Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Small Slice of Success

I awoke at 3:30 this morning when my husband got out of bed to use the bathroom. I had that small moment of panic that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep and would have to face the day and 23 third graders on too little sleep. Fortunately, this was not the case. The next thing I knew, the alarm was going off at 5:00.

I dragged myself downstairs to make a cup of coffee and to complete my morning writing as has been my ritual for the last three weeks.  As I sat down at the kitchen table, I glanced outside the window and caught sight of a crescent moon hanging low in the sky. I had an idea of what I was going to write, but was feeling a bit discouraged and wasn't entirely certain that I had the words or even the desire to tell my story.

Then I thought about the boy in my class, the subject of today's slice. I wondered how many times he felt discouraged, too.

At the beginning of the year, my principal asked each teacher to identify two students to "spotlight." These were kids we were concerned about and would focus efforts on to help them progress to grade level. I had immediately thought of the boy I'll call Diego. He was a sweet, quiet boy with an adorable smile. In class, however, he seldom seemed to pay attention, needed constant reminders to stay focused and on task, and moved at a perpetually slow pace. I have no problem giving kids the time they need to complete tests and activities, but Diego moved so slowly that he fell farther and farther behind.  Added to that, he had a habit of asking to use the restroom every day, swearing it was an emergency that couldn't wait until recess, and then would disappear for 5 to 10 minutes, missing even more class time and falling even farther behind.

I tried everything. I sat him up front. I provided additional prompts to keep him on task. I sat him next to students who could help him. I worked with him in small groups and one-on-one. I held him in at recess to work on tasks he had missed during his trips to the restroom. Nothing really seemed to make much of a difference. This was Diego and there seemed to be no changing that.

Until yesterday. Diego suddenly piped up from the back of the room where he was working on practicing multiplication facts during lunch recess.

"Mrs. Regan?" he said. "Can I stay in at recess?"

I was confused. It was recess.

"I mean the afternoon recess," he explained.

"Oh. Why do you want to stay in at recess?" I asked, expecting him to tell me he wanted to play games on the Chromebook.

"Well, I finished writing my Who Would Win paragraph, and I want to put it in Google Docs."

My jaw just about hit the floor. We have been working on this project for quite some time, and not surprisingly it has taken Diego a while to write his paragraph stating who would win a battle between a panda (the animal he studied) and a cheetah (the animal his partner studied). Earlier in the day I had been closely monitoring his progress and noted that he, in fact, was doing a good job of taking information off his graphic organizer and writing his paragraph, using complete sentences and even transitions. A couple of times I had to ask him what sentences begin with, and with his adorable smile spreading across his face, he would answer, "Capital letters." I praised him for doing a good job before wandering off to work with my other "spotlight" student, who requires even more constant supervision than Diego.

Diego did come back at recess to work on his paragraph. He grabbed his Chromebook, sat down, and on his own, opened a Google Doc and began writing his paragraph. A few short months ago, none of that would have been possible. A few short months ago, he wouldn't have remembered his password let alone how to get to Google Docs. Now here he was, working completely independently on  his own time to complete his assignment.

I imagine Diego felt good yesterday. He had the words he needed to write and the encouragement from his teacher. I imagine he was powered by a sense that he was perfectly capable of doing what had been asked of him.

I know today I will have to prompt Diego to stay focused and on task. That isn't going to change. But I am going to hold on to yesterday's small success as a reminder that Diego has made progress. It may not translate into scores of proficiency on the upcoming SBAC test, but it is progress, nonetheless. I hope he holds on to that moment as well, and as he faces new assignments, remembers that he is capable.

And if Diego can overcome discouragement and keep plugging away, then certainly I can, too.


  1. I love this story! It's important to celebrate the small successes.....Some students would never get to celebrate otherwise. And I love your last line -- such a good reminder for all of us! ~JudyK

    1. Thank you, Judy! I am glad you enjoyed the story. It was a welcome reminder to me that, while all my students may not be exactly where I'd like them to be, they are making progress.


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