Helpful Questions Unasked

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Oh how some helpful questions that unfortunately were unasked, might have helped Evie!

"How are you doing today? Are you okay? Is there something else I can do to help you learn?

“How are you doing today? Are you okay? Is there something else I can do to help you learn?

I had an eye-opening conversation with a young woman (we’ll call Evie) this past weekend who expressed a lot of regret about teachers not understanding her when she was in elementary school. “They didn’t get what I was about,” she said with an enduring sadness in her voice.

Evie described being diagnosed as a child with autism, but not until she was almost nine years old. “Until Amy (her best friend to this day) came along in fourth grade,” Evie explained, “I didn’t feel like I had friends who accepted me either, and that’s why I brought figurines to school.” “The figurines,” said Evie, “were my friends at the time, and they helped me in class, but my teachers confiscated them.” 

I listened carefully to Evie express a frustration that might have been mitigated, I thought, if her teachers had asked a simple question: “Why do you keep bringing these figurines to school, Evie?” No one asked.

Think about it…instead of asking a question to get Evie’s own view of her needs to succeed in school, Evie’s teachers seemed to have assumed that her figurines were toys, not allowed in school because they are viewed as distractions. Evie’s description to me of her figurine (toys) was the opposite of her teachers’ view. For Evie, the figurines helped her focus!

This insight was unfortunately too late to help Evie, but I made a note to myself that I should remember to ask more helpful questions of children that I reach and teach this school year. I mentally promised to not take students’ behaviors for granted or interpret them only through my own perceptions.

Helpful questions may include: “How are you doing today?” said with a few minutes of time blocked off to really listen to a child’s reply. “Are you okay?” “Is there something else I can do to help you learn with me and the class?” “Do you feel good about your friends right now?”

Helpful questions unasked block opportunities for children to discover and express themselves. Helpful questions unasked prevent students from fully feeling the care you have for them, not just those with special needs, but every child that brings a different learning style to school.

What helpful questions do you think need to be asked…

in your classroom?

Dr. Temple  Grandin, author of numerous books, including her most recent, DIFFERENT…Not Less (Future Horizons, Inc. 2012) forms questions and answers that revolve around acknowledging her book’s title. Temple’s themes focus on the nuts and bolts of how educators can embrace strategies that direct children (with autism) to vocations where their skills will help them shine.

Dr. Temple Grandin, world’s most famous person with autism 

If you work with children who have autism in any form on its wide spectrum, it may be useful to consider Temple’s recommendations, listed below, for helping others deal with autism. In the world today, Temple’s approaches may be applicable to all student populations.

These are no-nonsense ideas based on the challenges that Temple personally faced as a child and young adult. Her ideas are supported by evidence-based research – all pointed at overcoming obstacles. 

 Think/learn about ways to modify your students’ learning environment to accommodate sensory challenges.

 Discover how to recognize and accommodate neurological differences in your classroom setting.

 Share information you have/learn about meeting the needs of children with autism (in appropriate, tactful ways) with their parents.

 Learn to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary behaviors in students with autism and Asperger’s (a form of autism).

 Explore ways to enhance your current best practices to help kids (with autism) develop their talents into the beginning of a career path.

Temple’s suggestions could also be put into the form of helpful questions, as in HOW can I modify the learning environment to accommodate my students who have sensory challenges? This brings the conversation back to the young woman who talked this weekend about the figurines in her desk that helped her stay focused, but were confiscated by teachers that didn’t understand their value.

In an interview I had with Temple at a signing for her newest book, she told me about a teacher who was one of two important people in her young life. Temple briefly described her as “a very good third grade teacher.” The teacher excelled in math instruction, making it interesting in a “1950s classroom.” That teacher could have been more restrictive, as was the norm at that time, but she didn’t do that. She allowed Temple to be herself in school.

Temple said that the small class sizes in the private school she attended were helpful, as well. “I am a visual thinker,” Temple clearly states, “and I was fortunate  to have teachers that had the time and spent it relating well to me.”

Funding issues today, of course, impact schools everywhere, meaning that small class instruction isn’t always an option. Temple’s “advice” to teachers in any class size anywhere still holds: teach to individual strengths!

Managing a classroom full of children who bring different learning styles to school can be overwhelming for the most experienced teacher. Temple’s “TO DO”  list may seem a bit overwhelming, too. But, as time permits, Google Temple Grandin for more information on her teaching philosophy, and keep adding to your own list of helpful questions not to leave unasked.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

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Look for Mid-Week Focus on Wednesday.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are having trouble writing connecting sentences between the beginning, middle and end of a story.

Solution: Show toy airplanes, pretending to make them "take off" across notebook paper. Explain to the class that stories, like airplanes, require clear "flight paths."

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