16 Conversation Starters with Struggling Students
I want to share a conversation I had with my 4 year old son about the flaming hot cheetos on our counter. Keep in mind that kids are obseessed with spicy or "flaming hot" snacks (Can you believe they even have spicy sunflower seeds now?). Following the lead of his tween and teen sibling, my 4 year old wanted flaming hot cheetos too. Because the chips were too hot, I quickly turned him down. He retorted "not hot" and made his way toward the snack. I turned him down again. He did not get it. He wanted to get it (the snack and the understanding as to why he could not have what he wanted), but he struggled to grasp the concept. I didn't want him to struggle with this, but I was uncertain as to how to begin the conversation.
So, what did I do? I waited (see number 4 on list below). Eventually, he ran over to the counter, grabbed a cheeto and exclaimed, "see, it's not hot". My son was making a connection (see number 2 on the list below). In the past, he understood that "hot" was associated with heat and wished to see how this compared with his new experience. After, I emphasized that he still could not have the cheeto, in a "na-na-na-na-na-na " sing-song like voice, my son announced that "daddy gives me cheetos". My son had resources and knew he could get help (see number 7 on the list below). Because I did not want my son to resort to such resourcefulness at this particular point in time, we continued to talk about the concept of "hot".
I wish that I had some awesome ending to the story that included a special cheeto vocabulary building strategy. But, I don't. He still struggles to understand the "hot" concept. I still struggle to find better ways to communicate with him. Even though I did not have the perfect words to guide him, the coversation was still awesome. It reminded me that there were different forms of communication required when struggling to wrap our minds around a new concept. I began to think that teachers may find it useful to have a list of reminders that can help in moving students beyond their daily comprehension struggles. I compiled a list of 16 conversation starters for teachers to use with struggling students:
1. I may not know the best way to help, but give me a hint at where to start.
2. How can we connect the work/lesson with information that you are already comfortable?
3. If you were the teacher, how would you want the material explained?
4. What would make the work more doable?
5. What can I do to make it hard for you to "not succeed"?
6. Describe one question that you have about...
7. Tell me one classmate that you could turn to for help?
8. Needing help is natural. Can you think of anyone or anything that never needs help?
9. What happened the last time you needed help with something?
10. The last time I needed help was...
11. Sometimes effort and performance do not match. Would you agree or disagree with this?
12. Talking about it may help. How will waiting help us move closer to a solution?
13. Let's wait to talk. When will you be ready to talk about it?
14. On a scale of 1-10, how frustrated are you with...
14. I have tried to help you by..., what else do you need from me?
15. I may need assistance with getting you back on track. Do you mind if I get a little back-up?
16. We will work together. Let's keep a record of our effort. How should we do that?
Darling-Hammond & Ifill-Lynch. (2006). If they'd only do their work. Educational Leadership, 63(5).