Identifying Superpowers: Coaching Teachers to Find Students' Strengths

This month in our Coaching in Action series, an HMH regional consultant discusses why and how to identify a "superpower" in a student who's struggling in class.

As coaches, we've all seen students who, despite teachers' best efforts, don't shine in the easily measurable metrics—reading inventory, assessments, and quizzes, to name a few. This is when we need to work alongside educators and encourage them to look for student “superpowers.” To illustrate, let me share one of my favorite stories of discovering a student’s superpower.

From the day fourth-grader Madilynn first walked into my classroom in August, I knew there was far more to this student than met the eye, and certainly far more than her assessments indicated. Her initial Reading Inventory was so low that she was also given the Phonics Inventory, and based on those results, she was placed in a standalone System 44 class with other fourth-graders. 

Always in touch with her creative side, Madilynn would show up to class each day with “something extra,” whether stickers, a journal, note paper, a set of markers, or pencils. More often than not, I would intercept these treasures on the way into class and offer to put them “somewhere safe” until the end of class. Madilynn would then go straight to her laptop but was always the last to log in. She was decidedly more interested in what was on her neighbor’s screen than what was on her own. So we moved her neighbor a few devices away to where his screen would no longer be a distraction. 

Her progress on the software was arduous and unremarkable. However, when it came to small group lessons and independent reading, Madilynn came to life. She devoured the library books and the modules in the System 44 book and became a pro at summarizing the articles. In front of the class, she was both animated and articulate with an excellent memory for details. The most notable example of her abilities was when her team created a presentation to compare and contrast two different ancient civilizations. From the minute she had the pointer in her hand, she became visibly confident while noting each bullet point and recounting details. She was in her element, and this superpower of hers seemed to defy her scores on several levels. 

As the year wound down, I wanted others to recognize the bright, articulate student I had come to know, and decided it was worth trying to harness Madilynn’s superpower for her benefit. I pulled up the HMH Reading Inventory and projected it onto the classroom screen, handed Madilynn a pointer, and told her to take the test “out loud” (no other students were present). She attacked each passage and did her thinking out loud as she reasoned her way through each question. She couldn’t decode every word, but she was able to leverage what she could read in order to make meaning—and almost every time she came to the correct conclusion.

Several questions and one skip later, her score came up on the screen, and we both sat there stunned. She had handily scored an 805L, which is grade-level proficient for fourth grade! We made copies of her results to share with her teacher and the principal. After hand-delivering them, she looked at me and asked, “Can we call my mom? . . . She’s going to be so excited!”

All students have a superpower. It is up to us as educators to help them discover it and determine how to harness it to their benefit. It will transform your perspective of that student, but more importantly, it will transform that student’s perspective of him or herself!

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Visit our website to learn more about the READ 180 and System 44 programs, and learn about the full range of HMH coaching options here.