that, ultimately, children are in control of
both their learning and their behaviour. The moment a power struggle becomes part of the
relationship then everyone loses and the focus becomes distorted and nonproductive.
Coercion might work for a time, but at some point students figure out that adults truly
have little, if any, power over them.
The issue of power and Andrew's behaviour became a
serious problem in the classroom. He frequently refused to go out for recess. He wanted to
work on the computer. He would cry if he wasn't reminded to go for his speech lesson at
the usual time. He adamantly refused to go to music.
One particular day, his behaviour was so contrary, that
he was sent home. He arrived back at school saying his mother had told him that he had two
choices, he could either cooperate and work or he would have to go back home. He had
chosen to return to school. We later learned, however, that he hadn't gone home; instead,
he'd walked part way and then returned with his story. Although there was some concern
about his elegant lying to me and the principal, it was evident Andrew saw school as a
place he wanted to be.
How could I give Andrew the power he needed without
giving in to his tyrannical behaviour? How could I get out of the power struggle that I
didn't want to be in, that Andrew continually created? Andrew gave me a clue one day. He
told me AI won't go to music and, if you force me to go, I will misbehave and Mr. Benson
will send me out of the room. Andrew knew exactly how he to get what he wanted; he had it
figured out . . . he was in control. It occurred to me, then, I was the one who had to
I decided to approach the problem by assuming Andrew was
behaving in a way that served him. He was attempting to get his needs met. Was I helping
him or was I being a barrier? With the help of the administration, student support staff,
and school psychologist, I began to deal with Andrew differently.
Why didn't he want to go out for recess? Was it because
he didn't cope well with the noise and activity? Was he actually making a good choice for
himself by resisting going outside (he knew his playground behaviour often got him into
difficulty)? I arranged for him to help out in the library during recess. I made a
contract with him that if his work was done, then he was free to make the choice of
staying in or going outside. If his work was not done, then he stayed in like the other
children to finish.
Our 'deal' kept Andrew engaged. He began to finish
assigned work, not perhaps in the most thorough way, but he was sticking with tasks until
he reached some kind of completion.
Andrew has taught me a great deal about both teaching
and learning. I now understand, in a way I didn't before, that emotional needs have to be
satisfied in order for students to be willing to engage; that I can't make anyone do
anything he or she doesn't want to; that external power has limited impact on what
children will learn; children's views of themselves as learners will determine whether
they'll choose to engage or not. I now see that my job is to create situations in which
children like Andrew can be successful (AD, June, 1996).
By changing our focus from "fixing the child" to
"learning from and with the child" we discovered how to respond to an individual
child's needs in ways that led to less avoidance and more engagement on his or her part.
Our observations of individual children proved beneficial with all children in the
classroom. We learned to be more observant of all students and consequently learned more
about their individual strengths and their learning strategies. We also came to understand
how important it was to record behaviours that were no longer happening as well as new
ones that were emerging. The absence of anxiety/avoidance behaviours were as strong an
indicator of engagement as the development of strengthened learning strategies.
Brent entered the room; he checked me over from the
doorway. Mrs. Anthony was talking to him. I greeted him; attempted some conversation, too.
He was having none of it.
Brent sauntered over to the table and sat down making a
point of having his back to me. Mrs. Anthony told me a bit about Brent before she'd gone
to his classroom to accompany him back to the resource room. A first-grader, Brent was not
adapting to school very well. He was all over the place, unwilling to stay in his seat for
long. He wasn't interested in books; he wouldn't engage in any sustained way with school
tasks. Mrs. Anthony had asked me to do some assessment to see what Brent knew about
Since Brent was refusing to acknowledge me, Mrs. Anthony
took out a couple of very simple picture books she'd been using with him. She asked Brent
to choose one to read to her. He chose Balloons. He looked at the cover and, at her
prompting, read it aloud, pointing to the word. He opened the book and read the title page
- Balloons. Turned the next page and read - three red balloons. He read through the book,
commenting on the pictures as he went. He didn't need much help.
From the sidelines, I, too, commented on the pictures.
Slowly, Brent began including me in the reading. Just before we reached the last page I
tossed in a challenge. The page read - I like blue balloons.
"Brent," I said, "I think that page says
- 'I like yellow balloons'."
"No, it doesn't," was his immediate reply.
"I think it does," I persisted.
"It begins with 'b'," he insisted. "And
these balloons are blue," he said, pointing to the picture.
"Can you write the word blue?" I asked,
reaching for some paper and a pencil for him.
He took the pencil and copied the word.
"Can you tell me what letters are in that
"B - l - u- e," he said turning to face me for
the first time.
"Can you write something about 'blue'?" I
"I can write 'I like blue balloons'."
"Try it," I suggested.
Brent copied the sentence from the book.
"Can you write something else?"
"I can write 'I like to play'."
Brent copied 'I like,' sounded out 'to', then turned to
me and said "I don't know how to write 'play'."
"How do you think it starts?"
"With a 'p'."
"Do you know how to make a 'p'?"
"Yes." He proceeded to form the letter. We
talked about the rest of the word, I wrote it on some scrap paper, he copied it.
"Can you read this whole page now?"
Brent proceeded to read what he'd written.
We continued for another fifteen minutes.
After Brent had returned to his classroom Mrs. Anthony
and I talked about what we'd observed. It was clear Brent could be quite engaged if he
felt he wasn't being threatened. He recognized quite a few letters, he could write them.
He understood how to use picture cues to help him predict what the print was saying. He
knew how simple sentences were constructed. He certainly knew that print represented
meaning, that it flowed from left to right, that there were spaces between words.
Mrs. Anthony expressed her surprise at how long I'd been
able to keep Brent engaged. We talked about what Brent could do on his own, about how I
kept extending what he could do so that he continued to feel in control of the situation.
"I was interested in finding out how long I could
keep him going," I said. "We know he can be engaged for nearly a half an hour. I
suspect that's a lot longer than he'd normally allow himself to be engaged in the
Mrs. Anthony confirmed my suspicion.
"We've now got to watch him in the class to see if
we can understand what he's avoiding," I suggest.
With some idea of what Brent could do with assistance,
we needed to find out what he could do on his own.
As soon as we had some data on the children we began
exploring ways of putting the learner in control of the learning. We started with the
children's vulnerabilities, finding out what they were and ways of compensating for them.
We wanted to discover exactly what the children were capable of doing independently. Being
able to identify their independence level was crucial because it provided an indication of
what engagement looked like for that particular child. It offered a baseline against which
to assess their anxiety/avoidance behaviour.
Once we located what a child could do independently, we
explored increasing the complexity of the task with an eye to providing just enough
support to help the child sustain his/her engagement. We discovered various ways of
keeping the child going in one-to-one instructional situations and then attempted similar
strategies in small group and whole class situations. We learned that judicious attention
to what the children were attempting to do and offering support as quickly as possible
allowed the children to function more independently for longer in the classroom.
We extended our exploration to situations which were beyond
the students' current level of functioning in order to discover ways of helping them
participate and learn from complex literacy activities although they were yet incapable of
engaging in them on their own. Lev Vygotsky (1978) refers to this as the zone of
proximal development. We explored ways of creating a balance, both for the individual
children, as well as for the class as a whole, between activities which the children could
engage in independently and those which required some, or a great deal of, support.
We began to identify and describe various kinds of support:
- working at a task together - shared reading, shared writing,
working collaboratively, then offering the child an opportunity to attempt the task
independently (being ready to 'share' again if it should be needed)
- providing practice within a group context and for a real
audience (not just teacher as examiner); i.e., readers theatre creates a situation
requiring repeated readings of a difficult text in a group context as well as for
subsequent performance for a real audience
- asking the learner if help is needed, then asking him or her
to identify what help would be useful
- to help the learner analyze the task
- to help the learner verbalize the strategies they're using
- to help the learner verbalize other potential strategies
- to find out "How did you do this?"
- providing the learner with some choices for the outcome of
what they're doing
- making it legitimate for and encouraging the children to
work with partners
- demonstrating and verbalizing our own strategies, talking
about how we engage with reading and writing
- providing the children with exemplars and a range of printed
- pointing out when the children are successful
Being able to identify these various kinds of support
proved very valuable. Naming what we were doing allowed us to be more deliberate when
making instructional decisions for particular children. In turn, this developing list of
supporting strategies make us more open to learning from the children. We learned to slow
down, to give a child time, to take our lead from the children at the same time not losing
sight of the complex tasks we wanted them to be able to handle independently. Most
important, we began to learn from this individual instruction how to sustain the child in
the classroom and help him or her remain engaged in small group and whole group
We learned to shift our gaze from teaching to learning. Our
emphasis on learning to observe, on making inferences and interpretations from our
observation, served as a basis for instructional decisions and shifted our attention to
the learners. We discovered that the children had a range of productive learning
strategies at their disposal but that our instructional activities didn't always permit
the children to use them. We learned to make openings for the children to use and extend
We found that growth can be very uneven. Gains can be made
in one aspect of literacy and not with others at a particular time. Growth in reading may
not be mirrored by growth in writing; and the converse/growth in writing can outstrip
growth in reading. We found that there is no single path to literacy proficiency. Some of
the children engaged with reading more easily; others took off with writing. We explored
ways of more closely integrating reading and writing activities. We found the children
become more independent readers/writers when the reading was supported with writing and
the writing supported by books.
We learned the importance of not lowering the goals for the
at-risk children. We learned not to be afraid of keeping them in challenging situations
but to find ways of supporting them so they could be successful.
The following episode with Kevin, a second grader,
illustrates some of the above aspects of a supportive classroom at work. I don't know for
certain, but I'm guessing his teacher considers him lazy, uninterested, generally slow.
But he's none of that; what she's seeing, in my view, is his resistance to school tasks
which result from his not being able to do what's expected of him. He doesn't read well,
he can't copy from the blackboard because he can't read so he can't keep track of where he
is, he takes forever to get anything done and mostly he gives up and goofs around.
I've been hanging around Kevin, trying to help him out.
It's a constant evaluation situation - trying to find out what he knows, what he can do
independently, what he can do with my help, what strategies he employs, and what he can
articulate about them. It just happens that the class has been engaged in spelling or
writing of some sort when I've visited the room. Kevin's been in his seat, not being
disruptive, but not engaged in the lesson either. Kevin talks to me and picks up his
pencil if I help out; he doesn't shut me out completely. Unlike Andrew, he accepts help
when I offer it.
Yesterday, our interaction went something like this.
"What are you trying to do here?"
"Copy that writing on the chart." (It's a
fill-in-the-blanks item with Halloween connections. The teacher has had the class
brainstorm some possible words to fit the blanks. Now the children are supposed to copy
the text filling in the blanks using words provided below in the lists.)
"Can you read it to me?"
Shakes his head 'no'.
"Let's read it together."
We read through the text together a couple of times; I
wait for Kevin to insert the elements he wishes. He does it without too much prompting.
Today's chart consists of the following:
They _______ and _______.
I felt ___________.
I didn't know what to do.
Words like howled, screeched, laughed, roared are on the
first list. The second list has nervous, terrified, sad, excited on it.
Kevin reads, "They howled and roared. I felt
terrified. I didn't know what to do"
"Can you find the word 'terrified?'"
He shakes his head.
"Where can you look?"
"On the red list."
"That's right. What does 'terrified' begin
"Got it. Spell the whole word out."
"T - e - r - r - i - f - i - e - d."
"Can you find 'howled?'"
He does. Then we read the chart again filling in the
blanks once more. Now it's time to copy it into his notebook. Kevin looks at the chart and
copies 'T,' looks again and copies 'h.'
"What's that word you're writing down?"
"You're right. Look at the whole thing, all four
letters. Say them out loud for me."
"T- h - e - y."
"Take a good look at it. I'm going to stand in
front of it so you can't see it and I want you to write the whole thing at once."
He does it slowly but correctly. We go on to the next
word. He has trouble tracking 'howled' from the list on the chart so I write it on scrap
paper and put it beside him. We take a look at the word, I encourage him to see morphemic
chunks - howl, ed. I don't name them that for him but I'm encouraging him to use
"Take a good look because I'm going to cover it
I put my hand over the word. Kevin is able to remember h
- o before I can see he needs to look again.
"Do you need to look again?"
He nods 'yes'.
I lift my hand for a few seconds.
"Are you ready again?"
He writes 'w' - l before he needs to look again. He
finishes the word.
"What am I showing you how to do here?"
"How to spell."
"Yup. What am I showing you about spelling?"
"How to look at the word and remember the
"Keep trying that. It'll make writing easier for
As I write this account it feels as if this exchange is
going slowly but in fact Kevin is working at a good clip. I help him with the first
sentence before moving on to another child. Before I leave him I set the expectation for
him to do the second sentence by himself. I make a point of not being far away. I keep an
eye on him, prompting him at a distance. He manages to get the second sentence down with
reasonable speed. Again I prompt him on the third sentence, having him look at entire
Kevin is almost finished when it's time to leave for
music. He has two words to go/to do. He insists he wants to finish so I encourage him to.
"Read for me what you've written."
"Uh-uh. You read it."
I read the first sentence but leave room for him to join
me on the second; I drop out on the third leaving him to read on his own.
As Kevin leaves the classroom he stops in the doorway
and counts the children remaining in the room. About half of the children are still
finishing up. He turns and energetically skips down the hall. Why do I have the feeling
that this may be the first time he's not the last to complete an assignment?
In truth, I'm not sure what I've helped Kevin learn. This
is not an ideal literacy activity for him. He should be doing quite a lot of shared
reading in both small and whole class groupings. He needs predictable books. He should be
writing his own text, being encouraged to spell functionally most of the time, having his
attention drawn to words he might know or remember easily. The interaction should be paced
quickly in order to keep him (and the others) engaged. He should feel in control and
confident the entire time; he should feel comfortable asking for help after he's tried
something himself, first. This copying activity highlights his inadequacies. Not only can
he not read the words on the chart, there are no clues to help him remember what they
might be; if he can't remember what was talked about (and he wasn't paying close
attention) he has no way of figuring out how to help himself. Even with some supported
reading and rereading he still has difficulty transporting words at that distance to his
paper; he needs the words beside him so he can keep track of what he's copying.
Nevertheless, Kevin is quite willing to work with me. Each
time he successfully remembers some letters or a whole word, a lovely smile crosses his
face and his pace picks up. He's easy to draw in and to keep engaged but not in this
lock-step classroom if his teacher doesn't have time to spend with him; and Mrs. McEnroe
doesn't, because Kevin isn't the neediest child in the group. There are at least a
half-a-dozen others who are having more difficulty than he is!
What I've attempted to illustrate here are my efforts to
create some support for Kevin, to help him develop some strategies for dealing with what
is a less than ideal learning situation for him. Since I can't change the reality of his
classroom, I try offering him strategies which will allow him to be a bit more successful
at what he has to do.
So what have I learned about building a supportive
classroom? I've discovered anew that I have to take my lead from the students. Every
encounter with a student offers an opportunity to learn more about him or her as a
learner. This isn't exactly news. Dewey (1963) said it; so did Vygotsky (1978) and a host
of other researchers and educators. Gordon Wells (1986) refers to instruction which takes
its direction from the learners as 'leading from behind.'
The most important thing about building a supportive
classroom is realizing our gaze should be on learning and not teaching. What I've
attempted to illustrate here with these critical incidents is that the heart of creating a
supportive learning environment is the constant assessing of what the learner is trying to
do, of the strategies he or she is bringing to a particular task. This continual analysis
of students' learning is very different from our more customary focus on 'teaching' where
our attention is placed on what we're doing ourselves as teachers. Most teachers are aware
of their students' learning but that awareness is largely tacit - when our attention is
directed primarily at what we're going to do next we may notice individual students'
responses but our carefully prepared lesson plans often preclude on-the-spot revision of
intentions based on students' responses. In a supportive classroom it's the sense students
are making of what's going on that drives instruction.
Danny, Savannah, Andrew, Brent, and Kevin have
all helped me think in new ways about teaching that starts with the student. I've learned
through my engagement with these students something I only partially understood before --
I have been able to uncover some of the factors I'm looking for when following a student's
lead. They've taught me to ask them whether they need help or not and, if so, what help
they would like me to provide. By putting the children in charge of their learning I am
able to learn what works for them and what interferes. These children have allowed me to
help them change their 'not learning' behaviour', as Herb Kohl (1994) would call it, into
engagement. By observing their learning, and learning from them, I've been able to
discover which actions on my part prove supportive and which actually interfere.
Church, Susan (Ed.) 1988, The Supportive Classroom:
Literacy for All. Halifax: Halifax County-Bedford District School Board.
Dewey, John 1963, Education and Experience. New
York: Collier Books.
Kohl, Herbert 1994, I Won't Learn From You. In: I Won't
Learn From You. New York: The New Press: 1-32.
Newman, Judith M. 1991, Interwoven Conversations:
Learning and Teaching Through Critical Reflection. Toronto: OISE Press.
Vygotsky, Lev 1978, Mind in Society. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
Wells, Gordon 1986, The Meaning Makers.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.