You’ve found in life, both in your own experience and by observing others, that before you can learn from someone, you have to believe what they say. In other words you have to trust that what they are telling you is true. It works out in many ways for anyone who teaches and anyone who learns whether in a classroom for typical students or in a classroom for students with special needs. Or at home. Or in the workplace. Or, like many kids, on the road.
Samantha was in foster care. Then back at home. Then in foster care again. Then her mother was released from prison. You don’t know what for and don’t ask. Samantha’s back with her mother now and started with you last week. She’s 14 and in 7th grade. The period where she is scheduled has eight other students ranging in age from eleven to 16. Their reading and writing skills range from emergent, which you know to be a virtual non-reader, up to grade level. Samantha refuses to write in her journal, your major vehicle for daily spontaneous writing and the backbone of your language arts program. This is necessary because you have no books that cover your students’ range of skills and their regular education class assignments are rarely at an appropriate reading or writing level. The daily journal focuses on interest-based writing that is self generated. It can be a topic, a diary writing, or anything a student wants it to be as long as it gets words and sentences on the page.
Samantha, like your other students, can also choose from a menu of topics you provide daily:
Write seven sentences about the funniest thing your grandmother ever did (your mother, your father, your brother or sister, your teacher.
Write seven sentences about your favorite movie.
Write about your favorite childhood toy.
Write about your pet
Write about your favorite color
It’s not that simple, of course. You know you’ll have to tease out the details and prompt with starter sentences and give her a model or two of what others have done well but everybody likes to write about themselves, right?
Because for many of the students you work with, telling even one more secret about their lives, if it’s only their favorite color, can be used against them to prove something bad about them or trick them or make them do something they don’t want to do. Or that’s what they seem to think. And you understand. Personal information is all they have.
But still you need Samantha to write, to feel the language, to learn to use it to express herself and communicate so you entice any way you can: stickers, small candies, being first in line to leave at the bell, free time to use the computer or a personal device… These don’t work either.
After Samantha is with you for a few weeks, you ask her point blank why she won’t write, imagining she won’t even answer. But she surprises you and her answer almost, but not quite, surprises you just as much.
“I don’t want you to read it.”
Come back next week to Is This Your Kid right here on my website blog to find out how I handled it and weigh in on what you think of my solution to the trust dilemma. Love it? Hate it? Have a better solution? Remember, every voice counts.