There are times when the subject material is just challenging. It could be for one or two students or for the whole class. You may find that understanding word problems and determining whether to add or subtract is taking way longer than you planned. It seems to be dragging out, but you know that they just haven’t got it yet.
Whether it is one student or the whole class, try the approach of “Imagining.”
Invite them on an imagination journey that you will then relate to the subject that they are struggling with. This imagination journey could be about the challenging subject or totally unrelated. Let’s continue to use the word problem struggle as an example.
You say, “Alright class, let’s pause these word problems for a minute and let’s play an imagination game. We are going to imagine together but each of us in our own mind. You can close your eyes. You can keep them open. You can draw what you imagine or just sit there quietly. We won’t say anything out loud. We’ll just paint the picture in our mind’s eye. Are you all ready to go on this imagination adventure with me?”
“We are so excited. The day has finally arrived. Our suitcases are packed. My suitcase is purple with orange strips. Can you picture what color your suitcase is? Inside our suitcases, we packed really warm gloves, snow pants, long johns, a helmet, and googles. We’re already wearing our really warm winter coat and our hat with a pom pom on top. In our hands are our skis and ski poles. Any one know what adventure we are doing on? Skiing!”
“Now this is our first time skiing. This is so exciting. Imagine how beautiful the tall trees, the snowy mountains, the slopes, and the blue sky all are. We are in a winter wonderland! Imagine all the people around us already skiing down the slopes. Some of them are really good. Look at how fast they are going down the mountain. That’s amazing. We’ll be that good too one day. There’s a boy learning to skate, too. He looks around nine. You shout over to him to cheer him on; ‘You can do it!’ ”
“We wait for our instructor to teach us the basics of skiing. Oh, here he comes now. His name is Brian. ‘Hi Brian!’ First we practice our ski stance. Bend your knees. Lean forward.”
You get the idea. Take them through their first push out onto the hill. Oops, the first fall! Get back up. Let’s do this. Faster now. Go on the “Imagining Adventure” as long as their attention will allow you. Then you say, “Wow! That was amazing. That wasn’t easy! I fell down so many times. But it felt great to try again. All of our hard work paid off. We can ski now!”
“Now class, open your eyes. What we just imagined about learning to ski for the first time is just like doing our word problems. It can be hard. We “fall down” or make mistakes. We may choose to add when we really should subtract. But the more we get back up and try again, the better we’ll get at word problems. How many of you were skiing really fast down the hill in your imagination? How many want to do word problems that fast?! Who wants to win at word problems?! Let’s do this!”
What you did was help them to shift their mind from the difficulty to the win in a fun way. If you can walk them through the “Imagining Adventure” skillfully enough, they’ll love imagining themselves skiing down the hill without falling or even racing someone else to the bottom. While they weren’t really skiing, it was all in their head; surely now they can do real word problems because you made them feel as if anything is possible.
Use words such as: “Imagine…” or “Think about…” or “The next time…” to help to paint the picture in their mind’s eye.
Then you say, “I don’t want you to just imagine. I want you to know here, where your heart lives that you CAN do word problems. You CAN face this challenge and win! You’ve got what it takes to understand when you need to add or when you need to subtract.”