by Gloria Welton
PEI Literacy Alliance is seeing great success with its programs for children and adults. At the recent Annual General Meeting (AGM), members zeroed in on a new learning model they have integrated into their summer tutoring program which is proving to be very effective.
Amanda Beazley, Programs Director, talked about how they have integrated social emotional learning into their Ready Set Learn program. “Children may lack confidence, be frustrated and anxious, and think they can’t learn.
“With the guidance of an advisory committee we adapted best practices to building resilience and core life skills into our summer program. Through this initiative we can better support children and their families.
“Children are responding by saying they are learning to do hard things and they won’t give up, that mistakes help them grow, and they feel they are getting smarter every day. When children know their brains are capable of growing, they are more resilient, confident, and can push through failures. We hope they can transfer these skills into their classroom and lifetime learning.”
Jonathan Zalewski was the guest speaker at the AGM. He is a resource teacher at École-sur-Mer in Summerside and a member of the Ready Set Learn program advisory committee.
He said reading was very difficult for him as a child, and even though the issue was addressed early on, into his adulthood he was left thinking he was a failure when it came to learning.
As a result of an attentive teacher his reading challenges were addressed, but until he was in his 30s, he continued thinking he had difficulty learning.
“Today I give great credit to Mrs. Grandy and to my parents for taking the time to walk with me in my journey of learning to read through specialized training.
“However, even after earning two degrees in a second language I still felt this negative emotion of thinking I was stupid. I sought guidance to determine where this debilitating thinking was coming from. With the right help to sort through the emotions I learned the skills to overcome my negative thinking.”
Jonathan referred to a Cherokee Indian legend, a story of two wolves that illustrates an important battle between good and bad within us. Here is how the story goes:
A grandfather is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil and within him are emotions such as anger, envy, guilt, resentment, inferiority, and ego.”
“The other wolf is good and within him are emotions such as joy, peace, love, hope, and compassion. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Jonathan says that reading was the hardest skillset he ever had to learn. Although there were great people in his life, he was feeding negative thinking about learning into his life.
“At school we tend to focus on the result through a test or an evaluation, but it is the day-to-day results and accomplishments that we need to concentrate on to encourage children. Developing a healthy social emotional learning mindset is an essential skill that our children and youth need to develop.
“Last year it became very obvious that a different approach was needed to help children build a better and healthier mindset to learning. I was coaching track and field at my school. We were doing a long jump competition.
“One student jumped half a meter when all the other children were already jumping up to two and a half metres. On her second try, she jumped a whole metre. On the third and final try she jumped a metre and a half.
“As we were wrapping up, she walked by me and I heard her say she was just awful at track and field. I realized this young lady needed my attention, so I tried to encourage her.
“I went into my social emotional mindset thinking and told her she was the only child who tripled their jump on the third try. At school we must foster an understanding of where a person started from and how far they have come.
“Children tell us what they are thinking and feeling all the time through their words and behaviour. We just have to be open to listening.”
Jonathan went on to tell the story of two young girls he was helping with math. “Both had very low confidence and one of the young ladies said she was not good at math because she was stupid.
“I was taken aback but then I thought this was me at that exact same time in my life. I tried to address her feelings from a standpoint of compassion and understanding. I said that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy by putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.
“Another thing we talked about was that thought equals emotion equals action. When you give children the right tools, amazing things take place.
“We created a whole vocabulary around emotion because I find children do not know how to express how they feel. They need to see how emotions can cause the wrong action or encourage the right reaction.
“This girl told me when she feels bad about math, she gets lost in her negative feelings. So, I said I could help her try to replace that negative thought.
“Our children and youth need learning skills, and they need us to guide them. It comes down to a choice to think one way or another. What you decide really influences your behaviours and your emotions.
“We need to be talk about what thoughts are overpowering and how those thoughts can be transformed.”
Jonathan said PEI Literacy Alliance is integrating into their Ready Set Learn program exactly what is needed. “Our school systems need to use this training in their curriculum. This is key to develop resilience and to show what children can do when they have been given control over their thinking and emotions and mindset.
“This new way of thinking is transforming and can be used for the rest of our lives. If I had learned this as a child instead, I know for a fact that I would have saved myself a lot of pain, worry, and energy.”