What Good Readers Do

There’s a boy in my Tuesday/Thursday class. For the sake of his anonymity, let’s call him Adam, shall we?

I LOVE this boy. From the very first class, I knew he was going to be a royal pain in my ass, but the kind that I could actually WORK with. He’s a wise-ass and goes out of his way to have some sort of snarky or just-this-side-of-inappropriate comment. During the very first class, he announced that he hates English. “Why?” I asked him:

“Because it’s complicated, Man. This language is MESSED. UP.”

“Agreed; you’ll get no argument from me. What if I make it a little less complicated for you? Would you hate it a little less?”


Okay, then! As long as we understand each other.

Later, we were listing things that stand in the way of our being really great writers. I was at the board, writing down the things the class was shouting out to me:

“I have trouble staying on topic”

“I never know how much detail is too much.”

“I can’t pick good topics.”

And Adam shouts out “I’m lazy!”

I turned to the kid and said that this is a problem that afflicts all of us, me included, and particularly when we’re not invested in what we’re writing.

“Nah. I’m just all-around lazy. I just hate to write.”

So I put my pen down and walked up to the little darling and said “Okay, Sweetie; in front of ALL these witnesses, I need you to understand that I don’t GIVE grades, you EARN them. If you hand me nothing, I’m going to hand back…..?”

“Zeros. I get that.”

Good! As long as we understand each other.

The thing with this kid, though? I really do love him. For all his griping, he is one of my MOST reliable class participants. More to the point, I know he doesn’t hate English because he doesn’t understand it or can’t manipulate the language. This kid GETS it.  Case in point:

I gave the students this essay to read this afternoon. When they were finished, I asked them if they thought it is a good piece of writing. They universally agreed that it is, indeed, good. When I asked them WHY it was good (as an English teacher, you understand, I am compelled to find out WHY something is good or bad – WHY someone likes a poem or dislikes it – go here for a thoughtful consideration of this compulsion) and Adam – dear, sweet Adam – came out with a really good and thoughtful response. It is a good piece of writing, he said, because the author uses a variety of words. She uses words like “dude” and “cool,” he said, but she also uses words like “harried” and “encroach.” That made the piece interesting to read, he concluded and, therefore, GOOD.

The kid will TOTALLY ace the class participation grade. Now, if I can just get him to hand in his homework….



Filed under reading, Teaching

6 responses to “What Good Readers Do

  1. Ah. Participation grades are the best, and that’s what saves some of my fellow freshmen. My classmate in an English Paideia class behaves exactly like that. It’s hilarious, especially to an immature freshman like me. At the same time, however, it’s kind of sad. He would have been suited much better in a class where he wasn’t just a source of constant entertainment. Nonetheless, his attitude certainly eases the tension before exam.

  2. i have a friend who was a bit like that. i’m the one with the good grades compared to him, but he’s the one who can analyse a poem during literature class during the class discussion, while my head muddles.

    sounds like you’ve got a real challenge. good luck!


  3. Outspoken, I love it and I hate it. I don’t know what it is about students today, they don’t know what it is to use a pencil anymore. Then you have auditory and visual learners, perhaps he could use one of those devices in which you speak into it and the computer writes it. May God bless all teachers.

  4. I so have students just like him! Every semester I have a handful that, like Adam, are very intelligent, perfectly capable and entirely unmotivated to do work away from the classroom. In my school, where students have to succeed at ALL the standards for a class at B level or higher, someone like Adam ends up in a tough place because it is nigh on impossible to do that well in a class solely with class participation.

    I have in the standards for my class a couple of items that reinforce the importance of time spent every day working with material from the course, and I make it clear, just as you do, that they will earn credit by doing that work. That makes the choice simple.

    Booksden mentions dictation software, and I’ll say that I love it, both for myself and for my students. It allows me to really determine what certain students know, not just what they can express using a pencil, especially when the two are nowhere near the same thing.

    I’m a big fan of grammar (in all the languages I use), but learning how to write well is a process. It takes time, attention and feedback. Dictation software, used properly, allows students the chance to learn how to write well without compromising their creative expression. It’s a great tool!

  5. Grammar question: “Afforded him WITH no good answers” or “Afforded him no good answers”. I believe it’s the latter but yet again my fanfic addiction has be doubting myself.

  6. Pingback: And Away We Go! « A Teacher’s Education

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