Everyone is good at something!
This is a real story about how a teacher uncovers the extent of a child’s potential out of a genuine curiosity to find out “how far can this child go?”.
Two days ago, Ms. Lim, a special needs school teacher, decided to tell her class an important message, “Remember this—everyone has something that he or she is good at.”
Knowing that Cairn, a 16 year-old student, who has moderate autism and speech difficulties, is good at simple Maths calculations, she asked the boy to perform an addition of two six-digit figures in front of the class.
Ms Lim was astounded to hear the boy saying out the correct answer before her fingers even finished keying in the numbers on the calculator!
Testing the child’s limits!
Encouraged by Cairn’s mental calculation prowess, Ms Lim asked Cairn to solve subtraction, multiplication and even division of six-digit figures. The boy answered every question correctly without pen and paper!
Testing the child’s limit, Ms. Lim wrote 2 to the power of 3.
The whole class watched the question in bewilderment, “What’s that? Miss Lim, what’s that? How come we had never see this kind of question before?”
Before she could explain, Cairn answered, “Eight!”
Surprised, Ms Lim thought to herself quietly, “Wow! Cairn knows how to do indices! Let’s test him a little more!”
Randomly, she wrote 16 to the power of 3 on the whiteboard, half thinking that he is unlikely to solve it mentally, even if he knows indices.
To solve this question mentally, one has to perform a series of calculations on the head:
(Step 1) 16 x 6= 96;
(Step 2) 16 x10 = 160;
(Step 3) then add 96 and 160 = 256;
(Step 4) 256 x 6 = 1536 which involves several carry-overs;
(Step 5) 256 x 10 = 2560;
(Final Step 6) 1536 + 2560 = 4096.
Cairn took a while to think as the class waited in silence. The moment he said the correct answer, the whole class erupted in applause. Classmates went up and gave Cairn a huge pat on his shoulder and congratulated him after he could answer all of the questions! The students were saying to him like they were talking to their younger brother, “Ah boy!!!! Good ah!” Their euphoria also attracted teachers from other classes to see what Cairn was doing!
Keep Searching What Your Strength Is
Cairn’s spectacular performance had many students started thinking, “How come he is so good at math? What am I good at then?”
This was a great teaching moment. Ms Lim took the opportunity to encourage the class, “Like I said, everyone is good at something. All you have to do is to keep searching what your strength is!”
The next day, Ms Lim took a video of how Cairn learns and performs square root for the first time.
Looking at the examples she created for Cairn on the whiteboard, I could tell how much she believed in my boy’s ability to figure the logic on his own. All this while, I am fully aware of Cairn’s strength in Maths, but unlike Ms Lim, I had stopped asking, “how much more can his strength be expanded?”, after I had switched my focus to work on enhancing his employability.
Do not underestimate the intrinsic value of learning
That’s the problem with most typical Singaporean parents. In the face of practical concerns, we would encourage children to learn only what is of use, instead of what is in their interest and strength.
I do not think that I am wrong to focus on my son’s employability, but I had unwittingly neglected on expanding his strengths further. Yet, I have kept on polishing my writing and photography skills as a hobby in recent years. And I know how much personal satisfaction I had gained from doing such endeavours.
Although I do not know how Cairn’s strength in mental calculation can be translated to employable skills, I now know the intrinsic value in encouraging Cairn to pursue a subject or area where his interest lies. Can you feel the enthusiasm that overflows from his back when he is trying to learn a Maths concept on his own?
p.s: Special thanks to Ms Lim Wan Ting for your passion and commitment in discovering children’s potential! And for being such a wonderful teacher!
Ms Lim is not the only wonderful teacher I know. Over these years at Grace Orchard School (GOS), Cairn had encountered many excellent Teachers and therapists who had gone the extra mile to help him. Thank you, GOS principal, Mrs Goh and your team!
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