When a Child Needs “Healing Teaching”
Written By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP for the “Ask a Specialist” section in the 2017 Summer Issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
Question: “I am a homeschooling mother of 4, (ages 7-12). I’m at a loss as to how to homeschool my son Nathan, who is 12 years old. . He’s behind in everything. It takes him all day to do his work. He freezes when he looks at his math papers. It takes him forever to write anything. I know he’s smart, but he says he’s “dumb”. I want him to be an independent learner, but don’t know how to get him there.”
Answer: It sounds like Nathan has shut down on school work, and is giving up. He is doing this because he doesn’t have any other strategies to move on past the “stuck” phase. This is exactly the population I taught when I was in school. I taught a 6th,7thand 8thgrade Resource Room. I called it my “Intensive Care Unit.” All my students had given up on learning. In spite of good parents, teachers, and effort on the student’s part, they met with more failure than success. I knew that I needed to do something different than was going on in the regular classroom, using regular curriculum. I found that when kids have “shut down”, or aren’t progressing as their peers, or feel stupid, or have just lost confidence in their ability to learn, they needed what I call, “Healing Teaching.”
What is Healing Teaching?
Healing Teaching is a teaching method in which the teacher comes along -side a child and gives him learning strategies. It teaches the child how to use his brain, by modeling this with him. It sets up each lesson to ensure immediate success. It takes many baby steps towards that success. There is no “getting behind”, because the work is done together in a finite amount of time, with the goal to learn the material…not necessarily to do all the problems, or all the worksheets, or finish the video. It is “content and strategy led” versus written or lesson accomplishment-led. This “Success-Driven Schooling” method leads a child to a feeling of accomplishment every day, and an insight into how their own brain works. Success breeds success. Once a child experiences this, they will never go back to feeling dumb again. They become self- motivated. They almost always test very well by the end of the year. The content of the grade level is never compromised, but the method of teaching is turned “upside down.” As they are gently led to the right answers (and wrong answers ignored, versus pointed out), they begin to relax, and enjoy learning, and become confident in their ability to learn. This is why I referred to it as my Intensive Care Unit. I saw these wonderful students as having a severe case of the “flu”. By using gentle, leading methods, I could get them to be “healthy learners” and be able to go back into the regular classroom, using regular curriculum and do just fine.
This process can easily be done at home, even with other siblings to teach. Most likely the other siblings, even though they need direction, do not need to be in ICU. They can do much of their work on their own. Or, the whole group can be in ICU together. There is no down side to gaining more learning strategies. But, in most cases, the other siblings are pretty happy with their regular curriculum and don’t desire (or need) this type of intervention.
Examples of “Healing Teaching” Methods
Keeping in mind, that these students have the equivalent of an “educational flu”, we are going to use gentle methods to lead them to the correct answers. For example, in my Remedial Reading class, my students came in to the room, and folded their arms, resistant to any reading aloud, or any phonics program. I needed to teach them how to decode words, or they were not going to be able to go back into the regular classroom. What to do? I took away the non-essential parts of decoding…such as writing, and remembering rules. I wrote long words on an overhead transparency with the “decoding unit” that we were working on in color in the long word. I also had a picture of the decoding unit and the sound it gave taped on the overhead transparency. Then we each took a turn sounding out the long words. If a student sounded out the word incorrectly, but used the decoding unit (like “au”) correct (remember we had the “au” over the picture of a saw), I would say, “I agree with the first part of the word, now let’s look at that tricky last part. Then I would re-write the last part on the transparency, and we would see if we could find a little word in a big word, or some other strategy. When we did that, the student found he could always decipher the word correctly. We never went on until we had questioned (together) each part of the word to see how we could tackle it. (not a fast method…but a healing method). Then we on to the next student and the next word. As we did this teaching/healing method, their confidence grew, and after a week or so, they were asking to have a chance at the longest word in the list for the day. It was always amazing to see this transformation, year after year as I used this. The college students who were working in my classroom were amazed, as was I. You can see how by the end of the year they all tested two years ahead in reading!
Spelling was always hard for them. Because of the dysgraphia, writing the word multiple times didn’t work. The spelling rules were too many (and too inconsistent) to be of use to them. So I showed them how to use their wonderful photographic memory. We took the longest word, like “psychology” and jazzed up the letters, giving funny meaning, color, and even blood on some of them. In one session they found that they could not only spell that word, and the other words we were working on forwards, but they could just as easily spell them backwards. Healing Teaching. By that time they were believing in themselves as learners. No more “shortened list” for them. They looked forward to tackling the “bonus” words because now they had the secret strategy to easy spelling.
Writing paragraphs or papers was not easy for them. We tackled this job together. No workbooks, worksheets or curriculum. We did this together on the board. We came up with an easy topic. Then, I drew the five “blobs” of information we were going to give our audience about that topic on the board. We put in “trigger words” in each blob to remind ourselves what to write next. We added the transition phrases. Then the students each wrote the paper (which really wrote itself at that point). When we were done, I transferred them so we could “correct them together” using the overhead transparency. At first, they were terrified of this process, and did not want their paper to be used. But, then they saw what I meant by “correcting”. I began by giving them points for every good thing they had on the paper. For example, if they started with a capital letter, they got a point, had an adjective in the sentence, they got a point, ended with a sentence, they got a point. I read it out loud, ignoring any spelling errors, and just pointing out the good thoughts, words, or grammar, and giving points for all of that. At the end we added up the points together. (gum, etc. were the prizes…they loved it). They soon were adding many adjectives to their sentences, and more sentences, until we were doing multiple paragraphs. They also asked if they could do this more than once a week. What did I do with their misspellings (which were numerous)? I “harvested” them. That means I made mental notes of the spelling words that we were going to put in our spelling list the next week, an “jazz up” the troublesome letters. Healing Teaching. They were beginning to feel smart, as they wrote longer and longer papers each week. Their writing got more sophisticated each week, as we just talked about writing in general, and as they learned from each others’ writings.
To help them learn how to “dig in” (and not give up) and solve problems that require sustained thinking, we set up a class called “Logic Lessons.” In there we used the Mind Benders from Remedia Press to logically come up with conclusions to problems together. This became the highlight of the day. They wanted harder and harder problems to solve, as they saw themselves as very capable of doing this. Healing Teaching.
After just one week of using the new schedule we sent to Nathan’s mom, we got our first report. His mom reported that just by doing the math on a white board (no video or workbook), and modeling how to do them and then making a “template” to put on the wall, Nathan was smiling. Mom even put it in capital letters in her email, “SMILING.” She said she wanted to cry. She said that she saw him smile all day as he was getting things right without having to cross out a checklist in a workbook.
Grace’s mom wrote me about her 15 year old daughter who was having such anxiety about schoolwork that they had to technically stop schooling her because of the tears and frustration. She just participated in Bible and Classical Reading. Mom didn’t know if it was “hard-headedness or and actual learning disability.” After switching to Healing Teaching with each subject, Grace’s mom says that she is now doing all subjects, and enjoying school.
Emma’s mother contacted us because her 12 year old was spending a lot of time crying during the school day because she was so frustrated having to re-do her workbooks or because she was experiencing trouble remembering how to do a math problem she had just learned the day before. Spelling was hard, and all subjects were taking her so much longer than her sister. Emma was a good candidate for our ICU schooling, we call Healing Teaching. Her sister did not need this intensive care, but Emma needed guidance learning how to use her wonderful brain. We sent Emma’s mom a plan to switch Emma’s school day to include the subjects she needed, but with an entirely “healing” way to teach her, leading her to the right answer each time. Her mother called and said that Emma wanted to talk to me. Emma told me that she now likes to do school. She likes to write paragraphs, and loves spelling with her photographic memory. She is remembering how to do her math problems because her mom has made a zany “template” of each process and kept it on the wall. Her mom found the secret to helping Emma feel smart. Mom made the statement that she had to do an entire “paradigm shift”. She had to see that she was the coach who was setting out the stepping stones for Emma to experience success everyday, so she could see herself as a successful learner, and stretch herself in new ways. It is difficult to adjust to teaching to success by ignoring mistakes. We all are so used to pointing them out. But this tends to wound our already wounded kids. Of course, we eventually want to correct the mistakes, but we wait until the next day, and incorporate that in the lesson, without pointing out the error. This keeps the healing going. Success breeds success. We don’t want to stop that trajectory.
Some might call this the “helicopter parent” or the “rescuing parent”. I call it Healing Teaching in the ICU. I don’t have to do this forever. In fact, not usually for more than a year. Then they can go back to regular learning. All the pathways have been made by then. So many of the students I have worked with contact me in their college years, and tell me how these simple strategies still have become they “go to” strategies when their coursework gets tough. No more “getting stuck” for these guys!