Fieldnote, 4 March 2013

Not many volunteers at the library today. Most of the library staff had to fill positions left vacant today by college students who have mid-terms. Next week is Spring Break, and I imagine that will also leave a heavy burden for homework help.

I helped one boy, a first grader, whose homework was writing his spelling words. I also gave him an informal quiz afterwards to see how he comprehended things.

Together, he and I worked on writing his words, and I demonstrated to him how to scale letters on his writing grids before he composed each letter. Looking at the work he had completed on is own, I could see that his letters were all of one side, crossing writing grids, and without spaces between words. Together we erased the words. I let him erase half, and I the rest. Then I showed him through modeling why it was important to craft each letter. He then demonstrated, much slower, how to write the letters. I also showed him the trick of placing his finger onto the page as a method of spacing his words.

When we finished, I had a small conversation with him.

“Hablas espanol, verdad.”

“Pos, si.”

“Y con quien hablas espanol.”

“Con mis padres, solo con mis padres. Ellos no hablan ingles.”

“Y con tus hermanos.”

“We speak English and Spanish.”

“Y que prefieres.”

“Ingles,” he said. “I like it because I can read it and write it.

After I gave him his chips, I worked with another student, Eric.

Ms. Betty stopped me before I brought him to a table. Already he was demonstrating some resistance to doing his homework. I had to pull him away from a computer where he was playing a game.

“He’a already been on there for two hours,” said Carolina, one of the librarians.

Eric began whining when I asked him about his homework.

“Mr Steve, you should now, he’s slightly autistic. He’s hard to work with.”

I worked harder. Eric had to do times tables for his homework, so we sat next to a multiplication chart, and we worked on his “tens” table. He threw himself back when he didn’t want to continue, whined at me, and told me he didn’t want to. I did my best to negotiate with him. When he became very loud, Ms. Betty brought his father to observe us.

His father’s presence calmed him a bit, but he still had some resistance to me, and to his homework.

Eric, let’s show your dad how smart you are.

This worked a bit, he showed his father a few more problems, but was resistant to carry on. His father watched us work together for a bit, but then he walked away.

I told him if we kept working, I would give him some pretzels. This motivated him to complete one entire column of his homework. But this didn’t last long. His father had left the room, and I suggested we go sit next to him, with the math chart, and work on the rest of his problems. He was resistant to this, but once I engaged his father with the chart and multiples of then, I could see Eric’s mood change. He wanted to show his father his math, but also he wanted to work with his dad. I held the chart, and conducted the “lesson” in Spanish.

Eric finished one of his homework sheets, but not the other.

His father, however, was pleased that his son completed that much. It seems he usually never did his homework, and today he had completed 40 math problems.

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