Overcoming Learning Challenges with Envisioning Language

Overcoming Learning Challenges with Envisioning Language

Recently, my third-grade class and I were reading books about learning challenges and the strategies characters used to overcome them. During our discussions about the books, I wanted to guide them into thinking about their own learning challenges and how they could be overcome. 

As a class, we noticed that all the characters in our books believed so deeply in the value of learning that they found alternative ways to make sure they had access to books, schools, and an education. Then one intuitive 8-year-old spoke up from her socially distanced desk: “We are all overcoming learning challenges with COVID-19, just like all the children in these books did.  We’re all wearing masks and staying physically distant so we can keep everyone safe and keep coming to school.”

I love these kinds of teachable moments, and I have learned to grab onto them whenever they appear. Here was my chance to help my students learn from this experience and perhaps help others in the future as well. During the pandemic, I’ve tried to provide my students with an opportunity to envision themselves successfully learning despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought to their lives. That vision of success can help students foster both hope and a feeling of control that they may have lost due to the pandemic. 


Using Envisioning Language to Communicate Hope

Students are more likely to succeed when they are able to visualize their accomplishments, which helps them develop a growth mindset. As educators, we can support this growth by delivering the message to students that they belong in this community, that their work is important, and that their knowledge continues to grow even when they’re confronted with obstacles (Tough 2016). This is why envisioning language is so powerful: it enables children to see through challenges to what is possible. 

Our new project started with partner chats about challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our learning. Once I brought the class back together, we charted all our ideas. I then transitioned the children into the next component of the lesson by posing a series of envisioning language questions: 

  • “Thinking carefully about all of the challenges COVID-19 has brought to us, what strategies could we use to overcome these learning challenges so we can continue to get a good education, like the characters in the books we’ve been reading?” 
  • “When you are distracted by your mask, what do you see yourself doing to refocus?” 
  • “What would our classroom feel like if everyone were using their new strategies throughout the day? What could you do to help that happen? What do you need from me to support you as you work towards that?” 
  • “What do you imagine might be hard about using these new strategies? What can we do about that?” 
  • “This is a really challenging time. We are all going to experience frustration at times due to the challenges we are experiencing. What needs to happen so we can experience those feelings and maintain a safe classroom space?” 
  • “What does being a problem-solver with learning challenges look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?”


Shifting our Mindset

In new partnerships, the children began to make a plan. They became enthusiastic and empowered with this new perspective. Voices rose with excited chatter as they identified strategies they could use to overcome the challenges. We added them to our chart to create a list of options the children could pick from to create a bookmark.

Eagerly, they each created several bookmarks to showcase their strategies for overcoming learning challenges brought on by COVID, because one can never have enough bookmarks! Along the way, I’m hopeful they feel a bit more empowered because they have a plan and a group of friends to support them as they navigate through the challenges of COVID-19.

For more information on envisioning language, check out our articles on the subject and our Quick Coaching Guide, The Power of Envisioning Language.

Written by Tracey Tierney, a certified Responsive Classroom Educator



Tough, Paul. “How Kids Learn Resilience,” The Atlantic, June 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

Tags: Communication, Conversation Skills, Teacher Language