Friday, June 4, 2010

sticks and curves

This morning splattypus walked into my room and handed me a clock worksheet she'd assigned to her kiddos last week when they had a sub. The sheet was not filled with correctly written times to correspond to each clock, nor did it have student-drawn hands in for each clock to tell the time. Instead the entire sheet was covered with very purposefully drawn lines with small circles attached to the top.

I got chills. We both stared at the sheet in awe, high-fived, and repeated phrases like "wow", "amazing", "I can't believe it!" over and over again.

To the untrained eye it might look like our student had refused to do her work and instead drew strange lines all over her paper, over and over again.

To us, it was practically brilliance.

When our friend began kindergarten she had no understanding that you could use a writing utensil to create meaningful marks on a paper. She could grasp a pencil or crayon and make marks on a paper, but rarely looked at what she was doing. Instead she drew squiggles and circles on her paper while staring into space, over and over again until we took the paper away.

So, slowly, we taught her that she can control what she puts on paper, and that it has meaning. And slowly, we've worked, day by day, piece by piece, to teacher her to form sticks and curves- the basic strokes she'd need to form letters. Then we began putting them together, a stick with a curve at the top, a P, the first letter of her name.
Sometimes she resisted- refused to write what we wanted, and instead only drew lines, or only circles. But other times she drew her sticks and curves connected with pride, knowing she was pleasing us. But always only when we prompted her to. And even then the circles sat on top of the sticks like lollipops, not quite a letter P anyone else would recognize.

As the year went on we watched her art work change from the unintentional swirls to very intentional circles and lines- but was she drawing something meaningful? We couldn't tell. Was it a cat? A sun? Or just lines on a page? Does she understand that drawing has meaning? The changes were small, but if you looked closely enough at her work over time you could see the change. She was making progress.

And then, this morning, we stared at the math worksheet covered in her own attempts at P's. She'd clearly worked hard on this sheet without being prompted- intentionally, on her own, independently, she worked on writing her sticks and curves. They were the closest to P's we'd ever seen her make. In fact, if an outside observer looked at them you might think those were P's.

I felt like dancing.

There are a million steps ahead of us for what we do next. If you look down that road it's easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged with her progress. They are only P-like marks after all. But when you stop to think about everything she showed us on that page- and how it represents all the many, many steps we've taken this year- you feel like dancing too. Tiny building blocks, coming together, piece by piece, that will one day equal a large, wonderful whole.

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