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Is the student able to apply his learning to a new situation?

07 Jul

As teachers, we all have those students who help us remember why we love this job. This summer I taught 5th graders in DPS’s Summer ELA Academy. I was pleased to have a few students I had taught this past year in my reading intervention groups. They arrived with smiling faces, glad to be in my class. (Admit it teachers, it’s not our job to be liked, but it sure is nice when we are.) A. appeared each day with a contagious smile and a notebook under his arm, even though there was no written homework. He looked the picture of a dedicated scholar. His hand was waving to answer almost every question. “What are the characteristics of a pourquoi tale?” “Who is the trickster in this story?” “How are fables and pourquoi tales alike?”

The summer program was four weeks long. By the end of the third week, A. was hinting that he was going to bring me a present on the last day. The hints continued, and last Friday as my class trooped up the noisy metal stairs into our mobile classroom he gave me his trademark friendly smile and handed me a soft bundle wrapped in white plastic bags like those you get at many stores. “Don’t open it until you get home,” he said. I think he also mumbled something about a teddy bear or stuffed animal.

I put the bundle in my tote and went about the activities of our last day, which included ice cream and cookies. The cookies were from the legendary  Neiman Marcus cookie recipe as we wrapped up our folklore unit with a mini-lesson on urban legends. Then the students were all gone and I had to pack up my classroom and turn in all my paperwork. Later that evening, I remembered A.’s present. I went to my tote, and it wasn’t there. I checked the car. Nothing. I searched my memory and realized that at one point I had taken it out of my tote so I could fit some papers in. Did I put it back in? Did I stick it in a cupboard? Worst of all, did I stick it in the trash, thinking it was just a bunch of plastic bags?

I had to wait until Tuesday because of the holiday weekend. I got up early Tuesday morning and drove to the school, hoping against hope that no one had gone out to the mobile to empty the trash yet. I managed to get the attention of a custodian, who unlocked the mobile for me. There was the trash can, not emptied yet, but no white bundle. I checked the metal storage units, my file cabinet, and my desk drawers. I went inside and checked the office. It had simply disappeared, and I was so upset with myself. I didn’t even get a chance to look at it. How was I supposed to write a convincing thank-you note?

This morning as I was cleaning up the kitchen after putting some peaches in the dehydrator I spotted a bit of white in my cookbook corner. Evidently I had taken the bundle out of my tote and put it on the counter without thinking. Eagerly I started to unwrap it… untying a bag and setting it aside…and another one…and another one…and one more…and I began to suspect….until I was left with the last empty bag. My relief at finding the “gift” was replaced by puzzlement. This didn’t seem like A. Why would he lead me to think he was giving me a gift and then just play a trick on me? Then I realized he had given me a very special gift. He had taken a concept that we had studied and applied it to something new. So, to use one of the sentence frames from our class:

A. is a very  clever student. For example, he studied trickster tales and figured out how to show his teacher that he understands what a trickster is.

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