Yesterday I 'supervised' Year 8 Science and Year 9 Maths. The latter was heartbreaking. In the exam set for the most challenged of the 14 year olds, there was a question which read
A young man called me over. "I don't know how to do this one."
Now what you have to understand is that as a supervisor for kids with Learning Difficulties you have a fine line to walk. Sometimes you are there to ensure that kids show us exactly what they know. They may have lots of skills and knowledge locked up inside their heads and simply be unable to demonstrate that knowledge because they cannot access the questions. In this case, I reread the question, explain words which have slipped out of their often challenged memories, or sometimes simply read the question to them to take the reading load away so they can think about the actual question they are being asked.
Other times you are left to salvage a kid's self respect as they sit an exam which is blatantly out of their skill range. In this instance you mark the paper with 'assistance given' and they receive a modified mark which reflects their skill as marked against a different set of criteria.
This case was the latter.
I rephrased the question. "Think about it like this, what can you take two from and still be left with nine." I drew the familiar primary level empty box that the kids write the 'missing number' in. He remained blank and sputtered out a few unrelated numbers.
"OK," I tried again,"Let's draw the 9." I drew nine 'counters'."Now let's put back the two that we took away." I drew two more....different shapes so as to differentiate them from the nine. "So, if I ended up with 9 (I covered the two), what did I start with(uncovering the two)?"
There was 10-15 seconds of confusion. "Maybe ten?" was his reply.
He is 14 going on 15. In 6 short, summer laden weeks he will commence Year 10 and will be in Maths Applications with a syllabus of buying stocks and shares and doing your own tax. He can't add 9 and 2....with dots to count.
And guess who will be teaching him?
Another student, my nemesis, found herself in floods of hysterical tears. She started flippantly, ignoring all rules and cracking jokes with her next door neighbour, demanding help and whining that the teacher had not listened to her when she didn't understand during the year. (in truth, she was probably in the Focus Room when the lessons were taught). After struggling along for the first 45 minutes, she suddenly dissolved and exposed all the underlying fear and insecurity. She was terrified that if she failed her parents would make her quit her job at 'Hungry Jacks' (Burger King). Would I phone them? Would I tell them that she needed to go down a class? Would I tell them that she had really tried?
As I sat patting her back and feeling her pain (I had huge mental blocks with maths as a kid) I marvelled that this was the same child who had been so openly defiant, rude, indeed personally abusive (you really need a nose job Mrs A...you have a very big nose) and yet had it been appropriate to open my arms I am sure she would have crawled onto my lap. Also aged 14.
I calmed her and she tried a few more questions before the end of the 'road accident' that was this exam. She left saying she wanted to be in my class next year and would I please call her parents and explain?
As I said. This was a heart breaking exam.
Science wasn't quite so bad because when they don't know, they just write any old rubbish and lets face it, they're mostly no wiser! But Maths is the one where you sometimes don't even know where to start. Your inadequacies are laid bare for all to see. You can't cover with lost homework or distraction and attention seeking behaviour.
Better go finish the exam for my babies with this is mind.l