Monday, June 30, 2008

Gabby's Story, Part 2

(If you're reading this blog for the first time in a few days, refer to the previous entry before reading this second part.)

It was easy to figure out how Gabby felt about something. And you knew, everybody knew, when Gabby didn't get something in Math. She spoke right up and told you, for any and all to hear, in no uncertain terms, that she didn't get it.

"I don't get it!" she would say.

The good thing about her was that she really wanted to understand. And I've found this to be true for all students, not only those who speak up. They want to understand. They want to get what everyone else gets. They hope it will make sense.

So when Gabby blurted out, right in the middle of class, it was NOT to annoy me, or to disrupt the class, or to get attention and be the class clown. She truly wanted help.

And so it was, in one of the last weeks of school, as she was at my desk, getting my help, and talking herself through what she knew to do, and solving the problem, she told me this story:

During a previous year, she had been unable to understand long division, as it was being introduced. She had spoken up (boldly, and loudly, I'm sure, because that was Gabby's style) to say that she didn't understand, at which time the teacher had sent her to the board. And apparently she struggled and struggled as she worked at the board, trying to remember what to do next. And it took her a long time to understand with her teacher going through the steps and telling Gabby what to do from her desk. And when at last she did it properly, the teacher had said, "Well, FINALLY she gets it!"

(I need to say right now that I know the teacher, and I'm not going to make judgments on what might have happened before or during the episode. I don't know what she did to teach the students or how she presented that lesson. And I do not get into discussions with students about what a previous teacher has said or done. That conversation is "off limits".)

So I told Gabby that I was sorry that it had happened to her and said something like," I'm can tell that it made you feel bad."

Gabby continued, "I went home and told my mom and she was mad about what happened. And it really made me feel bad and hurt me a lot to be embarrassed in front of the class."


It had hurt her.
It had made her feel bad.
It had embarrassed her.
BUT, it had not stopped her from asking questions, thank goodness.

Putting this last piece of the puzzle with all of the other parts of Gabby's math experience in 5th grade, I marveled at her boldness and determination, all the more. She had been willing to take the risk. She had been willing to be "first" to ask for help. She had been willing to be the "only" one, if necessary, in order to be able to understand.

She needed extra time with new concepts and with word problems. She needed to be able to move objects around and handle them. She needed to talk about Math as she worked it. And when she was allowed all of that extra time, she could "get it". And it gave her confidence.

Gabby was one of those students I've written about before. She learned it by "doing" it, by repeatedly "going through the steps", by the actual effort of moving the pencil and doing it. And in her case, by talking out loud about it. And because she "got it," she felt successful.

And one last time, let me say that when she got it, everyone knew she got it, because she announced it with great elation.

She had to work hard for what she got, but she she didn't mind working. And she never made less than a B all year.

If kids think you are willing to help them, they don't mind asking for help. If they think you will keep explaining it until they understand, they don't mind asking questions. If they think there is hope, they don't mind working. And when they know that you, the teacher, or the parent, or a helper, care, they will risk being the only one because they really do want to know and they want to succeed.