27 January 2010

"He Just Responds to You"

"He just responds to you." This statement is a cop-out to me. For some reason, I get a different response/reaction from the students I work with than anyone else does. Is it simply because some students respond differently to women and men? No, I don't believe that. Is it that men relate differently to children than men? No, because I've seen exceptions on both sides. What I DO think is that I do not take anyone's student evaluation as completely true. The Scientific Method teaches us that any phenomenon can be repeated. If it cannot be repeated, however, it is not true; not to me anyway.

One example is from a student I worked with at a junior high school acouple years ago. He was diagnosed with Angelman's Syndrome and was new to that junior high. We were told by his previous school that when another student in the area has a meltdown, this particular student (we'll call him Trevor) would get upset. In this classroom, we had several students who would have meltdowns, and Trevor would run to a corner and either cross his arms with a pouting face or he would have a small tantrum where he would need to be consoled. Even though this behavior was observable, why did I have a hard time believing that it was true? Here's why: When staff would eat lunches with the students, if anyone did anything funny, or to get a reaction, Trevor would try to mimic their behavior in order to get some attention as well. Back in the classroom situation, when another student was having a meltdown, Trevor tried again to steal some of that attention when I was sitting and working with him. I firmly told him to sit back down, which he did laughingly. He was attention-seeking, and it was a disruption in a classroom when others NEEDED added attention.

A more current example is a student I work with now who has Cerebral Palsy coupled with Mental Retardation. I was told that he has a short attention span. I was told this because he would not sit and listen to someone read him a story; one of his learning objectives is to perform a task for 5 minutes. The students I've experienced with attention issues have trouble even focusing on anything, even activities that they want to do, or enjoy doing. I do not believe that this student has an attention-span issue. Instead, I think he has learned ways of getting out of what he doesn't want to do, and that he has a restless body. This student (Let's call him Jon) will sit and listen to me read him books for the entire Sustained Silent Reading period (30 minutes). Other teachers have trouble getting past 3 pages with him. Why is this? Is my voice just that soothing? Does he just respond to me? No. If you believe a student has attention issues, why would you try to get him to focus with extra stimulation? I watch the other teacher try to read to him, and they do it with other books all around him on the table, and after a coulple pages, he either grabs a new book, or starts turning the pages in the one being read to him. This is why I was told he has a short attention span.

I worked with a student once who had to make a strong conscious effort to be still for 5 seconds. When I read to Jon, his table is clear of distractions, and I do not let him grab the books from me. This is who he will sit and listen to me read for as long as I am willing to read to him. My approach to students can be different; does that make others wrong, or me wrong? Of course not! There is nothing special about me or my methods. I just want to make sure what I was told about a student is true. Telling me that a student "just responds" to me is a cop-out for an inability to being a creative educator; at least it is in my book.

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