Asking For Help

Asking For HelpHe’d surpassed his frustration level. I was working with another group when I glanced over and noticed his head in his hands. He was desperately trying to cover his red face and the tears streaming down his cheeks. We only had a few minutes left in class, and he had been diligently working to map out his group’s reading plan for the next few weeks.

I’d provided a sample plan. We had twice discussed how he could pattern his group’s plan after the sample I’d given them. And yet, he was still confused and couldn’t seem to make it work. His partners weren’t helping much. He had enthusiastically taken the lead on developing the plan, and they had let him do it. Why wouldn’t they? He’s a hard-working student–an extremely “high flyer” in a room full of soaring stars. Having him in their group all but insures they will all do well. However, at this point he’d reached his limit. He couldn’t figure it out and was certainly not going to finish it before the class ended. Crushed and falling apart, he slumped in his seat.

I quickly made my way over to him and threw my arm around him. “Let’s take a walk together,” I stated as I instructed the class to tidy the room before leaving.

When we reached the small office next door, I said, “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“I can’t figure it out. I tried and tried, but it doesn’t make sense, and they were counting on me. . . and not really helping,” he admitted.

“Okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about the plan. I’ll be happy to help with it. It is really confusing the first time you do it, and I’m sure the example could have been clearer. We will figure it out, okay?”

“Okay.” He relaxed and immediately appeared relieved.

“Can I ask you something though?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you get the other guys’ attention, tell them you were having trouble, and ask them to help you figure it out?”


“Aren’t they part of your group, too?”


“Isn’t that what partners are for–to help us learn?”

“I guess so,” he reluctantly admitted.

“You have so much to offer your group. You work hard in class and strive to think deeply about our books. And I also appreciate that you want to lead your group, but leading isn’t always doing it yourself, right? Leading is inviting other people to help carry out a task and helping them do their best, too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“You know asking for help is okay, right?”

“Well. . . I guess so.” He bowed his head as if ashamed to admit he might need help occasionally.

“I know how you feel. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn, too.”

The Threads That Run Through: Understanding Conflict


At PDS we have outlined overarching themes for each grade level. First graders examine similarities and differences, and  second grade students survey connections. Third graders take a look at systems while fourth graders study innovation. In fifth grade students investigate perspectives, and in sixth grade we analyze conflict.

Conflict is at the center of every great story, both in fiction and life, and our most honorable heroes face animosity with courage, humility, and grace.

In our 6th grade reading class, we look at conflicts in literature and in our world. We begin the year reviewing the four different types of conflict we see in stories. A character may have a clash with another character (Man vs. Man), or he may struggle in his own heart or mind (Man vs. Self). Sometimes a protagonist contends with difficult elements in the environment (Man vs. Nature), or he may stand against his culture or community (Man vs. Society). As we read, we find different types of conflicts and mark them in our books discussing them as we go. We also try to make connections between the specific conflicts we see in the text and those we see in the world.

Our assigned summer book Surviving Hitler contains many examples of each type of conflict. Our boys understand and connect with the story and it serves as a fantastic introduction to World War II and our 6th grade social studies curriculum. In social studies our boys explore major global conflicts in the 20th century asking “Is war ever justified?” 

While reading I Am David in the first trimester, we look closely at the man vs. nature and man vs. self conflicts David faces escaping the Communist concentration camp and fleeing to Denmark. The boys further consider man vs. self conflicts as they create their “I Am” projects reflecting on their own internal conflicts.

In the second trimester, we consider man vs. man and man vs. society conflicts. As an introduction we look at primary documents examining pictures from the American Civil Rights movement. (Last year we visited the National Civil Rights Museum, but we were unable to do that this year because of renovations.) Then, we read The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. Most of the book focuses on man vs. man conflicts (Byron vs. everyone), but there are several man vs. society conflicts as well. After reading Watsons, we inquire into apartheid-era South Africa before reading Naidoo’s Journey to Jo’burg. With Jo’burg we focus mostly on man vs. society conflicts and investigate the lasting economic effects of apartheid.

The study of conflicts continues in the third trimester as the boys select from books that further our inquiry. During both the second and third trimesters, we also complete several small group projects. The projects serve dual purposes. First, they allow the students to show their understanding of the books in a more authentic–creative way. Second, it offers the boys the opportunity to work through real conflict. I rarely allow the boys to complete a project alone. They must work with a partner(s) on their project and hold one another accountable for the work as they go. I try not to interfere unless necessary. They must develop the ability to share ideas and collaborate. They must learn to give positive and negative feedback to their peers (via the Ladder of Feedback protocol).

Why do I want my students to understand conflict? I want my students to recognize different problems in the world and challenge the way things are. I hope that by better understanding conflict they will develop the character and determination needed to create change. Perhaps they will learn to engage problems and not flee from them, and hopefully my students will learn to persevere through challenges to grow deeper and become more capable leaders. William Ellery Channing said, “. . . difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict (“Self-Culture,” September 1838). I hope my students develop resolve.

I’m still learning the best way to scaffold and design the learning activities to help my students develop a deep understanding of conflict–and I’m still working on teaching ways to resolve conflict into the class, too. Assessment of student understanding is a weakness, and I need to make changes moving forward. However, I’m pleased with the progress of the class overall. I need to develop and refine things further, but we are on the right track.

This is the last post in a series of reflections on the throughlines for my 6th grade reading class. Check out the overview of the series or the posts on thoughtfulnessmaking connections, and student voice.