I’ve been writing about what “smart” actually means in classrooms. And an unintended definition of a “smart kid” is one who never needs help.
No Help Needed
She neither asks for, nor is given, specific help from an adult. The “smart kid” understands immediately (since she already knew it) or figures it out quickly.
As a result, the “smart kid” never gets called over for practice. She never works and struggles in front of an adult. She never experiences getting better at something by working with a mentor.
Because, while struggling kids come over to practice at the kidney table, the “smart kid” works alone in the corner. The kidney table is not a place of learning and growing to the “smart kid”, but a place of shame. “Smart kids” don’t work with the teacher!
I call this The Curse Of The Kidney Table. And it has lasting consequences.
Our “smart kids” see asking for help, working with the teacher, and struggling through tasks as a sign that you’re “not smart.” The Kidney Table isn’t helpful – it’s shameful, because simply being helped feels shameful.
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But Smart People Get Help!
Of course, we don’t want any kids to think that asking for help or struggling with a mentor are bad things! They’re necessary! But what a tragedy that gifted kids can reach high school or college before they are challenged for the first time… and by then they’re conditioned to struggle silently and alone.
- The answer isn’t a lecture about how asking for help is important.
- The answer isn’t to say “you can always ask me anything.”
- The answer is to gently force your highest achieving kids to sit with you on a regular basis.
Call ‘Em Over
Here’s my challenge to you:
- Figure out who never gets called over for help. You can probably already name a bunch of these students.
- Once a week or so, call each one over for a 60 second chat about nothing.
- Ask them what projects they’re working on. What are they excited about? What was tough about that last essay? What’s their favorite part of social studies this year. Whatever.
- Finish with: “Hey, I’m so glad you’re in my class. Thanks for chatting with me.”
They’ll be totally freaked out the first time you call them over. Their face will be pale. They’ll ask, “What did I do?”
But slowly, they’ll get over it.
We’ve got to remove the stigma of talking with the teacher. It doesn’t mean you’re “not smart.” It isn’t shameful. Everyone should get used to sitting in that chair. And, eventually, everyone should feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.
See also: Small Groups for Advanced Students