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Friday, April 1, 2016

They had one thing in common.

My first year in my current school I had two students who were both very similar and completely different.

One was a white female student who asked questions incessantly, repeatedly and insistently. Becca did not have any diagnosed learning delays at the time, though she would later.

The other was a black male student who never asked questions, who in fact, rarely spoke. Davion did not have and was never diagnosed with any learning delays.

Both were tested for possible learning delays. They had one thing in common. Both had IQs just above the cut off for support services.

Now, I don't put a ton of stock in IQ tests or the idea of IQs period for that matter. But I do know both of these students needed more help than they typically got.

Becca and Davion were on the same freshman team, so they had the same core teachers who were required to meet weekly.

We discussed Becca regularly. Her habit of asking every question that occurred to her repeatedly until she got an answer got her, if nothing else, more attention from her teachers. We didn't quite know how to help her.

I suggested teaching her when to ask questions (not in the middle of someone else's sentence, for example). We tried it. It helped some, but Becca could still be a disruptive force if she was confused.

Someone else suggested using the protocol "Ask 3 Then Me" with Becca. The results were less promising. Tact, discretion, and volume control were all things Becca struggled with when interacting with her peers.

We only discussed Davion once. I asked that we talk about him because he was earning a D in my class and seemed to be putting forth his best effort. I was concerned by his lack of self-advocacy.

I was shocked and saddened by the response of two members of our team. (Neither is with my district any longer, so there's that, at least.)

I was told a D might be as much as Davion could do and I should be glad he was passing and not causing problems. They explained that they prefer students like Davion to students like Becca because at least Davion didn't disrupt everyone else.

There were the usual excuses about needing to work with all the students, with Davion needing to ask for help if he really needed it, with not having time, with not having home support (though neither had called home to the best of my knowledge).

It hurt my heart to hear, but I quickly realized they were not likely to change just because I suggested we might need to invest more in Davion to ensure his success.

The kid wanted to learn, he wanted to do well, he tried every single day. It wasn't enough.

How devastatingly sad is that?

Right about now, you might be wondering how this could possibly be a good thing. I don't blame you. Bear with me, I'm getting there.

The thing is, I loved Becca. I loved that she asked for her learning, that she persisted until she got it, that she wouldn't take no for an answer. I prefer students who help me know what they need.

But the Davions of the world are the ones who need us the most.

From that moment on, I made a special effort to check in with him at least once every day. I invited him to stay after school. When I realized that speed was just as big a problem as understanding, I modified the length of many assignments, especially homework.

I made Davion a priority. He passed my class with a C. It was his highest grade and he was intensely proud of it.

For the rest of his high school career, I kept tabs on Davion. I'm not sure he knew I was there, behind the scenes, making sure that his teachers at least knew his academic story, knew what he needed, what he could do.

It made a difference for some teachers and not for others. I'd like to think it made a difference to Davion. He graduated three years later, on time, and wearing the BIGGEST smile I have ever seen.

Davion taught me to train my brain to pay attention. He, and the teachers on my team, helped me recognize how important it was for me to check in with those who don't ask questions, not just those who do.

By nature, I am too easily distracted to focus on quiet kids. My brain spins off at the slightest noise.

In the early years, classroom management was too much like triage to notice all the details. Davion is the individual student who forced me to see past management to learning no matter what else might be happening.

I am thankful to Davion for driving home that lesson. We often say kids who need love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.

It is also true that students who need help the most will avoid asking for it in the most unnoticed ways.

These days, paying attention to the quiet kids, to compliant kids, to kids who ask no questions, is second nature. I probably couldn't even explain how or when I do it each day. I just do.

That is a good thing.

P.S. If you are wondering how I know I pay attention to the quiet kids. Here is how I know: every year, I get notes from kids and parents telling me I noticed something they thought was invisible.

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