Learning the Hard Way

I had such high hopes for my lunch session today. I hadn’t circled or starred it in my program, but it caught my eye and I thought it was one I shouldn’t miss:

Instructional Strategies that Work with Gifted English Language Learners

I’ve long felt that these “ELL” kids moving to the United States certainly have a lot to deal with. They’re adjusting to a new country and learning a new language. Still, I can’t help thinking that their math knowledge far exceeds what their language will allow them to show. I was hoping for some practical tips and strategies for meeting their needs.

I barely made it; I was just a minute or two late. The instructor had already launched into his presentation and apparently jumped right in with a list of positive and negative demonstrations of gifted behaviors. I thought, did I go to the right spot? I should also have taken it as a red flag that he was using a microphone in the room with only nine participants. (You know what they say about hindsight)

A few minutes later, he brought it around. He popped the question, “What are ways that ELL students can demonstrate their talents and abilities? Brainstorm on a piece of paper.”

I thought: well…I’m not exactly sure what he’s asking, but I’m game. I jotted down a few things: native language/bilingual writing, art, you get the idea.

Then he asked us to stand up and take turns sharing our ideas. It quickly became apparent to me that I misunderstood the question. Others were giving VERY different answers.

It was my turn. I spoke up and said, “I think I missed the boat.”

He said, “Don’t worry, say what you wrote anyway.”

I did. He accepted the idea, but I can’t tell you it made me feel better.

After an unbearable three minutes of this, we finally got to sit down. He asked the crowd about the experience and mentioned, “Did you notice that I accepted every answer? And didn’t that make you feel more comfortable?” And somehow the voices in the room agreed.

But the voice in my head did NOT agree, and promptly began a mental rebuttal.

“No, it did NOT make me more comfortable. You did NOT make me feel better by accepting a response that we both know didn’t answer the question.” Perfectionist me did not like that. Grrr!

Now would be when I’d give myself permission to duck out of a session. I have no qualms about leaving when a workshop doesn’t meet my needs or expectations. But I was right there in the front. Sigh. There is, after all, a thing such as manners.

It gets better. The presenter went on to his next slide, when he declared that first and foremost, he has high expectations for learning, performance and participation. OK, mentally I thought he had the “participation” part. But then the voice in my head started SHOUTING back. “High standards!? What are you talking about? You just told me that any old answer was acceptable, and that I’m supposed to feel comfortable with that? Would you expect kids to feel comfortable with that, too?”

The argument in my head got louder and louder until it was interrupted by my cell phone vibrating in my backpack. I thought, thank goodness. Maybe I can leave under the pretext that maybe this is an important call. So I left. Happily.

On my way out, I congratulated myself for taking the initiative and getting myself out of there. It would have been mental and physical torture to sit there and listen to that man for another thirty minutes.


And then I thought.


How often do my students find themselves in the same situation?


How often do they sit there in class, unable to sit still because the voice in their head is screaming:

“I’ve already learned this.” Or, “I don’t get this.”

“I totally disagree.”

“You don’t get it.”


The only difference is, THEY. CAN’T. LEAVE.


Stop, and let that sink in.


If I bring nothing else home from the weekend, that knowledge alone will be worth the price of admission.


Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

2 thoughts on “Learning the Hard Way

  1. Loved it!
    But the truth is, those student, they have already left.
    Those who do not process audibly will have exited after your first few words.
    Those who miss a word and focus on what they miss, will have difficulty re-entering.

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