One of the reasons my life took a turn down the Elementary Education path is that I never outgrew my love for kid stuff. I wear Lego earrings and play video games, I still get kid-level excitement walking into a toy store; but most of all I love cartoons.
Sitting down to write this post, one particular cartoon sprang to mind. A Nickelodeon show, The Legend of Korra, premiered last week. It’s set in a world where people can harness the power of the four elements: earth, fire, air and water. Our hero, Korra, has mastered three of the four, and in the series premiere she goes to find a master to teach her Airbending.
Korra reminds me of most of the kids in my 2nd grade class. She is impulsive, compassionate and confident. She can’t sit still and is easily bored, thus she tends to get into a lot of trouble. Her teacher is a spiritual old man, well-respected and experienced in guiding young people through to mastery, but he cannot handle Korra. She can’t sit still long enough to meditate, she destroys most of the training equipment because she loses first her patience and then her temper, and she repeatedly disobeys his commands.
In one such instance, Korra sneaks out in order to participate in a competitive sport she’s been forbidden to even watch. She turns out to be a pretty talented player, and when her teacher angrily arrives to take her home, he observes something wonderful. Though she had failed to successfully demonstrate airbending techniques in training, in the heat of the game Korra was dodging attacks using flawless airbending moves. He realizes that his lessons had not been a total failure; he had simply forgotten to take Korra’s interests and Korra’s personality into account.
Sometimes, in my own classroom, I am amazed that one of my kids was able to use a complex term that I don’t remember even teaching them. Sometimes (most of the time) I am frustrated when a child makes the same mistake she has always made no matter how many times we go over it. As humans we are blessed and cursed with the reality that each one of us is unique. We process information in different ways and learn in different ways. What made sense to Korra’s teacher just did not work for her. What clicks instantly with one 2nd grader seems always just out of reach for another.
I was floored by the educational message in this Saturday morning cartoon. It is the job of the educator to make information accessible to the student. Moreover, that information has to be presented in a meaningful way, one that is relevant to the student. If a child can’t sit still, find a way to let him learn while he moves. If a child is constantly doodling, find a way to use, direct, and showcase his drawing talents. A boy with an arsenal of potty humor may just need to write poems about a toilet, and a boy who is constantly kicking “footballs” may need to dribble a ball around a “solar system” in order to truly connect with the educational content.
Just try to remember – and I know how impossible it seems sometimes – that just because a kid is fidgeting or being disruptive does not mean he or she is not learning. Pay attention to what the kid is doing. It might just give you an idea of how to reach through.