Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer School

(For those of you who saw this yesterday, I'm sorry.  Blogger decided that my scheduling of the publication of this masterpiece for July 20th just didn't count. Skim it anyway if you want, there are some changes, as there always are .  It may not be mediated, but it is edited.)
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Mr. 7 is taking a reading class this summer.  I found the flyer at the UofA Poetry Center and Amster, perfect parent that she is, signed him right up.  Of course,  since I discovered the activity it seemed only fair that I provide the transportation.  What kind of friend alerts a parent to an enrichment program and then leaves her to fend for herself?

So, this morning, bright and early and right on time, the whole family knocked on our front door.  Mr. 5 was going to the first day of camp without his brother.  For the first time, ever, in his whole life, he would be the one to scope out the scene.  His big brother will join him at lunchtime, after school.  But, for the morning, he's on his own and he's a little nervous about it.  Mr. 7 is trying to be blase about his new experience, but the Big Cuter's Leggo box isn't holding his attention.  He needs me.  We watered the inside and the outside plants, he drowning the lantana with the hose and reminding me that it is very very hot outside.  He's never more than 3 feet from my side.  I've forgotten how terrifying a new experience can be to a little person. 

We found the building and the classroom and Mr. 7 discovered an old friend.  I had to smile when the two boys discussed the fact that they'd been friends a long long time ago, in kindergarten.  When 2 years is 1/3 of your life, I guess that qualifies as a long long time.  We were all happy that the boys had found each other.  It made going through the front door much easier.

The teacher, a boy named Sue, is from Georgia... his short a doesn't sound like a New Yorker would say it. He asks the class to clap hands on the long a, as it says its own name. As they warm to the activity, they begin to look at each other before they move. And I begin to wonder if are they learning or if peer pressure is making them press their hands together. I hope that Mr. Sue can tell the difference.

I like the fact that there was an activity before the rules were discussed.  This might actually be fun.  Mr. Sue queried the students.  What does participation mean?  No one answered.  Can the negative define the activity?  He didn't go there.... though I think it might have been interesting to see where the conversation took them.  On the other hand, this is a reading class, not the first day of second grade, and we must stay focused on the agenda.  What kinds of stories do the students like?  His three classmates liked funny, animal and action stories.  Mr. 7 likes made-up stories.   Squirmy, the animal story kid, the kid who liked true stories, he likes stories with facts.  The little girl liked stories with happy endings.  Squirmy likes naps, because then you're not too tired to do more fun things.  I wish I had had that answer when the Cuters were small.  Once we finished with participation  and polite, reviewing the rules for raising your hand, I began to see the challenges Mr. Sue would face.  Turn the page seems pretty simple.  But when you're 7 and there's a book with pictures on your left and a new friend on your right, paying attention to the command requires more concentration than happened to be present this morning.  And there are only 4 kids in this class.  I start to wonder about Tucson's 30+ kid classrooms..... how much learning can really happen when there are 29 other distractions in the room?

The teacher read a story as the kids followed along, each with his own book.  Some used their fingers to underline the words as he read them.  Some turned the pages without prompting, others were clueless.  I never knew that so much discussion that could come from Three By the Sea, but was I ever wrong.  Will Cat and Rat be friends?  "The cat's face looks angry, I don't think so."  "The rat bought the cat from the man and so the cat has to be his friend."  As the two animals search for lunch, and the children giggle at the thought of what Cat might want to eat, I watch as the animated young man at the front of the room shares their anticipatory carnivorous glee.  He's as into the story as they are.  But he's also watching.  Who is answering?  Who is clueless?  I hope he's noticing that Squirmy is making connections outside the box, that Mr. 7 is politely raising his hand and that our friend's shoulders are drooping. 

Squirmy called out Mr. 7's pal for announcing that he was finished reading the assigned page.  Squirmy's 1st grade teacher had told them not to shout, but to sit quietly and wait.  With the smile that has not left his face since the class began, Mr. Sue reassured him that order could be maintained with only 4 students in the room.  Asking the kids to read  to themselves what he had just read aloud to them, he wandered the room, surreptitiously monitoring the turning of pages.  Sometimes he'd smile, once he nodded knowingly, but he was always in tune with the kids at the tables.  Were their packets too difficult to open on their own? Did they need a pencil?  The lone girl, shyer and quieter and sitting apart from the rest of the students saw no sign of impatience as she struggled to tell him what Rat might do. There was just enough time but not more than enough time spent on the assignment.  The students weren't chatting or distracted.  It's obviously scripted, but it's scripted well and Mr. Sue delivers the program with enthusiasm and more encouraging words than are usually heard here on the range.  He's not over-praising.  He's not smarmy.  He's just complimenting them on their participation.  And it works.

And so it went, for 2 hours.  Word finds and reading aloud and reading to themselves and plan to plane and back again.  The rest of the parents filed in toward the end, and I felt like they were interlopers.  We had our own little space here, we were reading, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.

I think this is going to be a good thing.

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