It’s So Much Work, But That’s Why We’re Here



Have you ever been reading a book about helping children, and as you go along you start to have the sinking feeling that the book’s advice is something you should already be doing in the classroom? I had that feeling recently as I was reading It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success, by Richard Lavoie. In his book, Lavoie examines a variety of learning disabilities that students experience, and how these difficulties can negatively impact students’ lives outside the classroom. He states that while many schools and teachers focus on academic assistance for these kids, most children are far more concerned with their social status and how their learning issues can isolate them from their peers. I admit that I have been one of those educators who was primarily concerned with helping students with learning disabilities reach their academic potential. I think I assumed that if these students felt more confident in the classroom, their self-esteem would enable them to be more capable in social situations. If they did need assistance finding friends or navigating the rough waters of middle school, I would help them in the same way I would help any other student in my classroom. However, Lavoie has helped me to see that students with learning disabilities have unique needs, and that my assistance for their social difficulties needs to be specific. For example, if a student has trouble picking up on social cues, tone of voice, or body language, he can have great difficulty understanding why his peers might be frustrated with him. I can help by spending one-on-one time reviewing a particular situation and leading him towards insight as to why the friend is irritated. I can then give him a similar hypothetical situation to see if his gets the point, and ask him to behave differently if a similar issue arises throughout the week, as well as schedule a follow-up meeting to see if he followed through on our conversation. I can also help him to discover the “hidden curriculum” in school, where he will learn the rules of the school that the students create, such as which doors he needs to enter after lunch and how students typically wait at the canteen. Lavoie offers practical advice to both parents and teachers who see a child suffering through social issues but are unsure of how to help. I know that when I go back to school I will try to implement some of these ideas. It is important to make all students feel comfortable in the classroom, and in middle school that means teaching them the social skills that they will need to feel comfortable and confident in the eyes of their peers.

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