Dec 10, 2008

S-L-O-W Down

I have two boys who together are just bad news.

The one kid, I hate to admit, I rarely expend much energy on. At his first parent-teacher conference last year the parents explained to me why my class was completely useless and that he would never pass it. I figure between his parents' attitude, and his it is just way too much energy away from the kids who actually want to be there. So, as long as he behaves and appears to be doing what we're doing, I don't do much with him. I ask that he be polite and that's about it.

The other boy is actually a really great kid (so is the first, but he doesn't let me see it often) as long as he is kept away from his friend. First trimester this year I saw amazing progress with him over last year. But in the last few weeks he has gotten totally attitudinal on me. Every chance he gets, he goes and sits next to his buddy - abandoning his partner. I've been out a bit and he has refused to work with his partner for the sub. He sits with his friend every day until I finish attendance and correct him. The power struggle is draining - really it is. The other day as he left my classroom he shouted loudly, "Spanish sucks!" I spoke with him, and he got that sheepish grin as he denied having done anything wrong. (8th grade is soooo charming :D )

So, yesterday we were reading the class novel as a class. I had just explained that tiene miedo means she is scared. I mean, [i]just[/i] finished speaking. I have a policy of never calling on students who don't volunteer - something about being utterly embarassed and humiliated by a language teacher in college (and dropping the language forever because of it). But, I called on the second child. He gave his trademark sheepish grin and said he hadn't been paying attention. I told him I knew and we would wait. After about a minute of waiting, he started going word by word through the sentence. He didn't get it 100% correct, but I helped him out a little. I called on him again, and he at least knew which sentence we had read.

Then I called on his buddy - again I had [i]just[/i] translated the word in the sentence, and he didn't have a clue. I told him we would wait. His partner tried to rescue him, she helped him find the correct page and sentence. He shrugged and said he didn't know. I said it was ok, there was a glossary. So, we waited. A long time. Finally he was able to tell us what the sentence had said.
I spent the rest of the class calling only on my behavior and barometer students. We went REALLY slowly. By the time the bell rang the first student, the one whose parents tell me it's a waste of time and he won't pass, was volunteering for sentences. He may have been doing that just to get control of when he was called on, but at least I know he was reading with us, paying attention and participating. And he got to see some success.

I try to go slowly in that class. I really do. But apparently I do not go slowly enough. As soon as I slowed down enough to wait for these students, and really let them process the information, as we went through and circled the new words over and over and over I saw lights turn on, and some of that 8th grade "we're too cool for you" attitude started to fade.

I still don't like putting kids on the spot like that. But maybe if all the tools are in front of them, and I'm not asking for grammatical accuracy (I got a case ending wrong in Russian when my professor told me how stupid I was), then maybe it isn't so bad to call on students who don't volunteer. Maybe it is a way of keeping them involved in the class and keeping them and me accountable. By not calling on them I feel like maybe I am giving them permission to check out and not care or try.


  1. Man, that's a tough situation. I had two boys like in my grade EVERY year from 1-8th grade. Even as a first grader, I can remember being annoyed that they weren't living up to their potential.. well, I'm sure I didn't think it so articulately, but I was annoyed... anyway... I think you're right, about what you say in your last paragraph.. as long as you don't make them feel "stupid", it seems like a good tactic.. good for you :)


  2. held the entire class to the pace that the two slowest could take. No child was certainly left behind, but you've essentially made them succeed by lowering the definition of success until it includes their level of output. How is that sustainable? How is it not punishing the rest of the students?


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