Reality Check

Last Monday morning, Vancouver Island University (VIU) students facilitated science centers in our gym. They had prepared hands-on presentations as part of their coursework. For almost an hour, my students experimented with unknown liquids, rolled toy cars down slopes, drummed drums, guessed smells, created circuits.

As staff, we saw an opportunity to play with one of our “Project Success” questions: will having students write about field trip experiences increase written output?

So, the day after the centers, we organized a school-wide write. Most students grabbed pencils and started writing. Two, however, did not–for a very specific reason.

At lunch, I sought out my colleague Sooz.

“How’d your write go?” I asked.

“Pretty well,” she said. “But here’s the disturbing part: three students could NOT remember what they had done yesterday. They were pretty sure they had gone to the centers, but they couldn’t remember what activities they did. I tried jogging their memories by asking who they were with, but they just couldn’t remember. I know these kids–they aren’t faking.”

“You’re not going to believe this,” I said, “Two of my students had the exact same thing.”

We looked at each other, the implications sinking in.

These students could not recall–after one day–a learning situation that was, in many respects, “perfect”: a low adult-student ratio (one adult to three students); hands-on activities; novel material; presented in the morning (just after having breakfast at school).

We compared notes and realized all students came from “traumatic” situations (in foster care, just out of care, history of violence).

As an educator, I suppose I knew that stress affects memory. But I had grossly underestimated the degree to which children’s learning is impacted.

I feel a bit sick. I can only imagine how much they’ve remembered from last month’s lessons.

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2 thoughts on “Reality Check

  1. Wow, this is really sad that kids at that age have already had that kind of stress in their lives! That is a real eye-opener that they forgot about their learning the next day despite the fact that it was the ideal learning situation in many ways. I feel so much empathy for children such as these that are unable to learn due to tragedy that has happened in their lives.

  2. I’m excited about the daily talking circle idea where our kids can find their voices, form a narrative and be heard. It’s true that many are extremely traumatized-like the grade five boy who could not remember the name of his kindergarten teacher. He vaguely remembered the school name. I got to school early, the next day and dug through the files finding the name. I was unsure as to the Mr. or Mrs. part. He was genuinely touched I had reconnected him a little…he couldn’t recall the teacher’s gender but the play dough felt good. This is his story of entering the outside world;school. In reality too much was happening in his family life for school to rate. It is our manner and caring that open their eyes and hearts. So put aside pity, surprise or fear and know these are the most deserving students who learn very differently. I need to listen better and excitedly wait for my chance to create a new forum that will see me quiet and mindful.

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