Thursday, March 7, 2013
When Kids Draw Close
I am conferring in a fifth grade classroom.
The girl calls me over.
"Will you help me, miss?" she asks, shoving a graphic organizer across the table. Fifth grade is working on a "Survivor" unit, about endangered species. They have just finished reading THE GREAT KAPOK TREE and are now writing about how the character changed from the beginning of the book to the end, partly to process the reading, and partly to prepare for the kinds of questions they will encounter on our state tests next week.
I am more than a little surprised. I know she struggles but usually she wants nothing to do with me,
hiding behind a wall of silliness, giggles, evasion. Today she initiates contact.
"Will you help me, miss?"
I sit down across the table from her.
"I don't understand this," she says, gesturing at the graphic organizer.
"Tell me what you think you are supposed to do," I say.
"I have to write," she says. "I have to write about the beginning and the end." Her voice trails off.
I wait. And soon she starts again. "I have to write about the character. At the beginning and the end."
"But I don't know how to do it."
"No?" I say, gesturing to the writing I did during the mini-lesson. "Does that help?"
"I can use that?" she says questioningly.
"Yes," I affirm. "Remember, I said you could use my lead if it would help you get started."
My friend picks up her pencil. I sit with her for about fifteen minutes, coaxing her through the writing. She is an English Language Learner and the words, especially the spelling, come slowly. We practice several high frequency words, talk about the difference between don't and want, and why one needs an apostrophe, and the other doesn't.
Eventually the secretary comes to the door. I am needed in the office. I quickly review what we have done, then bid my new friend goodbye.
Today, I go back into the fifth grade classroom. Students are writing fiction stories, and I think that perhaps my friend and I will work again, but she is quick to dismiss my offer. "I don't need any help," she says, rolling her eyes and giggling in a much more typical answer. I turn to confer with the girl sitting next to her, then turn back again.
Again, I am quickly dismissed. "I don't need any help," she says.
Tonight I am thinking about those times that kids draw close. About yesterday, with my fifth grade friend.
And about the kindergartener that leaves his soccer game to come lean against me at recess. About the sixth grader who seeks me out several times a day. "Hey, Larry," she says, using a nickname she invented the second week of school, "What are you doing?" And about the group of eighth grade boys that wave frantically at me every time our paths cross.
And I wonder what it is that draws them. What does it mean when kids draw close?