Monday, January 10, 2011

We can do hard things, I swear.

Last week during guided reading I had two different little ones absolutely melt down in front of me over a guided reading book. In both cases the books were at the appropriate level and I was providing the same amount of support I normally do- suggesting strategies instead of telling them the word.
Both little ones (in two different classes) totally lost it.
 "It's too hard!"
"I hate this book"
"I can't do it!"
*book thrown across the room*
"I quit"
"I can't read!"
"Why wont you help me? You hate me!"

For the first one I was able to remain calm. I gave gentle prompts, "You can do this. Look at the first letter. You read this word on the last page," refusing to let the little one use the power of his temper tantrum to get out of reading the book. Eventually, when he saw he wasn't flustering me and that no matter what he said I was going to expect him to try, he picked up the book and did a wonderful job (between sniffles).

By the time the other one melted down I lost it.
"Fine. I'm going to read with someone who is willing to try their best," I immaturely said, snapping the book from her hand and putting it away. She looked at me stunned, stuck her lower lip further out and said, "fine! Give it back. I'll read it."

Both these kids were totally capable of reading the book. In fact, once they both looked at the words in the book instead of at me they were able to read it. We've worked on strategies of what to do when you come to a hard word and I'd given them the words during my book introduction so that they'd be in their working memory. I don't know if it was the transition back into school from break, whether or not temper tantrums work to get out of tough stuff at home, or if they just always have low frustration tolerance levels and for whatever reason they both snapped on the same day.

Regardless, it amounted into two terribly painful guided reading sessions for all three of us.

For both of these children I need to increase their frustration tolerance levels. I need to teach coping skills and give them the mantra, "we can do hard things!" I need to start scaffolding the challenges so that they are learning to rely on themselves instead of others. Both are bright, capable children who manage to melt down when the going gets tough. And unfortunately for them, kindergarten is only the beginning of "doing hard things". Without coping strategies it's going to be a long, hard road.

So, any suggestions on how to teach overcoming challenges and trying our best even when it's hard?? 


Mrs. Smiles said...

Love your words and your honesty! This is one of my most favorite blogs to read. It just so happened today that I read the story, "Winners Never Quit" by Mia Hamm. My 1st graders enjoyed it and grasped the meaning of sticking with something even when it is hard. I love your mantra--"We can do hard things." The other story that of course comes to mind is...The Little Engine Who Could. Thanks again for your wonderful words of wisdom. you are amazing! GR--Mrs Smiles

turtlemama said...

I use buddy reading with my girls for this very problem that I encounter when we start transitioning from the easy readers to the slightlyl harder next level that has blends and occassional two-syllable words. This has always been the biggest frustration point for all three of my girls. I'll read a page, they read a page, and so on. But, they are not allowed to quite, or I handle it similarly to your second example, which I see nothing wrong with personally.

However, that does nothing to answer the more univeral question you posed about handling frustration, which I would love to hear some feedback on. Some of this, I think, is as simple as innate personality. Personality aside, my own personal thoughts are that this has much to do with the incessant overindulgences that are in our society today; to oversimplify, kids are rewarded constantly for nearly every behavior, even ones that are barely average. Every child leaves the birthday party with a goody bag. Every kid in the class gets a turn at being student of the month. Every participant in the ballet recital gets a bouquet of flowers at the end, even the ones that were complete brats and didn't listen the entire time to the instructor. Does my kid really need to get a lollipop AND a sticker every time she gets a shot at the doctor's office? You truly cannot go anywhere without getting a treat or acknowledgement for doing nothing, so why ever try for anything? Immediate gratification is everywhere since water bottles and snacks travel with children EVERYWHERE. So, as parents and teachers, we're really swimming upstream. I realize that I am in a different SES than many of your student population, but I would venture to say that at least some of them also experience these societal indulgences, just in a different way.

Now, ready for the suggestions...

MrsKP said...

Ugh. I am sooo with you. I teach math and i have kids that just totally shut down with certain problems, especially word problems. "i cant do it" "Come on! Just use your brain and do your best." "I can't, I don't know how." "Just try." "I can't."

At this point I mostly feel like throwing myself on the floor and throwing a tantrum. Luckily it seems like this is fading the further we get into the school year.