Having worked with many students of varying ages—7 to 72—it occurs to me that learning differences can be a lot like differences in our looks and our personalities. Some prefer to work things out in great detail, some prefer being coached on all the short-cuts. Some are quiet, some are entertaining with their bravado. In short, as human beings, there are countless ways we can be put together, with our physical attributes and our mental attributes.
But the magic in each human being lies somewhere in the countless layers of our make-up. After 17 years of tutoring, I continue to be amazed at the “spark” that triggers people to want to learn something. One student comes to my mind that was, for all practical purposes, a non-reader. But after many weeks, I discovered he was an expert at plants of all kinds and had his own garden he tended to. This “spark” led to reading about plants and learning about organic gardening.
Another young man would always “spark to life” when learning about animals and nature. He even kept a notebook about alligators, deer, and the marsh wildlife of coastal Georgia on a family vacation. The spelling wasn’t perfect, but he had a great liveliness in relating from his notebook what he had observed.
It was heartwarming when a young boy learning the sounds in English was amazed at what he was learning and said, “I really need one of these sheets about the vowels at home so I can show my mom.” His sense of family was his “spark.”
The common denominator among all the successful students I have known—no matter their learning difference—is the spark that makes them passionate about knowledge. I have been fortunate enough to share and help discover students’ passions, no matter where they were on the learning continuum. Respecting another human enough to allow them to show you who they are and what makes them passionate is an adventure. It goes without saying that helping those find their spark and passion is a win-win experience. I know it sparks something in me!
Tammy Deicken, volunteer