Essays From The Middle School Frontier, Part 2

Adapting To Learned Helplessness

The sixth graders. are. killing. me.

Okay, they're not killing me. They're...challenging me.

That's it. They are a challenge.

Here is an interaction I had today:

The setting: During class. Silent reading time. Several students are
taking AR quizzes on the laptops for only the first or second time.

Student: Mister!

Me: That's not how you--

Student: Mister! Mister Barker! Mister!

Me: Is that how you--?

Student: It doesn't work!

Me: Is that how you get my attention in this class?

(I look from side to side and widen my eyes in an inane attempt to
signal my incredulousness at this outburst admid a sea of otherwise
silent classmates -- trying in vain to make my face impart the
thought: Are you cuh-ra-zy? It's been four weeks. You're not raising
your hand. No one is talking right now. And you're shouting out and
piercing the silence with your impatient cry of helplessness. At this
point the student tries a mix of his strategy AND mine, whereby he
again shouts "Mister Barker!" WHILE raising his hand. I look down at
my shoes. Defeated. I bring my thumb and forefinger to the top of my
nose between my eyes. I rub. When I look up the student is finally
raising his hand without talking. I walk over.)

Student: It's not working.

Me: What's not working?

(Student points at laptop)

Me: The laptop isn't working?

Student: No, the quiz.

Me: What quiz?

Student: I put my user name. It doesn't work.

Me: What's your user name?

Student: Huh?

Me: Your user name. What is it?

(The student points to the laptop again. I see some kind of bizarre
rendition of the student's user name. It has dashes, errant spaces,
etc.)

Me: Hmm. Is that really your user name?

Student: It doesn't work.

Me: But is THAT your user name?

Student: It won't go.

Me: Yes. But I'm asking: Is that your user name?

(At this juncture I'm pointing at the strange cryptic hyeroglyphic
sprawl that is masquerading as the user name with one finger and
pointing at the actual user name, printed in large black ink, by me,
on the student's reading log, which sits inches from the computer).

Student: Oh.

Me: Got it?

(The student smiles sheepishly. We actually bond over this common type-
o moment).

Total class time elapsed: 4 minutes.

There are 36 other students in the class. Just then from behind my
back I hear it:

Mister! It doesn't work!).

-------------------------------------------------------

There is no moral to this story.

There is no scaffolding strategy or step by step lesson or modeling,
or kaganesque-stand up and tap dance for your partner while your
partner answers question C in henna ink on your left hand-type
technique, no If-you-successfully-enter-your-user-name-I'll-give-you-a-
raffle-ticket-for-a-free-chocolate covered-edible-XBOX-raffle-I'm-
holding-in-five-minutes-just-for-successful-user-name-entering-
students kind of method that I didn't use prior to this interaction
with this student. It's just another moment, in a series of moments,
that makes up a class, in a series of classes that makes up a day, in
a day that makes up a week, in a week that...well, you get the idea.

Onward.

Barker

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