Turning Assumptions into Inquiries
Kyle’s teacher has had much training (both socially and, perhaps, through formal education) in recognizing “problems” with students, diagnosing those problems, and remediating those problems. For his teacher, a lack of engagement in school reading and writing was immediately read as a coping strategy for a learning disability that was yet to be diagnosed and remediated. To further complicate things, recent media attention to violence in schools had placed pressure on teachers to analyze student artwork and writing in particular to recognize and flag any indication that a student may have psychopathic tendencies that may, hypothetically, result in some kind of violent behaviors. Kyle’s teacher, then, has been persistently positioned as someone who must be on the look-out for problems.
The simple question, “What does Kyle say about his drawings?” aims at turning-around a teacher’s positioning, to go to students for information about what’s going on in their schooling experiences rather than relying on outside forces to “frame” and then label a student’s performance in a classroom. This turning around of a teacher’s positioning toward inquirer of students can lead to turning around classroom pedagogy, which can lead to turning around a student’s trajectory as a reader that is headed in the wrong direction.
The following Wednesday this same concerned, frustrated, well-intended teacher on the verge of reporting a student for violent tendencies in his drawings and going to special educators to begin a process to have him identified as learning disabled, came prancing into her professional development group with a writer’s notebook in her hand. Smiling from ear to ear she reached the notebook to me and enthusiastically said, “He is totally into Anime.”
“Ohhhhh,” I said, knowingly.
“And when I told him I didn’t know what that was, he couldn’t believe it. He wrote a fourteen-page informational narrative all about Anime.”
“Ohhhhh?” I said, raising my eyebrows and smiling.
This fifth grade teacher experienced, in her own words, a great epiphany during
her conversation with Kyle: “I am making assumptions about students I don’t really know.” Turning her position around from problem-finder and problem-solver to that of inquirer, interviewer, curious investigator changed this teacher’s perception of herself, her job, and her students.