How do you spell Eight?

As teachers, we choose our words and, in the process, construct the classroom worlds for our students and ourselves. The worlds we construct offer opportunities and constraints. — Peter Johnson, Opening Minds

What do you say when a hard working six-year-old working on ClickN Spell asks “how do you spell eight?” That’s an easy one for the pros I work with. But for me, it’s hard, so I stall for time.

I want to say something like “Eight. E-I-G-H-T. Eight. Now you try it.” That would be helpful, yes?

Except a lifetime of moments like this would be disempowering. One moment like this is disempowering.  My “help” would become something else: a reason to give up, an opportunity to avoid struggling with a challenging task, or worse, a reason to never try at all. Why try when the magic man with all the answers is standing right next to you?

Instead, I stall for time and practice something else I’m not yet good at: I ask for help from someone who has done this many times before.  “Encourage him to keep working at it. Remind him of a time when he struggled with accomplishing something else. Ask him how it felt to accomplish something he struggled with. And just sit with him while he works through the problem if he needs that.”

So I do this, referencing a short video we watched earlier in the day in which Thomas Edison tried and failed 10,000 times before trying just once more to invent a functional light bulb.

And that worked. Sort of. He tried a few times. Then he rebooted: “Maybe if I restart this program it will give me an easier word. Drat. It’s the same words. An. At. …. Ate.”  So much for eight.  And I learn one more lesson today:  Don’t assume a child that writes “ehet” is attempting to spell eight. Not only would my spelling “help” have been disempowering, it would also have been misspelled.


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