DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
The experience took place in the first and second terms of the school year (2013/2014).
Let me call him Manuel. He is a pupil in my class of citizenship, together with other 29.
He called my attention because, instead of taking part in the discussion about the rules to be followed in the class, he was speaking with a fellow and playing with small balls of paper without having written any notes or even the date and number of the lesson as he was supposed to. I approached him and invited him to open the notebook. I helped him write the notes and I noticed his difficulty in handwriting and in keeping his diary/notebook in proper order. I thought something was wrong with his hearing, since he could not write correctly the sounds and expressions he heard.
I suspected he was kind of an “abandoned” child. He is fat, smiles and laughs at each moment and seems not to understand simple instructional strategies or the language used by teachers.
Talking with the colleague who teaches Portuguese to the class I found out that Manuel was a disruptive pupil and was not used to study or do the homework designed by her. Together we planned some strategies to help the 12 year old boy. She would not stay much in front of the class (Manuel was the last pupil in the row) and she would help him write what he needed to write or advise him on how to do the tasks related with the subject. Meanwhile we were going to speak with the Diretora de Turma to know more about the boy. His left hand had been burnt and he had a horrible handwriting. He didn’t seem to be comfortable in the class, but we both have noticed that he didn’t rush to go out when it rang and most times he was the last pupil to leave the classroom.
In November, in a teacher’s reunion, we were said that Manuel’s parents had built separated families. Manuel misbehaved in various times (not paying attention to the lessons) and five teachers said his outcome was very poor. I volunteered to tutor Manuel and the Diretora de turma promised to speak with his mother and get more information than the one in his school file.
In the beginning of December I met him in the library. I began to speak with him, and suggested we sat apart to know each other better. He agreed. I told a few stories about my family and my school (saying that at his age, I didn’t like studying, I preferred reading books instead) and he began to tell a narrative about a boy who missed his grandmother and his aunt /godmother, people who he had lived with as a child. He didn’t remember much of the earlier years (in which he lived either with his father, or with his mother) but he could tell, in detail, where he was from seven to nine. These years seemed to be the only stabile ones in his life! After this talk I took a resolution. I was going to help him be a better pupil. But I didn’t want to be authoritative. I just offered to be his tutor, a kind of older friend, someone with free time who wished to help him but didn’t know how. He had to tell me how I could help. We shared our views about the importance of “knowing things about the world” and Manuel promised to think about the offer. He would tell me something, in a week. He didn’t say anything, when we met in the class and I nothing asked. He behaved better in the classes and the teacher of Portuguese would discriminate him positively, when assessing his oral participation. One week before Christmas holidays, Manuel remained in the classroom and told me he had spoken with his mother and he was willing to meet me in the library, at least once in the week. To the question, how I could help, he answered “help me study. I have never known how to learn”. OK, I said.
The first work session was the most interesting one. Manuel said he had “new” brothers and “a new sister” who came along with his stepfather and his step mother. In the last two years, two other babies were born, one in each family. He lived at his mother’s in Castelo Branco and in holidays he would visit his father in Sintra.
We spoke a lot and I told him he had experienced many different settings, different from the experiences of his fellows at the same age. I said he might be justly proud of himself (he was not only a survivor, he revealed to be much more mature than his pals), he had only to get self-confidence, ask for help when necessary and never lose his self-respect. We would develop some reading and writing skills, we would study together (I said I didn´t know much about Portuguese grammar) and step by step he would become a good pupil and be able to interact well with his fellows in class. I encouraged him to share his cultural experience and write his story and he seemed to like the idea.
During weeks Manuel developed learning strategies and he skimmed and scanned some texts learning how to answer questions based on some different language materials. In the so-called “apoio” at Portuguese, Manuel didn´t learn much as there were many pupils and individual attention could not be given by the teacher. But my colleague had always “an eye on him” in the classes, helping him, individually, and motivating him to learning. We have to have a traditional seating pattern
but Manuel is no longer the last pupil in the row.
Now he behaves and he sometimes intervenes in the lessons as attested by many teachers. He is no longer the last pupil to leave the classroom and he is seen with other pupils at school. But … he continues not doing homework and he fails to tell me when he doesn’t come . Before Carnival he was seeing a book in the school library when I arrived. I offered him the book and he promised to read it. The book was about geocaching and Manuel and I would invite his class to hide and seek a cache in the school. Manuel didn’t appear to my “tutorial” last week and I haven’t spoken with him since.
My colleague tells me she is angry with Manuel. She told him ” he could only be helped if he wanted to”. Manuel didn’t reply but … he will have to speak with me next week!
The Diretora de Turma doesn’t have “privileged time” with the class. The teacher of Citizenship Education has only about 30/40 minutes to practise learning strategies. Affective support is received by everyone in the school, but no effective help is provided. As the pupil doesn’t have “special needs”
he is only one in the 30 of the class…
If there weren’t this project, this report would never be written and … I learnt a lot while writing it.
The strengths of this experience are that Manuel began to eat breakfast everyday (I realized he could not be attentive or quiet in the second or third lesson of the day). Three of the teachers explained why breakfast was important, we spoke with him and his mother and now he is quite an “ordinary” kid who can be found in the breaks playing with other kids. He continues to be a poor pupil but he no longer bullies/is bullied in the classes and seems to be attentive. His handwriting is now clean and legible and he’s willing to know. . He shared the book about geocaching with a cousin (tells the teacher of Portuguese) and he likes/wants to stay at school.
The weaknesses of the experience are (I don’t do house visits) that conditions to do homework are not provided. Manuel spends too much time in front of the television or playing with little sister.
Multidisciplinary experiences are not taken into the classroom.