A while ago, I wrote about my nephew—how he was coming home from school telling his mother he was “stupid” because he was struggling with reading in first grade. I was happy to work with him. This is what I do.
And I wasn’t worried. I knew he wasn’t stupid.
But I also knew that—if he couldn’t develop a more powerful story about himself—fear of being stupid could grow like a dark, dank beanstalk and throw shadows on his life in ways all too depressingly familiar. Shadows that could last a long, long time.
So I worked with him on his reading. I coached him. I used all the Read Right™ strategies that I know work.
But, honestly, I didn’t work with him that much. I didn’t have time. I was busy travelling and teaching other kids in other places how to more effectively push themselves up the learning curve.
I think I probably worked with Kaemon on his reading about 10 or 15 hours total last year and I haven’t had time to work with him at all this school year.
And yet, he is doing amazingly better.
He is no longer coming home saying he is stupid. He is loving school! And he is reading—comfortably, naturally, and with meaning. I overheard him on the phone the other night as he was reading his math homework out loud to himself and he sounded like a seasoned pro.
Wow! How could 10 or 15 hours of tutoring have made that much of a difference? I mean, this stuff is powerful and it works, but it doesn’t always work quite that fast.
I think there was something else at play. In addition to using Read Right strategies, I threw in a couple of my own—well borrowed, of course, from other amazing educators and thinkers before me—and spent almost as much time coaching him on his mindset and his stories about himself as I did on his reading.
I taught him that ALL learners make mistakes when they are learning and that mistakes were not to be feared or avoided or hidden. Mistakes were opportunities to try again. Mistakes were opportunities for learning.
I taught him that he had an amazing, adaptable human brain that was DESIGNED for learning. That learning was what his brain loved to do.
Then, one day, when his head hit the table and he scrunched his shoulders dejectedly and said he didn’t want to “do homework” (our term for reading coaching) after only five minutes of practice and a couple of miscues, I tried something new.
A power pose.
“Kaemon,” I said, “stand up and let’s try something.”
He got to his feet.
I stood my legs wide and puffed out my chest with my fists on my hips like a very Rubenesque Wonder Woman.
“Stand like this,” I suggested. “Like you’re a superhero.”
Kaemon copied my pose and puffed out his little chest.
“Sometimes you can totally change your mood if you just stand like this. It’s called a power pose and it’s designed to tell your brain that you are powerful and ready to learn!”
Some impish part of me—or perhaps the frustrated songwriter part—compelled me to add a little ditty to our power pose. So I started singing.
“I’m a superhero brain man! I like to make my brain work, a work, a work!”
Kaemon joined me in my singing with a seven-year-old’s joy in being silly all over his face. After a few rounds of off-kilter singing, we got back to work reading with a renewed zest.
Since that day, when I get the chance to read with him, we always hum a few bars and occasionally power pose again as we remind ourselves that my man Kaemon is a superhero brain man who loves to learn!
And there’s nothing sweeter than listening to him begging his mom if I can come over to “do homework” because he is so proud of the progress he is making in mastering reading.
Nothing sweeter than noticing he is no longer coming home saying he is stupid.
Nothing sweeter than listening to him read his math homework to himself like a boss!
He’s a superhero brain man—that’s for sure!
And the sun has chased out the shadows in his story of himself and his capacity to learn.