“The Low Kids”

I just finished up a great week of working with teachers. I worked with 2 groups of teachers in a local district in my state. They were lovely. During one segment of our time, we were working on a problem from Illustrative Math’s free online curriculum for 7th grade found at http://www.im.openupresources.org. (see below)

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During the activity, a teacher mentioned that she was wondering why there was a relationship between 2 cups of rice and 10 cups of rice and 6 people being fed and 30 people being fed. She was wondering if there were other connections to be found between other entries in the table. For example between the 2 cups of rice and the 3 cups of rice.

It was at this point that a participant shared: “you know your gifted students are going to wonder about relationships like that”. A different participant replied to this comment by saying ” it really bothers me that we are saying this, any student might wonder about this. What does gifted have to do with it?”

It was a heavy moment that was so necessary and real. The room paused for a moment before people started to make statements of agreement. My fellow facilitator said it well when she shared with me that any engaged student might wonder about additional relationships. The official/unofficial label the student carries is irrelevant.

Comments like this came up throughout our time together and each time they hit a sore spot for me. One teacher, while explaining the demographics of her class to me said: “you know my low babies, the ones who need additional processing time, need me to provide support.”

I take a while to process regardless of the content. When I am listening I am engrossed in taking in what you are sharing and being fully present. After this, I tend to need a moment to decide what to do with what you are telling me. I suppose I would be categorized as “low” in some classrooms and this makes me sad. I happen to think taking time to think about something is thoughtful and reflective. When did this become negative?

We ended our day thinking for a moment about how we might shift these labels. The question sort of sat in the room like a weight. If terms like “low, high, slow and smart” were easy things to discuss, perhaps they would not be as pervasive as they are.

How else might we describe children and their learning in math? What is more accurate and palatable? I like, “student still working through ideas involving _______” or “students who have partially uncovered _______ .” or learning that is still in progress. All of this has me wondering about the implications for adult interaction during professional learning when negative labels are freely spoken?

I have used these words. In fact, pretty recently. It is not my primary description for children and where they are in a learning path, but it helps to communicate an idea in a reasonable amount of time. I am now wondering about the cost of this.

  • What am I giving up in the name of getting to the point in a conversation? Even worse what might I be endorsing by doing this?

I am wondering about all of this. I was introduced to a Ted talk by Rita Pierson titled “Every Kid Needs a Champion”. It seems fitting to leave this as a closing to this post.

  • I am wondering about this. am I someone’s champion?
  • Am I advocating that my teacher friends be this for all of the children they serve?
  • Am I complacent with detrimental language?
  • Do I challenge status quo in a room?

I am still thinking about this and welcome your reflections as well.

Thanks for stopping by,



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