Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Language of "I Can't"

I had a surprise today when I went to the elementary school near where I work for my normal Thursday morning tutoring session. We wouldn't be doing our one on one tutoring, but rather they had a special activity planned for all the 4th and 5th graders called "Soaring Words". In this activity, the students were to invent superheroes, write a story, and illustrate it for children in the local children's hospital.

I worked with 4 students today, 3 boys and 1 girl. Two of the students (the girl and one of the boys) were my regular students who I tutor in reading. The boys were more into the activity that the girl. I've been trying to blame it on the "superheroes" theme, but I'm not sure I can really do that. The girl, a 4th grader, my star student, would not do the assignment. She kept saying "I can't draw", "I don't know how to do this", "I'm not good at writing stories", etc. Where did that come from?

I remember when I was in the third grade, I was so nervous about an assignment that I wrote in the tiniest printing possible. I think the teacher needed a magnifying glass to see it. I was embarrassed. I didn't want to be wrong and somehow I thought if I wrote so small that no one could read it then it it would be all right. It wasn't. But along the way, I got encouragement. I started taking chances (even though it made me nervous).

How do we replace "I can't" in the language of young people with "I want to learn to" or "I'm going to try my best to"?


shouldhavezagged said...

What a good post, KT! Your tweet on this makes much more sense to me now. :-)

I wish I knew the answer to your question...

shouldhavezagged said...

Okay, so I have something else to add.

Last week I taught the first session of my first class for Girls Inc. The students were young black girls, ages 8-13. One of the activities included having the girls say what they wanted to be when they grew up. All of them had high aspirations -- doctors, lawyers, business owners, etc. One of the younger girls in the class indicated that she might want to be president. Really!

I have never heard a girl, let alone a young black girl, talk about being president. I was caught completely off-guard. All I could think about was how GREAT it was to hear that and how PROUD I am to live at a time when that thought is real to kids who would've never considered it before (including myself as a kid).