I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.
Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair. Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments. We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.
We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question. We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.
We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks). Nothing.
He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to. We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )
We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all. He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.
I experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and on myself.
Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.
The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms. There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.
I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam: students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,” a form poem so named for its diamond shape.
For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer. To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.
Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante. He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him. I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.
He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together. There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.
Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room. I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.
Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:
You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.
A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites. The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.
The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.
Noun Adjective-Adjective Verb-Verb-Verb Noun-Noun/Noun-Noun Verb-Verb-Verb Adjective-Adjective Noun