In my career as a Literacy Coach, Intervention Specialist and a Classroom Teacher, I have had many opportunities to teach in a variety of classrooms where I would often start my lessons by saying, “raise your hand if you believe that you are on your way to College.” I was always amazed at the responses. In my 6th grade classes the reactions were varied; the high achievers immediately raised their hands, while the students who were struggling academically might roll their eyes and act as if they could care less. I was inspired by my own 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Michelet, who would often ask us, “What do you want to do when you grow-up?” I remember imagining myself as a recreation director on a cruise ship. How can we know where we’re headed if we have never been asked the question?
Despite the grade-level, I would give a lesson with an objective to motivate students to begin thinking about where their lives might be headed. I would do this by having them answer questions such as, What do you like to do? Could you make money doing this? Do you want to do what your parents are doing? Are you different than your parents? When my students begin articulating what they enjoy doing, I can begin addressing their assets and deficits within the context of what they love, which allows for a genuine celebration of their differences. In my fourth grade intervention class I had many diverse learners with learning disabilities. My job was to have them recognize that a deficit could be turned into an asset. There was Luis who was highly distracted by his peers, which was part of his struggle with ADHD. I would point out that he loved speaking and that he was really good with his words and he would agree. Each time Luis was distracted by his peers, I would compliment him on his amazing social skills and then encourage him to use his conversations with peers to help him complete his work, so that he can get paid for his social abilities in the future. He was pleased each time I redirected him in this way, allowing him to feel competent and successful rather than feeling as if there was something wrong with him.
Another student, Gabriela, struggled with reading and writing and she would become discouraged and melancholy when we would try to improve her literacy skills. I conducted my asset assessment and asked her questions regarding what she enjoys doing. We quickly deduced that her talents and joy clearly stemmed from her ability to assess the classroom immediately upon entering as well as her ability to know exactly how to organize herself and others to create the most productive atmosphere. I explained to her that these leadership skills were highly valued in many jobs. From then on, whenever Gabriela would begin to frown with discouragement while attempting to read and write, we would remind her of her gifts. Without fail, this positive feedback would give her just the motivation she needed to continue improving her literacy skills.
Encouraging my students to imagine the tremendous potential of using their assets while doing what they enjoy to make money, allowed their deficits to fade into the shadow of their successes. My job as a teacher is to motivate students to recognize the opportunities and positive characteristics that will allow them to successfully navigate the social systems of our country. Students must celebrate their differences, which requires an emphasis on their assets while helping them to believe that anything is possible.