Two of my previous troublemakers, Benny from Grade 4 and Peter from Grade 5, have experienced considerable turnarounds. Their type is fairly easy to identify: they're both very smart and need to be constantly engaged. The way the respond, in contrast to another one of my students whom I'll describe in a moment, is to act out and be "naughty". It seems like so long ago at this point it's actually a bit difficult to believe they were once my biggest "problems". All I really had to do was have a talk with them, nothing more. Now I have them on my side.
It reminds me of the film Dangerous Minds, when one of Michelle Pfieffer's students advises her to speak to a difficult student who is effectively the ringleader of the classroom. When I neutralized the issue these students presented, I was able to carry most of the class in a positive direction as well. As for the other student, Kevin, he is also a bright student. Quite bright, actually. However, rather than acting out, he withdraws when he gets bored. It gets me to thinking that this must be a different sort of archetype. Most teachers are familiar with the smart students that act out when they get bored, but I wonder: how many have paused to consider what to do with the smart students who withdraw into their own little worlds. These types command far less attention, and as such may slip under the radar.
Monday's Grade 4 class was a little bright spot on the week. Two of my students, Evan and Ray, who struggled the previous week for different reasons, both experienced a turnaround. I had spoken with Evan's mother about his lack of preparedness and general lack of interest, to which she replied 'Evan doesn't do much around home', or something to that effect. Well, I don't know what changed at home but he showed up ready to work. It got me thinking about progress, and small victories. It is said the patient man recognizes progress in small measures. Evan, despite the fact that his consistent lack of effort and engagement have contributed have, over time, led to minimal English proficiency, I was still able to see a difference between one day and another.
Though he couldn't make up for months/years of poor habits over night, I found it best to encourage this positive trend, with the hope that it may lead him in the right direction. I think many teachers expect their students to change too quickly. To put it simply, if a student has been "naughty" for years, it is unrealistic to expect him or her to change completely overnight. Students can't always be measured against other students, but they can be measured against themselves and their previous performances.
Now, Ray's issue was much easier to solve, though the solution may not have been as apparent had the method not been made known to me in on of our SL Classroom courses. Ray, who is rather shy, has a friend in the classroom who is himself quite an achiever. So, I matched them up, and informed Ray's friend Toby that Ray could ask him questions and he, Toby, could answer them. I thought it worked out quite well, as Ray participated far more than he had in pair exercises as well as whole-class exercises.
In sum, it bears mentioning that even students who have struggled, whether academically or behaviorally, can benefit from teachers letting them know they expect good things. This may come as a revelation to some, who have too often been told they are, essentially, a certain way. Reputations make their way from grade to grade, teachers are warned to be careful of the naughtier students, and these same students never have the opportunity to reinvent themselves. Students can really surprise you, if you believe in them. Sometimes that's all it takes for them to really turn their lives around.