Archive for September, 2010

Look ’em in the Eye


Who knew writing a blog would be such hard work. I always have thoughts and ideas flowing through this head of mine, but finding that window of time to get them from my notebook to here is a different story. One of my “idol bloggers” Ree Drummond says that you should post something every day, and that writing should be like “talking your sister.” Maybe that’s my problem, I don’t have a sister, and my sister-in-laws live hundreds of miles away. So I guess I’ll write like I’m talking to my kids (They’ll be thrilled) or my best friend; that I rarely get to talk to these days, because that time between summer and winter know as “the first of school” is crazy busy and we never see each other, much less talk… Hence my lack of posts!

So! Not wanting to let my idol and three followers down, I will write!

The first days of school are always the roughest. Late nights, early mornings, testing, trying to get a feel for your new group of kiddos, and them trying to find their way, it’s always busy, challenging and fun. Each year each group takes on their own personality and way of “fitting in” to the demands of first grade. And I am amazed at the strength and stamina of such young minds.

There are some “things” (for lack of a better word) I have noticed that have shifted or changed through the years. We have less and less criers the first days, and more independence displayed from the beginning. I don’t know if this is from the implement of an all day Perk program or just the familiarity of the teachers and a small school. But it is nice, if not somewhat sad for the moms to send their babies off to school without a backward glance.

Another thing I have noticed in the last few years is the time we spend in the classroom teaching such things as manners and common courtesy. Things like “thank you” and “please” that used to be taught at birth are now being taught in the classroom. And I wonder what and how this shift has come about.

I also spend (like the teachers before me) a huge amount of time on having children look at me or the person they are talking to, while they are speaking or listening. Does this come from being so busy that we don’t have time to sit down and have thoughtful conversations with our children? Or is it the invasion of television and video games in our homes and even our cars?

I can remember when my niece was a small child my brother would say to her “look them in the eye and tell them what you know.” I knew that had come from our days in Ag class and FFA and the advisor telling us when we gave reasons in judging or a speech it was the best way to “score well.” But I also thought this was something people did naturally, something they “learned” from parents, and adults in their lives. I didn’t realize the impact of not using eye contact, and the effect it could have on a young child, or a classroom full of children until I began to notice the lack of it from my students.   

I wonder if this is not why many teachers jump to the “diagnoses” of a child having ADD or ADHD, because they feel they are not “listening” or “getting” what is being taught because they are not focused on the speaker; when in fact it is just the lack of understanding, lack of skill, and knowledge of the importance and courtesy of looking AT someone when they are speaking.

Many may jump to the conclusion of such things as ADD or ADHD or the new prevalence of Autism in our children as being the cause of such antisocial skills. I can’t help but to think about my niece and her father’s lesson as a young girl to “look them in the eye and tell them what you know.” She is now 25 and has always looked people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to, and she has never had qualms about telling “what she knows.” My niece was diagnosed at the young age of five with each one of those antisocial skills, ADD, ADHD, Asperser syndrome (a form of autism), and slight case of cerebral palsy. If a child with this many “antisocial” skills can be taught the importance of eye contact, then shouldn’t most children?

In Debbie Miller’s books Reading With Meaning and Teaching With Intention she stresses the importance of giving children time to practice “turning to talk” and having “thoughtful conversations” by sitting “knee to knee and eye to eye.” This not only gives each student time to talk about what they know, it gives them practice at listening and the speaker the confidence of knowing that; if the persons eyes are only on me then chances are they are “hearing” what I am saying and learning from me. It is a wonderful tool to help children focus, listen and become comfortable with speaking to each other and others. We also often go a step further by asking the person to repeat what is being said so that we know for fact their focus has been on the speaker.

I noticed the first few days of school that many of my kiddos when I was speaking were either looking elsewhere, playing with things on the carpet, playing with their shoes, looking at what their friends are doing or looking anywhere but not AT me. So when they were asked to repeat what was taught, they just stared at me with a blank look. But NOW after practicing eye contact, turning to talk, thoughtful conversations, and asking them repeat what the speaker has said, I can already see a difference in their learning, and speaking. They are becoming brilliant and thoughtful listeners and learners in just a few short days!

When children learn at an early age that they should always look at someone when being spoken to, or speaking to them they gain the ability to become “listener worthy.” They show that I’m willing to listen to you, please show me the same courtesy. They show manners and respect that are often only associated with young adults and adults, but should be typical of any age. They know that my words and actions mean something.

In the age of multitasking, super-duper technology that changes daily, the need or drive to get and do the most we can in the least amount of time, wouldn’t it be nice if we all sat back took a breath and showed our children, our future, that it’s meaningful, important and common courtesy to have thoughtful conversations, and to “look them in the eye and tell them what you know.”