Oct 30, 2008

the worm on the hook

Since my days as a student teacher I have had a policy that I do not call on students who do not volunteer. It can be too embarassing if they aren't comfortable yet with the material, or if they are by nature shy people.

On the other hand, I can't check in with my barometer students (those who are trying but slower than the class average) if I don't check in with them. So, I've been playing with strategies like teaching to the eyes, and making sure I move through the classroom more often.

Yesterday, as we were reading the class novel, I could see that some of my slower processors were struggling. So I would reread the sentence slowly and ask that student to translate what I had just read. I didn't do it in a mean way, and I was there to help them through it the whole time. I pointed at the words on the board, I repeated the words slowly. And I didn't let their peers call out the answers quickly. Every student responded.

Every student except one. This is a student who has struggled the whole year, not just in my class but in all of his classes. We, his teachers, have brainstormed strategies to help this student engage, to accomodate him, and to provide appropriate interventions for his needs. Yesterday I asked him what a sentence meant and he wuickly shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "I don't know," he said. Perhaps it was his tone of voice, which suggested he couldn't be bothered to care, or perhaps it was the speed of his shoulder shrug. But something inside me told me not to let him off the hook. I gave him the "teacher look" for what felt like five minutes. I refused to let his "I don't know" stand. I repeated the question, pointing at each word slowly. And I stared at him. At the end of that time he finally stammered through a translation. And I praised him for his efforts and went on.

It was painful to me to watch him squirm for so long. It was painful for the other students too, they desperately wanted to call out the answer and just go on already. And I know it was painful for him. He had 24 pairs of eyes on him for a lengthy bit of time.

But what that told me is that I have been letting him slip under the radar and simply choose not to engage. He is capable of engaging if he is required to, and now that he has tasted that, I plan to continue. I hope the next time I ask him a question he doesn't wait five minutes to answer. I hope that the next time I ask him a question he was already thinking that being called on was a possibility so he should be paying attention before hand.

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