Jamal was a rising first grader In the Operation P.E.A.C.E. Summer Academy. In class, he couldn’t focus and he didn’t seem to be learning anything. The staff thought he needed special help, and asked me to work with him. To this rather daunting task I brought no relevant professional training or credentials. All I had was some tutoring experience, some intuition, and, I hope, some common sense.
Rather than trying to teach Jamal specific things, it seemed to me that he needed to learn how to listen. (If you concentrate, there’s no guarantee that you will understand the message; if you can’t or won’t concentrate, you’re guaranteed not to understand.)
I read books, talked about what was in the books, and asked questions. The questions began with very basic stuff. I read a passage about a baseball game, and asked Jamal which team had won the game. He said, “Huh?”
I reread the passage and asked him again. He mumbled, “I dunno.”
I read it again, and asked the same question. He muttered, “What?”
I read it the fourth time. This time he knew the answer.
By the second session we were beginning to have a reasonably normal conversation—or at least about as normal a conversation as one might expect between a first grader and a retired business lawyer.
By the third session Jamal was acting pretty much normal. My guess was the he wasn’t suffering from kid attention deficit disorder, he was suffering from adult attention deficit.
In the fourth session we read a story that involved putting things in the mail. Jamal said he knew all about mailboxes. That’s where he and his mother post letters and games for his father, who’s in jail.
Aug. 8, 2013
When we write Our Stories, the children are real and the stories are true but the names of the children are changed.