In my last post, I reflected upon my students that seemed to have learned to get by in earlier grades, but are now coming to the recognition that they are far behind in many areas and skills. The result in Middle School tends to be acting out behaviors that mask their low academic self-esteem.
I am slowly learning from these students. I am learning what they need, not just what works. What some see as working is addressing the misbehavior alone through consequence and the like. This creates a power struggle and actually gives students excuses to not invest in classwork and the class environment.
Brianna started the school year hiding. She always wanted to sit in the back of the room. When working in groups, she wanted to work alone. When called on to think and consider abstract ideas, she would toss out silly answers or express that she didn't understand the question.
It was starting to become clear that she had learned that if she takes too long to answer a question, that the teacher will get tired of waiting and call on someone else. Brianna had become an artist at diversion. Her anti-investment behaviors were not overt, they in fact were very covert and hidden. She did everything she could to dissolve into the mix so she would not be noticed. It was her developed coping skills that she had perfected through the years.
There was another interesting manipulative skill that Brianna had developed. When taking a test, she would come to me and ask me questions about the test questions. She did this in such an artistic way that part of me believed that she really was getting it. Unfortunately, after the test, I was in full realization that I actually took the test and she had mastered the ability to ask the right questions to get "help" from me.
I knew I had to help Brianna to recognize what she was doing before I could help her. With the next unit, instead of watching her do nothing while the rest of the class jumped into their reading and writing, I sat next to her. I wanted to know what she was thinking, not just about the reading, but as a human in school.
It took a while and a lot of "I don't know" and "nothing" responses before I finally got something that I can use. Brianna said that she doesn't read and understand as fast as the rest of class so she waits until the class discusses the reading and that is how she learns. This gave me some insight into her process, but didn't really tell me what she needed.
I knew I needed to start basic and find out what she is really capable of. I found text of the same content, but at a much lower level. This text was not of Brianna's expected 7th grade level, but at a third grade level.
I asked Brianna to read the text aloud to me, stopping after each sentence and explaining in her own words what the sentence was saying. Reluctantly, she started. The first thing that I noticed is the smile on her face. As she read aloud, it was clear that she understood what she was reading. Is was as if she magically became smart in her eyes. She explained what the sentence was saying and could not wait to read the next sentence. When we were finished with the read, I asked he to explain to me what she thought the section was saying. She did! Brianna actually said, "I feel smart".
I now knew that I needed to personalize her learning. I found that this transcends every day differentiation. Brianna needed a prescription that was taylor made for her.
We continued working this way on a daily basis with me leaving her to work independently and report her successes to me at the end of class.
The true test- Test day!
I had expected Brianna to come and visit me as she had always done during the test. She did, but something was different. Brianna asked me, "Is this asking about the reading that I did...", and gave a summary of her reading to make sure she was on the right track. I was proud of her progress. Small steps and at a much lower level, but with success and a recipe for growth.
I think my lesson learned is that my students need to realize success to overcome their low academic self-esteem. It has to start with their self-perception as a student more so that the work itself. I can only hope that this trend continues and that Brianna is able to self-advocate to continue her growth.
Brianna taught me more than I taught her. I am fine with that.