At-Risk Students by Bill Page
Dramatic, compelling, sobering accounts of the frustration,discomfiture, and defensive ploys of students at risk, through the eyes and from the heart of a teacher who views failure from the students' perspective. Their notorious misbehavior, ranging from incompetence and disrespect to clowning, apathy, and defiance is a cover up for embarrassment and failure. Through vignettes and essays, the author places the reader firmly in the stuedents' moccasins and presents a reality check for teachers coping with disruptive, disobedient kids.
Murphy, the Tutor
Reversing the roles and making problem learners the turors, made the difference, not just academically, but in many other ways.
Murphy, a nineteen-year-old senior high school boy, had no credits in high school and was reading at a low elementary grade level. He had recently transferred into our suburban high school from a special education program in urban St Louis. As a small suburban district, we had only a remedial type program at the senior high, with nothing to offer him. The counselor at his high school called to ask if I could take him into my junior high school program for "kids who have trouble in school." After six weeks of trying, they had given up on Murphy.
A Program for Low Achievers
The program at Hanley Junior High was a funded research project called Project Enable. The project used a tutoring program in which seventh-graders, whose skills were below the regular junior high program, became tutors of primary-level students. This device served to improve the self-concept of the tutor and gave him/her reason or excuse to study and read at any elementary or primary level.
The seventh-graders collected books and built a room library of pre-primer books, which they read into tape recorders and to each other as a means of practicing reading and improving expression. Their goal was the opportunity to go to the nearby elementary school to read to primary students.
The Problem Kids Became Tutors
Although Murphy was a small, slightly built kid, who was shy and quiet and might have passed as a junior high student, I feared the stigma of his being in the junior high. So I agreed to let him stop by our school and ride the bus with my kids on their way to the three elementary schools, where they tutored for two hours each day. To introduce Murphy to the program, I suggested that he observe for a few days, to see if he might like to tutor some first -graders.
Murphy really wasn't prepared to tutor at all, so he sat on a bench in the cafetorium, watching several tutoring sessions from a distance.The second day, a fourth- grader chose to sit by him while waiting to go back to class. When the young boy asked Murphy for the time, Murphy pointed to the clock and subsequently discoveredt hat the child could not tell time.Telling time was one thing Murphy was able to do, so with help, he set about teachingt he fourth-grader,using paper plates with movable hands attached,ditto sheets and an old alarm clock with no glass cover.
A Time-Telling Clinic
In a short while, not only had the fourth-grader learned to tell time, but Murphy had a "time-telling clinic" going. He would teach a child, and the teacher would send him another kid to start the process all over again.Murphy worked himself out of a job by teaching time-telling to some two dozen kids in three weeks. The next thing he knew, his tutoring seryice was requested by another school.
Another boy in the program named Mike set up a shoe-tying clinic, using a similar model and making special practice props for lacing and holding knot loops. By tying a black and white shoestring together, using the black part for the left hand and the white for the right hand, the student had soon graduated from a shoebox with lacing holes to a boot and then his own shoes.
"What Have you Done to Murphy?"
Barely a month after Murphy began tutoring, I got a call frorn the high school counselor." Murphy's teachers want to know what you've done to him! He has changed so dramatically t at the teachers can,t understand it and would like to meet with you and Kay (the other program teacher) to find out what happened!"
At the meeting, we learned that Murphy had been known to smile only twice in the six weeks we had been in school. He had kept his chin on his chest and would not acknowledge the teachers when he passed them in the hall. He had never made a response in class, voluntarily or otherwise, and he had never turned in a single homework paper or class paper, no matter how simple.
Now the two remedial teachers reported that, in the past two weeks, Murphy had been smiling almost continuously; he greeted them in the halls, volunteered answers in class, and had turned in assignments every day for the past week. These teachers subsequently provided an opportunity for their classes to tutor in an elementary school across the street from the high school. Murphy, as an experienced tutor, actually became a resource, helping them set up the program.
While no research was done on Murphy's transformation, we know there was a transformation. I personally attribute the changes to the increase in confidence and the self-image improvement wrought by elementary students showing genuine, unrestrained appreciation for him.
Kids Need Encouragement
Unfortunately, schools usually emphasize negativity in grades, trust, and responsibility, and resort to fears, threats, and intimidation as an integral part of daily routine. To build and improve self-concept, the emphasis needs to be on encouragement and positive regard.
The lowest-level kids, from the time they start school, see themselves as poor learners and perceive themselves as lacking ability. Lack of learning accumulates and kids are forced to give up. We know what is wrong, what to do and where to start. What more do we need to begin making a difference in the lives of problem learners?
Printed with permission from Educational Dynamics Publishing Company.
At-Risk Students Feeling Their Pain, Understanding Their Defensive Ploys by Bill Page
| Bill Page, a farm boy who graduated from a one-room school, attended a rural high school, flunked out of college, and was drafted into the Korean War. Later, with maturity, military experience and the G.I. Bill, he received his teaching credentials. He became a specialist, teaching middle-school "troublemakers." Bill went on to originate and direct a successful USOE research program for six years. Then for 26 years he taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students with his proven premise, "Failure is the choice and fault of schools--not students.