Category Archives: strengths

What Can You Do Well?

What are you good at? What can you do well? Repair a car? Balance a budget? Tailor a dress? Compose a song?

I asked my students the same questions today, and here’s what they wrote. (Orthography is not one of their strengths, so I’ve corrected their spelling).

• I can take things that people can’t see.

• I can run two and a half miles.
• I can help my mom.
• I can draw well.
• I can play guitar and sing.
• I can go hunting.
• I can jump off a house.
• I can ride a horse.
• I can write.
• I can ride my bike.
• I can swim with my little sister.

Art and music definitely have a place in my teaching of English. It also helps to have a runner, in case I need to send something—a book, perhaps—to another teacher in a far corner of the building.

It’s good to have kids who can ride bicycles or horses, because the kid who can keep her physical balance is likely to keep her mental balance as well, while struggling with the vagaries of the English language.

And I’m grateful that I work with kids whose strength is helping others, whether a parent or a younger sibling, in my classroom.

Now, if I can just figure out how to use the talents of the house-jumper and the thief in teaching language arts!

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Year of Discovering Strengths

A-Girl can’t read—not much anyway. Oh, she can recognize a few words here and there on a page of text, but reading a sentence like the one I am writing is beyond her capabilities.

A-Girl has stumbles over phonemes. She often confuses /d/ and /b/. Her tongue often trips on consonant blends, so /th/ becomes /h/. In other words, she pronounces that as hat.

For all her reading difficulties, A-Girl is a good-natured kid. The most trouble I’ve had with her in the past two years is refusing to spit out her gum when I told her to do so—and that happened only a couple of days ago!

So being good-natured is one of her strengths. (I was taught to look for strengths in every child—and in every family unit, no matter how dysfunctional—when I worked as a family advocate some years ago.)

Monday, I discovered another of A-Girl’s strengths. She had selected the book from the library and was stumbling over too many words, so I took over reading. We came upon a drawing of a magnificent fox in full color.

“I could draw a fox like that,” A-Girl said.

“Really?” I said.

“Really,” she said. “I’m an artist.”

“Then why don’t you take the book home and draw a fox tonight?” I said.

“OK, I will.”

The next day she returned with her pencil drawing of the head of a fox. It looked remarkably similar to the drawing in the book. (It’s the illustration at the top of this story.)

“Wow!” I said. “That’s great!”

“You can keep it,” she said.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. I did it for you.”

A-Girl may not be able to read very well, but am delighted to discover that she has other strengths. Obviously, she can draw. She also has a high degree of self-confidence in her artistic ability. She also has a generous spirit.

How many more strengths does A-Girl have? I don’t know, but I’m eager to find out. The Chinese have their Year of the Rat, Year of the Horse, and Year of the Dragon. I’m going to make this my Year of Discovering Strengths, not only in A-Girl, but in all my students.