Swords & Stationery is reaching its 2-year anniversary soon. Looking back, I’ve had a lot of students with different needs. Some require(d) more attention; some need(ed) a harder, firmer approach. In the end, most had improved under my tutelage—academically, socially and emotionally. Naturally, many of them had also left a lasting but positive impression on me.
In continuity from last fortnight’s post, I would like to dedicate this and the next few posts to sharing about some of most memorable students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. This will be part of a new series of posts tagged [?Student Spotlight?]. For this first one, I'll be talking about Ash, the misunderstood student.
I took Ash (not his real name) under my wing early this year, and am still teaching him. I don’t do favourites, but Ash is easily one of my most impressive students, and his academic and emotional development have been remarkable.
See, Ash had been diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia when he was in Lower Primary. Due to his difficulties, he had trouble learning English or even paying attention in class. Communication got better during Ash’s later years, but punishment from authority figures often made misbehaviour more rewarding. As a result of these issues, Ash's grades would continue to slip over time, and he would run into even more trouble. By the age of 13, he had developed quite a reputation among teachers and therapists.
Initial lessons with Ash
When I took over Ash from his previous therapist, I was admittedly hesitant. I had had tough students before, sure, but there was always that uncertainty. How firm would I need to be with this student? What would be the best strategy to work with him over time? These questions bounced off my mental walls prior to our first lesson.
So came our first lesson.
*takes a deep breath*
Actually, it went well! Ash arrived on time and we talked a lot at intervals. There were some signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), but more importantly, I was able to see and confirm the symptoms of ADHD and dyslexia, including the constant fidgeting, emotional reactivity and visual-perceptual issues.
Our second lesson also went well. This time, rapport had been built and I learned quite a fair bit about him. As mentioned earlier, Ash had gotten into a lot of trouble in school, but in many of those situations, he had simply reacted in the way he thought was correct. This did not justify his actions, but it at least helped me to understand his motivations. Now we were getting somewhere.
For our third lesson, I introduced him to the post-apocalyptic fiction genre. If you remember one of my older blog posts, I mentioned the post-apocalypse genre as being a great source of info to mine for critical thinking lessons.
We played Atomic Highway for our fourth lesson.
Up until the fifth lesson, I was giving him little academic work. It was mostly remediation work being done for his dyslexia, and a lot of rapport being built to understand him better. I can imagine some queries being raised: why not just start doing both academic work and remediation from the beginning? After all, wouldn’t rapport be built over time?
To answer that rhetorical question: yes… and no. I’d known that Ash was different (as are most of my students with SpLD). Not that he was a bad kid or anything—quite the contrary, I needed to know what made him tick. Without our interactions, I would never have fully believed that he was smarter than what people gave him credit for, or that he was a good-natured young man with leadership qualities.
Ash was brimming with potential; it was just a matter of when that potential would be realised.
Thanks to what I’d learned from the first few lessons, I could recognise his strengths. Firstly, Ash was a great speaker and someone who could think broadly. He didn’t immediately demonstrate this, but I knew that he had the aptitude for it. He was also quick to correct his own mistakes when the motivation shifted from an extrinsic locus to an intrinsic one, which meant his mental processes could operate at 200% efficiency. He didn’t show defiance, but his body language made it easy to tell when he was losing interest or when he was not taking things seriously.
Using these details as guidelines, I began to plan for subsequent lessons that would leverage on Ash’s strengths while rectifying his weaknesses. It was simple, and within the next three lessons, he’d picked up on critical thinking and organisational skills that are crucial to intellectual development (and academic performance, by extension). He knew how to better deal with moments of emotional instability. He recognised learning as being something more than just being an exercise in repetition. He was essentially enlightened!
In the months that followed (to be continued in the next post)
Even then, his learning journey had not come to a happy ending yet. There were many more tribulations he had to face. There is much more I can say of his achievements up till recently, but I shall leave that to the next post (to be published on 22 October*). Do keep an eye out, and as usual, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. Have a good week ahead!