As we kick off another school year, I was pondering what most makes my 2e kids look forward to school, especially because their days are often filled with many challenges. Not surprisingly, school is most appealing for them when they have the chance to work in their areas of strength and interest. We’ve had some great teachers along the way who recognized this and incorporated these throughout the year. As we head back to school, I’ve compiled this list of ways my kids’ teachers supported their strengths and interests. Whether you’re an educator or a parent, hopefully these ideas spark your imagination for what is possible this year.
Write in area of interest: 2e kids often have intense interests and get into a state of flow when they’re allowed to focus on their interests. When my son was a 3rd grader, the class was re-working the Cinderella fairytale into their own version. My child, who has difficulty with the technical requirements of such writing but a strength in story-telling and imaginary worlds, requested to write his own fairy tale from scratch instead. The teacher allowed him to do so and he wrote the longest story he’d ever written (featuring an evil shark of course!). Rather than his usual sitting with his head down during writing time, he looked forward to working on his fairy tale each day.
Give them time to research what interests them: When the 3rd grade class was researching animals such as dolphins and bears, my child wanted to research tuataras, Texas horned lizards (they shoot blood out of their eyes), and glass lizards. The teacher allowed him to work in his area of interest and he produced an amazing slideshow that mesmerized (and grossed out?!) the whole classroom. A child can research what interests them as a special project during downtimes or when the class is learning something the student has already mastered. Similarly, in my other child’s middle school, students in humanities were asked to research an area of interest about ancient China (food, clothing, weapons, pets, makeup, sports, anything!) and build something related to their research to show the class in a gallery. This allowed my child to choose an area of high interest (transportation), to use his love of making, and showcase his knowledge and creativity. That year he built a Chinese junk ship, an Egyptian shaduf, a 3D printed model of the earth’s layers, and a solar system model comparing relative distances to local city streets - and was so excited to showcase them and see what others had built. The topics he studied through this approach are the ones that will stick with him.
Alter the process to favor strengths: When my son was in 6th grade, each student in the class researched a topic of interest, wrote a script to share what they’d learned, then presented it to the class. When the teacher noticed that my kid struggled to write a script, but had already memorized all of his research, she allowed him to skip the script. She had him kick off the class presentations. Everyone was so impressed by his memory, which boosted his self-esteem and confidence. The teacher’s flexibility acknowledged his strengths rather than hammering on following a process that wasn’t the best for his learning profile.
Create spaces for them to shine: My son’s 3rd grade teacher knew he loved Wordle and math games - at the end of the day she would give him five minutes to make a Wordle for the class or teach them how to play one of the math games he brought to school. He looked forward to it all day and made friends playing the games. The class respected his talents, rather than seeing him only as a disruptive student.
Build creativity into the week: One teacher created a maker-space in her classroom and allowed children time to explore, build, and collaborate on any project of their imagination. This is something every student looked forward to.
Show mastery in a way that taps into their strengths: Our friend’s 6th grade son and his friend were allowed to use their love of coding to show mastery of a social studies unit. Her son coded a quiz game for peers and his friend made a website. Their classmates got to use these tools which helped them learn about the talents of their creators in addition to the content.
In addition to these ideas, check out our writeup of 8 Strength Based Activities to Kick Off the School Year (for educators) and creating your student one-sheet (for parents).
When we give 2e students a chance to find joy, creativity, and success during the school day, it helps them overcome the many times that push against their deficits. Doing so helps them enjoy attending school, increases their self-esteem, and allows classmates to see their strengths.