Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
September 1, 2006
Vol. 64
No. 1

EL Study Guide / Teaching to Student Strengths

author avatar

If we can't see our students' strengths, how can we guide them to do their best possible work, both in school and later, in their life that will take place outside of school? Sometimes we have to look especially hard to see strengths that differ from the few ingredients that schools routinely praise.

Digging for Unrecognized Strengths

  • Might a student's exceptional talent, such as in designing and building structures, get overlooked if he or she shows significant weaknesses in areas schools tend to value more, like writing or even docile behavior?
  • Have you ever seen a major strength discounted in a student you taught? Was that student's talent ever nurtured in school, or did it languish? Is there anything you wish you had done differently as a teacher to encourage that strength?
  • Are there students like this in your classes now? How might you encourage them?
Robert J. Sternberg (“Recognizing Neglected Strengths,” p. 30) believes teachers often fail to appreciate knowledge and skills that students from nonmainstream cultures bring to school. Many standardized measurements assume all students possess similar background knowledge and may even question the intelligence of those who don't.
  • In pairs, skim one of the book's scenarios: Test and grade your partner's knowledge of such “basic skills” as how to sleep outdoors in temperatures below freezing or start a fire without matches.
  • Discuss how you might fare in a school where having this kind of knowledge was taken for granted. How might you cope? What would you want a teacher or mentor to do to help you?

Identifying What's Positive With Boys

Thomas Newkirk (“Media and Literacy: What's Good?”, p. 62) and Jennifer Allen (“My Literary Lunches With Boys,” p. 67) suggest that educators need to look at “what's good” about boys and popular media and consider boys' style of interacting—and of inhaling popular media—as pluses rather than problems in teaching writing. Allen discovered that providing a group of boys a place to be themselves, write whatever they wanted, and share their stories in their own unvarnished fashion led to hours and pages of enthusiastic writing.
Does Allen's account square with your experiences of teaching boys to write? Do you agree that boys and girls tend to behave differently in writing groups and may have different needs?
Try Allen's experiment for one or two afternoons: Ask each of the boys in your class what they write about for enjoyment, and invite them to share a piece with you. Ask those that show zeal for writing to meet with you for lunch as a group. Turn them loose to read their stories and watch what happens. Does the gathering take off as Allen's did? You might try the same experiment with a group of girls and compare. Report back to the study group.

Find Your Strength As a Leader

  • Which of these styles do you think you use most frequently? Which style is your strength? Are you able to draw on different approaches depending on the situation?
  • If you dare, familiarize a colleague with the styles, then ask him or her to observe you in four different leadership situations and to take notes on specific actions, words, and gestures they notice that reflect one of the styles. Which methods of leading did the colleague see you using most and least frequently? Do you need to achieve more of a balance?

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 107026.jpg
Teaching to Student Strengths
Go To Publication