A popular expression right now is “I ___________. What is your Superpower?”
Fill in the blank with whatever job, hobby or phrase you’d like. Then, buy a mug, a T-shirt or anything you can imagine with that expression on it. The point behind the saying is that people are looking for that one area in which they contribute to someone else’s life. But what does this have to do with student success?
Superpowers such as we see in Marvel Comic characters might not really exist. But we do know that God has created each of us with a variety of abilities and strengths that He desires for us to use for Him. Finding how to serve God best and seeing our own value to Him can hinge on our understanding of our strengths and realizing these don’t need to fit into a certain mold to be used by God. Concern about differences, strengths and weaknesses especially reveals itself in a classroom where students compare themselves to each other based on a variety of criteria they establish themselves.
I could never perform surgery, design a home, paint a masterpiece, or invent machinery. Yet many say they could never teach a room full of students. What is the difference? Each person has gifts, interests, talents and calling through the Lord’s working. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
Superpowers in a Classroom
A teacher faces a room full of students who represent a myriad of strengths or “superpowers.” She must rethink her approach to a learner in an effort not only to develop his existing strengths but also to expose him to others. Background, interests and talents have a huge effect on what these strengths will be, but increasing opportunities in many areas for a student may develop more strengths.
See Also: Learning & Choosing
Various educators and researchers have given labels to strengths and skills students might possess. Among them is Howard Gardner, who is known well for his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, believing that all of us have strengths that fit into categories such as visual-spatial, musical, logical and more. Others hold to the VAK model—visual, auditory, kinesthetic and some insert reading to make VARK. Many other models have been submitted, but the big point is that differences exist. Students likely have greater strengths in one area over another, but it doesn’t mean that is the only way they can learn. Rather, it means that is an area in which they will excel more easily and can use to support other learning.
Differences in strengths do not make one student more capable than another. They are what draw some to a career in medicine and others to architecture or design. Some will become teachers and others accountants. Many students struggle with the differences, though, and believe they are weaknesses rather than superpowers. This belief leads to thoughts such as “I’m stupid” and “I can’t.” Teachers and other adults can change that perception.
Breaking the Mold
Psalm 139:14 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The psalmist recognized the perfect plan of God for his life and gives us a model for how we should view ourselves before God. We can help students realize God’s view of them and have that right view of the students ourselves. Resisting assumptions is important in how teachers approach the classroom and student success. Setting expectations for each student is also important but so is realizing those expectations might be met in a variety of avenues. For many, this possibly (and likely) means breaking the mold of your own learning style in order to present a lesson effectively in many formats.
These various formats may meet the needs of a visual learner with a drawing, a musical learner with a song or rhythm, a spatial learner with a graphic organizer, etc., but they will also allow each child in the room to synthesize multiple formats of the same material, using repetition to strengthen their learning and their weaknesses. The goal of teaching is to create active learners, not get across a single lesson on grammar, history or math. A variety in formats will help foster a thirst for more investigation.
Empowering Each Student
Students come in all sizes, learning styles, motivation levels and interests. They are not one-size-fits-all, so teaching cannot be either. In order to help students effectively utilize the gifts God has given, teachers can take a variety of steps in the classroom to ensure student success.
Be aware—Know the students, their interests and their struggles enough to understand what is strengthening, stretching or breaking.
Differentiate instruction—Present a lesson in multiple formats, not just saying but also showing, involving and guiding.
Give options—Allow students to have choices in learning and for assessment, like a menu in a restaurant. Though this isn’t practical for all assignments, it is helpful when possible in helping students own their own learning.
Work together—Involving students in the learning process makes a huge difference in their attitudes towards the work, but they don’t always see their own value or abilities, so work with them, giving suggestions, prods, pushes—whatever is needed—to guide them to greater goals.
Maintain high expectations—Students will live up to our expectations, however high or low they are. A teacher’s job is to help the students achieve whatever God wants them to do. Aim high for His glory!
Superman, Batman or Spiderman will never come from your classroom because they are fictional, imaginative heroes. But empowered students can. Students who understand the force of learning and of using the strengths God has given them will serve God and country far better. This is the key to student success.
I teach. What is your superpower?