Beginning of the year and small successes

I have almost a full week of school (with students) under my belt, and I am happy to report that this is the best beginning of the year I've ever had. I've had great kids every year, but my class this year is the least significant I've ever had in terms of behavior. That's saying something; being in special education, I frequently have students with behavioral difficulties. This year, I (so far) just have kids who need extra help, individualized attention. Me.

With the kiddos I have right now, I get to teach academics rather than also needing to teach behavior, but one little guy whom I'll call Dave has been giving me a run for my money. He came to our school midyear last year as a second-year kindergartener. He had already been retained once. As we have done our beginning of the year alphabet review, he just appears checked out.

Friday, as we reviewed Aa and Bb, I asked Dave to name one of the letters. He refused to answer, and his sister (also in my class) remarked, "He's not so good with the alphabet." And she's right. In my beginning of the year testing, he could only identify four letters--after two years of kindergarten. I think he has gotten so accustomed to being unsuccessful that he's just done trying. He wouldn't even attempt to repeat a letter name or letter sound after me.

Today, as we continued our letter review, I was struggling to find a way to get him to engage. He wouldn't attempt to name a letter, he wouldn't repeat the letter names, he wouldn't repeat repeat the sounds, he wouldn't say the names with me, wouldn't trace them in the air. Just getting him to look in the direction of the smartboard was difficult.

And here's the thing. I need this kid invested in what we're doing to make a difference. I need him to participate so that he can learn. And what I don't want to do is get into a power struggle or be negative with him after he's had such a difficult time in school already. What do do, what to do?

Most of the kids were actively participating during the lesson--all except Dave and the girl next to him. As I looked at them, some little spiky ball toys
Spiky Balls kind of like these, but with faces and arms/legs,
caught my eye on my desk. I passed them out to all of the good listeners to hold. As long as they were participating, they could keep them during the lesson.

His eyes lit up. Finger was up to trace. Mouth repeating the letter name. Eyes on the board. I was out of the spiky ball toys, but I found two other small toys. After a while, I had all of the kids pass their toys to the right. He ended up with a little spiky ball alien. And while it worked as a reinforcer to keep him on task, here's what else worked today:

  • Students who recognized a letter were to raise their hand. Then, they were to whisper it to their neighbor. Dave wouldn't repeat after me, but he would name the letter or letter sound after his neighbor told him.
  • In addition to being "not so good with the alphabet", Dave is also not too interested in handwriting. However, when encouraged to write another letter to show the alien, he worked with much more enthusiasm and then pointed out his best-written letter.
  • After every letter he wrote, I asked him to whisper it to his alien, and he could tell it the letter name and sound.

I think that the difference with the alien was 1) it was kind of a cool, fun thing to play with; and 2) there's no pressure when you're telling the answer to a toy. It won't laugh at you or get mad at you if you're wrong. I'm hoping that we can build on this as the weeks go on and build his confidence so that he's more willing to participate in class. I think we can really make a difference for long as we can get him to let us.

Also today, I got up at 5:25 to run two miles. Sleeping in my running clothes is a big accountability-enhancer. I was up about 3 times in the night with my 6 year old, and when the alarm went off I was really tempted to put off the run til tonight...but I was already dressed to run.

Seeing as I was up a little later than I had planned to be, I decided that I'd run on an empty stomach since it was only two miles. I was a little unsure how that'd go as I got started, but it was OK. I don't think it would have been for more than three or so, though. I pushed the pace a little but never to the point of really straining. I ran the two miles with a 9:02 average pace; my first mile was a little slower than the second.

I hope I can keep getting myself up early to run. It's such a nice way to start the day, and I feel much more alert afterwards. Who knows...maybe by the time the HM is over, I'll be a morning person! :)


  1. That is awesome! Great job. I have so much respect for people who teach young kids. What a challenging but rewarding job.


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