The second time through teaching first grade math to #3, it was obvious that there was more going on that just a boy who wasn't mature enough for school, wasn't trying, or wasn't paying attention. For some reason I couldn't understand, the facts on the page weren't sticking in his brain. I could give him a page filled with the same addition problem over and over again, and he would have to work out each one on his fingers. The twentieth time he did the problem was just as challenging as the first. He seemed to not understand that it was the same numbers.
Months of eye doctors who told me I was crazy and a vision specialist who was willing to listen, and we finally discovered that he has double and triple vision that moves as well as dyslexia. I sat in stunned silence as the doctor spoke to me and wondered how on earth I was going to teach a child who couldn't even tell me how many numbers were in a problem, plus those numbers vibrated and flipped around. How could I teach a blind kid who could see?
I cried to a dear friend who turned my question around one me, "Well, how would you? If he were blind, how would you teach him?" In that simple question was the answer to our moving forward with his education. If he were blind, I would slow down on my expectations for him to read. I would help him to learn his letters and numbers at his pace and not what was in the book. I wouldn't delay history until he could read the lessons, I would read them to him. Instead of expecting him to read and remember his literature books, I would check out audiobooks from the library and let him use his former reading time to listen. I would celebrate with great joy when he was able to read a full sentence instead of reacting with frustration that he still couldn't do it. We still worked on reading, but the work he did was no longer dependent upon it. I accepted his limitations, and we began to make progress at last.
Last week, I took the "What if..?" and passed it along. A friend confided that her daughter is struggling to write. Schooldays end in tears and pleadings of "I just can't". Mom is ready to stop and her daughter hates the sight of books. "What if," I asked her, "your daughter couldn't write. What if she couldn't hold the pencil? How would you change your approach?" She thought for a moment and then nodded her head, suddenly she knew where to begin.
When our children struggle with doing the ordinary, and seemingly easy, parts of school, it's so tempting to get angry with ourselves for not knowing what to try and frustrated with them for not getting it the first 20 times. Sometimes the problem isn't that we don't know what to do, but that we aren't approaching it from the right direction. Is your student struggling with something and you're at the end of your rope? Play a little "What if?" and see if it doesn't open things up for you.