a step

Days later, a test on my turf.  Much of the hour is devoted to the final, summative assessment of the book we’ve been reading for months. Around the conference table I inherited and can’t seem to evict from my small classroom, a handful of students are working to demonstrate what they know. Among them, the boy who dominated our daily discussion sits and stares.

I’d led them through the first open-ended section. He’d done the few multiple choice– but not the follow-up explain-your-answer questions nor any of the others which require a constructed response.

“Are you finished?” I ask, knowing better.  He tells me flat out what he didn’t do. And I refrain, having finally learned his lesson, from throwing down a direct challenge. I know if I say, “You know that,” he’ll insist that he doesn’t. And thus, another tack:

I beckon him up to my desk and say lightly: “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

I turn to the page he’s skipped and read the first question aloud. Then I ask him directly, conversationally, and he gives me a simple but mostly right answer. I say, “Write that down.”

We proceed through the blank spots he’s left on the test. I try not to nod or otherwise affirm his responses. I do not correct or offer second chances; that kind of help is counterproductive. I just show him that he can do it.  He seems pleasantly surprised. Maybe a little satisfied.

But, honestly, regardless,  part of me thinks even that much assistance is too much. Part of me wants his initial refusal to have an immediate consequence: no answers, no credit, no problem– for me. But that is just not how it works. Or, at least, how I work. Or how I try.

At this point in his education, he should not need to hold my hand. But, right now, the fact is he does. This is how he has come to me. This is how he is.  And whether his condition is temporary or permanent, natural or created, it is what we’ve got. It’s where we must start. I could, quite easily, leave him right where he is, take what he gives, and escape all accountability for the F that he may yet earn. No administrator would blame me. But they would be wrong.


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