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Contemplating Stressors in the Cognitive Domain

While after reading Dr. Shanker’s two books, I feel as though I have a better understanding of the Five Domains, I’m also aware that I often think the most about the invisible stressors in the Biological Domain. Today, I started to think beyond this. I signed up for a two day inservice through our Board on meeting the needs of emergent and early readers. The school that I just came from was involved in an early intervention reading strategy initiative, and as such, I’ve learned a lot about oral language and reading intervention strategies through various school and Board workshops. I’m moving to a new school next year though — with different students and different needs — and I thought that we would ultimately all benefit from this course learning. I was excited for today, and I am excited to learn more tomorrow. The end of the session today though really got me thinking.

After spending a lot of time listening and reading about phonological awareness and the alphabetic principle, the session facilitators coordinated a game. They gave each table a package of words and phrases to sort using a Venn Diagram. To make things exciting, the facilitators told us that this was a competition, and that they would be picking up some prizes for tomorrow. At the end of a five hour session, people were eager to stand up, talk to the individuals at their table groups, and collaborate on this Venn Diagram. Or, at least, everybody seemed happy to do this … but me. At first, I thought that a competition would be enjoyable, but then I saw this envelope full of multiple terms, words, and letters that didn’t seem to make sense out of context. I felt very overwhelmed.

  • Was I the only one that didn’t understand the terms?
  • Was I the only one that was confused about how to sort them?
  • Was everybody going to start questioning me — and my skills — if I made a mistake?

I was reluctant to share ideas with the group, certain that I was wrong. When others shared their ideas — even when I didn’t always agree with them — I was hesitant to speak up because I thought that maybe everybody knew more than me. I didn’t want to lead the group in the wrong direction if I was the one mistaken.

I found myself standing back from the table group. I found myself looking around at what other groups were doing. I started to listen in on their conversations, and tried to remove myself from the stress that I was feeling. Everybody else seemed to be enjoying the competition, but as I stood there doubting myself and my understanding of today’s material, I realized what it was like to experience an invisible stressor in the Cognitive Domain.

What really got me thinking though is that the facilitators never intended on this being a stressful exercise. They went out of their way to make it fun! They looked at ways to involve everyone. They circulated and supported our learning during the activity, and they kept the mood light throughout. But my doubts, impacted on my concentration, reduced my involvement, and made me question myself (and my knowledge base) even on the drive home.

This is when I started to think about the classroom environment. Even when we provide options and scaffold learning, are there still students that feel like I felt today? How do we identify these students? What do we do to support them? I can’t help but wonder what more we can do.

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