Some of you would be aware that I assist at the local Year 1 to Year 9 (Grade 1 to Grade 9) school 3 times per week and that I usually work in the classroom with young teenagers. This is a short piece that reflects what one experiences when working with this very impressionable, complicated and confused age group.
Early last week, during a Year 8 (Grade 8) English class, I was asked by the teacher if I would take one of the students to a location outside the classroom itself and to evaluate reading ability, and discuss the current assessment. We are referring to a 13 year old girl, who sometimes can be very loud and disruptive in the classroom. We sat down in a corner of the high school teacher’s staff room ( it was empty and handy) and firstly I asked her what the story was in the book she was reading. She did not really know, as I believe she had read very little of it. By the way, I usually get on quite well with this particular girl, even if she can be quite disrespectful at times.
She just said “Stuff”, and did not want to say any more. Ok, where does one go from there? Picking up and looking at the book I could see a piece of paper sticking out of the top, so I assumed this would be a good place to start. Opening up the book, which just so happened to be the beginning of a new chapter, I asked her to start reading. Her reply “I can’t read”. Well, I knew that not to be true, but she repeated the same reply after two more requests to start reading.
After the third negative reply, she said, ‘You read it”. We had to keep moving forward, so I made a deal, “I will read the first paragraph if you read from there on”. It was a deal. I read that first paragraph and she then hesitatingly commenced reading the second. No problem, until she got to the end of the first sentence – she suddenly stopped. She had come upon a word she was not familiar with, and did not even try to pronounce it. Once again, she said, “I can’t read”. After assistance with understanding the meaning and pronunciation of that word, she read on. By the time she had read the last sentence of that paragraph, the claim of “not being able to read” had disappeared. It was not raised again. By the way, her general ability to read was about average for her age group. I then assisted her with her assessment and we returned to the classroom.
Now for a different scenario with the same student. I was assisting another teacher with mathematics this time and the class was generally struggling with the concept being taught. After assisting a number of students with the area and perimeter of various shapes, I wondered over to this particular student. Her notebook was closed on her desk and the worksheet she was supposed to be working on had not even been started. Since, I thought, we had worked out some form of understanding from a couple of days previously, I assumed she would respond favorably. Not so. She refused to even look at either her notebook or her worksheet, even though I politely requested her co-operation. She flatly refused and said, “I don’t need help”! After about 30 seconds of a similar attitude, I just plain gave up!
This is the question. Here is a girl who has no self confidence and very little willingness to learn. When out of the classroom, she eventually relaxes and will work with you on what ever she is working on, but in the socially competitive environment of a classroom, she digs her heels in. How does one encourage any student to work, with whoever is trying to assist, in a classroom environment? This difficulty is not uncommon, as too many students seem to have self image difficulties that translates into not learning much in the classroom. I have exchanged views on this with teachers on many occasions over the years and there does not appear to be a ready answer. As has been said, “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”. In any event, one cannot give up! I will try again this week.