Many readers know about my "small block" as I often call them. These are the kids who do not meet the legal qualifications for special education, but they are still not quite up to being successful in our fast-paced general education classes. Our former vice principal used to call them her "tweeners" because they just didn't fit in either category. Why are they low performers? Divorce, suicide (parents not there's of course), poverty, and abuse are the usual culprits. It is rare for me to have a kid who isn't impacted by one of those. To meet their needs, my small class was created.
We have few kids (15-20 instead of 30+), we go slowly, and we explain and model everything very carefully. In general, the class is quite successful at keeping these kids from failing language arts and social studies. The challenge for me is to keep myself upbeat as I explain, for the fourth (or fortieth) time today, the definition of a thesis. Sometimes I struggle to keep things light, to keep up hope for them, and to support them as they act out or pull in due to stresses at home. Then, every once in a while, I get a wonderful, heartening moment.
Yesterday we took our novel quiz. Today we discussed the first half of our novel, and I graded the quizzes. It was amazing. The average score on the novel quiz was 32/35. I've used this quiz before with previous classes, so I know this is not just an easy one. I also know this class pretty well now, I've seen a lot of their work, and this is something amazing. They've finally "bought in" to this whole reading thing, and they're actually PAYING ATTENTION!!!
During our discussion we had this exchange:
Me: Okay, so let's think about the characters in this book. What makes them tick? Why do they each do the things they do?
Boy 1: Because they are Confucius?
Me(amazed that he remembers this term from one class and is applying it correctly to another): Confucian? What do you mean by that?
Boy 1: Because Confucian makes them have to behave, so Haoyou has to do what his dad says or what Uncle Bo says no matter what.
Me (floored!): Wow, that's really clever of you. How did you think of that?
Boy 1 (totally nonchalant): Because Haoyou said it himself about needing to be obedent.
Boy 1: Yes, oBEEdeient.
Boy 2: Yeah, they all kind of have to be obedient because that's the rule. Be obedient to your family.
Girl (forgets to raise her hand and blurts out): I think they're all looking for families! That's what they all want.
Me (totally amazed now because our discussions usually consist of one word answers): Families? What do you mean by that?
Girl: They are all missing some family. Like Haoyou misses his dad and the Great Miao is kind of like a dad for him cause he's nice to him and stuff. And Mipeng wants, um (blushing), a new, nice husband.
Boy 1: Yeah, like if you put them all together then they kind of make up a new kind of family. Then they could all be loyal to each other and still be kind of in Confucian.
Me (still floored): Well, um, wow, that's very good everybody. I think you've done a great job summing up the motivation for these characters.
This may seem like a weird kind of blog post to be sharing, but if you knew this class, if you knew how far they'd come from the start of the year, you would be amazed too. They’re thinking, they’re actually thinking! And not just on a purely concrete level! On Monday, when they get their novel quizzes back, they are definitely getting doughnuts.