This year, I’m teaching summer school. It’s the first time I’ve done it, and it has undoubtedly brought up some interesting reflections. I have six students in my class, all who just finished first grade. Going in, I thought “6 kids?! This will be pleasant and relaxing. They’ll work independently, and I’ll rotate through working with each of them one-on-one.”
That sort of works. But there’s a reason that these six kids are in summer school. They aren’t ready to dive into a lot of independent work and push themselves to get their checklists done. They struggle. School has already, in their short experience, proven to be difficult for them. That means that these six kids, 1/4 of a typical classroom, require far more planning and preparation than 1/4 of what I do throughout the year. They each need a lot of support, a lot of encouragement, a lot of reminders, a lot of structure, and a lot of redirection.
Yesterday, we sat down to read a story together. Midway through, I posed a question that required them to infer a bit about the characters. No one responded. Not one hand in the air. I waited. Still no one. Blank stares. I rephrased my question. Still no response.
During the year, never do I ask a question and then have absolutely no one ready to participate. There are always a few kids who want to speak all the time, and then most kids want to share their thoughts some of the time. To have no one confident enough to speak up was a bit jarring.
While teaching, I often call on students who aren’t raising their hands. I try to mix up who is speaking and who is listening. I intentionally reach out to hear the thoughts of the students who hesitate to answer. But probably, even though I do all of those things, these six kids far more often than not sit without participating. They might not formulate their own opinions during class discussions, instead latching onto the ideas of others. They might not think that when I ask a question, I am really asking them.
But now they’re in summer school, and it’s just the seven of us. So, we will definitely all do some thinking, some listening, and some talking.