Search This Blog

Saturday, May 29, 2010

31. This Teaching Life (4): JIm's poem and Cathy's response

Kathy Iozzi works at Warrandyte High as an Integration Aide. She used to be a primary school teacher, and brings a wealth of teaching experience and a raft of exceptional skills to her work.
She works with "Jim", a year 9 student, who is a member of my Year 9 class. Jim transferred into my class at mid year in 2009, and I've been lucky enough to have the same class for English in Year 9.

I asked Kathy to tell the story of Jim's Poem from her perspective. Here's what she wrote.

Kathy's Response to Jim's poem

In a week when the school's focus is on Naplan, and students' achievements are based on an all-important score on a series of tests, it is a good time to stop and think about all the other things not measured on these tests - the things students achieve every day, that may seem small or insignificant to others.

One such student comes to mind: Jim. He's a year 9 boy who has Aspergers, along with severe anxiety, who finds most tasks challenging, particularly those involving higher order skills. He lacks confidence in his own ability, and his automatic response to tasks is to say, "I can't do that!" It can be very difficult to change his mindset.

One particular day during an English class he was presented with a poetry task: he was to write a series of poems about himself, his ideal family and his real family. you could see the look on his face; a smile was replaced with a frown and he quickly called me over to tell me how stupid the task was, and that he wouldn't do it, and that it was too much work! During the period we talked - or I should say, I talked - because he was sulking, about the task. Every idea I suggested was quickly rejected. I thought we were in for a horrid week trying to get the task completed.

During a private study period later in the week Jim started to ask me a few questions about the task, and with encouragement and prompting he started to put some ideas on paper. It was only a few steps - but at least we were getting somewhere. A few ideas developed into not just one but three poems. He had achieved something. He was proud of his achievements and was eager to show his teacher that he had completed the tasks.

He came to show me his completed poems a few days later. There was a look of apprehension on his face as he handed me his work and asked me to read it. He was taking a risk, something he generally avoids; he couldn't predict the outcome and was clearly out of his comfort zone.

While I was reading his work, I began to feel tearful. He had not simply written three poems, and got the job done; they were fantastic poems that gave an insight into him; he poems said things that, without this task, would not have been expressed. He kept asking me, "Do you like them? Are they any good?" When I told him they were brilliant and I was so proud of him, he couldn't stop smiling, and he said, "I didn't think I could write a poem."

I said, "Your mum would love to read this poem." The following Sunday was Mothers' Day, so I suggested, "Why don't you make it into a card and give it to her for Mothers' Day."

He was hesitant at first; he was still not totally convinced that his poem was as good as his teacher and I were saying, but he came round to the idea, and spent an English class typing the poem up, colouring the heading, and putting a little note with it for his mum.

He gave me a copy of the poem to keep, and thanked me for helping him at the start. Then he said, "This is the first time I have given something I have written as a gift." Once again, Jim was taking a risk.

When I arrived at work on the Monday, Jim was waiting for me at the office door. He was eager to tell me that his mum loved his poem, and that she was going to keep it. "My poem must be really good if Mum is keeping it," he said.

There is no Naplan test for risk taking, perseverance, or believing in yourself. But these achievements say more and will have a far greater impact on Jim's learning than any comments on progression points on a report. The disappointing thing about this is that work of others within the school to create an environment where students like Jim feel comfortable enough to have a go has no place in the measures used to assess and record the school's performance.

Cathy Iozzi

A final comment from me
Much of the time, teaching is just plain hard work. On the truly bad days, when the kids are resistant and angry, teaching is a bit like being pecked to death by ducks. It's a rare day when everything goes well, when the kids are fully present and fully engaged, days when something 'really important' happens; it's a rare day when the planets are in alignment, and when the gods smile on our endeavours. But such moments do occur - like this moment with Jim - and when they do, they deserve celebration.

No comments:

Post a Comment