Sunday, September 19, 2010


Chad is a small, quiet boy.  He is one of only two new students in my class this year.  He arrived armed with a hefty IEP, primarily for social / emotional reasons.  His IEP is so hefty, in fact, that in most schools he would be taught in a substantially separate classroom.

In the first week of school, Chad has said very little, although he often speaks just under his breath.  Despite sometimes being confused or missing part of the instructions, he follows the directions he understands to the letter.  When I look at him, I usually find him following me with his big, serious eyes.  I think he is a little scared of me.

My suspicion is that there are many delightful and intriguing thoughts going on inside Chad's head.  It would serve us all well to be a little quieter around him so we can hear what he has to say.

Yesterday we did an activity designed to get students thinking about what they are very good at and what they still need to get better at.  I made 3 signs: "Beginner," "Getting Better," and "Expert." I explained that we all have things we are experts at, things we are beginners at, and things we are working on getting better at.

For example, I said I am an expert at riding my bike, and also at being a teacher.  But I am just a beginner at playing basketball.

Next, I asked the class to think hard about activities for each category.  They listed a few.  Then I started naming activities.  As I named each one, they had to go stand near the sign that indicated their ability level for that activity.

I started with basketball.  They were pretty evenly divided: some beginners, some getting better, some experts.  (Of course!  Many second grade boys are "experts" at basketball.)

Next was spelling.  They were surprisingly confident in their spelling ability, until my assistant reminded them of the spelling assessment we'd been working on.  She said that if the spelling test was kind of hard for them, they were probably not experts at spelling.

(This is tricky.  On the one hand, it is encouraging that they all feel like spelling experts.  I want them to be confident and excited.  On the other hand, I don't want them to stand by "Expert" just because everyone else is.  And one of the purposes of the activity is for them to be aware of their beginning ability level so they can track their improvement.  If they are already experts at spelling in September, how will they know how much better they got at it by June?  And why would they be motivated to work at it?)

After spelling, I called out "drawing."  Again, pretty even split.  Next was "making friends."  I heard mutters of, "Oh, that's easy!" as the crowd moved toward "expert."  I put myself in between "Getting better" and "Expert" because, as I told them, I am pretty good at making friends but sometimes I am a little shy.

I turned to look at "Beginner," and there stood two students, alone: Chad and Gloria.

I paused, breathless at their self-awareness.  Indeed, neither Chad nor Gloria are experts at making friends.  Gloria's face usually wears a half-scowl.  She doesn't give off very happy or approachable vibes.  And Chad -- well, he rarely speaks.  He is very serious.  He wants very much to make friends, but it is something he doesn't really know how to do.

To be the only two people in a class of 20 who are beginners at making friends -- that is courage, especially at the age of 7.  I know I wouldn't have been brave enough to do that myself in second grade.  Their willingness to be vulnerable, to share so publicly something they wish for and don't yet know how to achieve  -- it still makes me shake my head in wonder.

Last week, all the students wrote their Hopes and Dreams for second grade.  Most wrote things like "I hope to go on field trips," or "I hope to be a fashion designer," or "I want to get better at reading, and do a lot of math."  Chad wrote, "I hope to make new friends."

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