I've told this story over and over again. In fact, some of my colleagues have heard this story numerous times (and three of them heard it again today when we were at a workshop). So, if you are one of my colleagues, I apologize in advance.
This story happened in my class about three years ago. I noticed that the children were having real difficulty when putting away the materials for our Poetry Workstation. This station is basically the poem of the week, but each word is individually cut out, laminated and stuck with a small square of velcro. The children then put the words back in order to form the poem. [note: a picture and more detailed explanation of this station is here]
The words are all kept in a ziploc bag, but for some reason, my class was having a very hard time putting the tools away. Words would get lost, they'd spill out into the bucket or the floor, and I was regularly having to clean them up.
So, I posed it to the children: "I've noticed that the Poetry Workstation doesn't get put away as well as our other stations. Sometimes the words get lost, and they spill out of the bag and get mixed up with the other words."
The children offered some thoughts: "we should put things away carefully." or "we need to be better at cleaning up..."
I remember having a little mental debate with myself right there about whether to support their suggestions and close the meeting, or to try to push further. I knew that it wasn't that they needed to "clean up better" -- because they were.
So I told them: "I hear what you're saying, but let me tell you what I notice: you are being careful and safe when you put things away. The Big Books are organized and ready to be used. Our classroom library almost always has the books put away in the right baskets; the magnetic letters are put away in the right letter spaces and the top is closed...
"You take a lot of responsibility with our learning tools, so I wonder if there is something about the poetry workstation that makes it hard for you to put the tools away."
There was a long pause while they thought about it.
Then Lisa raised her hand. "Miz F? Could you maybe get those bags that have the zipper on the top that you do with your fingers?"
I didn't know where she was going with that, but I knew which bags she meant. "Sure, of course... can you tell me why, though?"
"They're just so hard to close!" she told me.
My classroom exploded at that moment: murmurs of agreement, the physical connection sign, and then Lavender stood up and said, "I know! I have to put the bag down on the table and use my whole hand to close it! And sometimes it doesn't even work!"
I was dumbfounded. I remember thinking: seriously? That is the problem... the wrong bags?
"Okay," I told them. "We can absolutely do that. I'll try to get them tomorrow or over the weekend and we'll make sure to replace the other bags with the ones that have the zipper on top."
You should have seen the relief on their faces.
The funny thing? It was exactly what they needed. We had very little trouble with that station for the rest of the year. And I've learned to use those bags now in the station.
But I guess what it really taught me? Was to trust my instincts. I knew there was something that was making that station hard. I almost left it halfway through the conversation, but I'm so glad I tried to push a little further.
Of course, not every solution is as easy as just getting a different kind of bag -- but it's still a good reminder for me to try to push the kids a little further. They always know a lot more than they think they do.
And they teach me so much, too. ♥