"Worksheets. Can you make us a worksheet before the quiz on the future?" a student pleaded in an email.
So, after Charlie had hopped onto the bus this morning, I sat at my computer and typed up how to conjugate the forms of the future tense in classical Greek and drew a box around it. "I asked her for it!" proclaimed the student who had emailed me. "I like the box," said another student, glancing back and forth at the dry erase board. "This is the being about to be about to be thing, right?" said someone else. "No, that's not possible, according to Heidegger!" "Is this where we use the pitchfork thing, sometimes?" (That's what my students have been calling the Greek letter, psi.) "Kakos!" someone else called out.
"It's the future in a box," I said as I wrenched my right shoulder while simultaneously writing and talking. "See, you can put how you translate it here and the active forms in this column and then the middle voice forms here.......And that's what you have to know for the quiz tomorrow."
"Just listing the endings over and over and over doesn't help," said the student who had emailed me. "We need the box." "Kakos!" said someone--the ancient Greek word for "bad, evil, ugly, low-born." "Kakos!"
"Yeah, it's teaching Greek in the Age of ADHD," said another student, eyes seriously--warily--surveying the board.
Ancient Greek is hardly the easiest of subjects to learn and, even more than keeping classes stimulating and engaging, I struggle to "package" difficult grammatical forms and concepts into something my students (many of whom, in addition to taking full loads of college courses, hold down multiple jobs to pay the bills and take care of their families) can grasp as readily as possible.
Charlie too does a bit better in his own learning when things are put into the right boxes .
Today I went to observe Charlie at his school and watched him zip through Lesson 3 of the Edmark reading program. He followed a model to build a structure with 12 blocks, all with a smile that got simply sillier when he was eating a mid-morning snack of an apple. His teachers sat with him: "What's his name? [pointing to another student] Take big bites. Use a napkin, not your shirt!" Charlie did it all with the same smile.
Charlie had woken up--as he has never done--screaming. High and piercing. Saying "Gong Gong b'ue car. Barney. Ladder to deee attick!" These are all old obsessions of Charlie's, about both sets of grandparents' cars and houses, and that purple PBS dinosaur. Charlie howled as he got up, got dressed, and had a minute of writhing on the floor and couch and stomping his feed in a frenzy. "Hey pal, you have a good day at school," Jim said looking Charlie in the eye before running for his train. "Green apple," said Charlie. "How 'bout putting on the coat and hat and all," I said.
Soon as Charlie had donned his hat---he has been pulling it far over his eyes so the brim rests in perfect symmetry round his head--he stopped crying. He ate his apple and, when he saw the bus, pushed the bowl towards me: "Giff, bowl." "I can put the apple into a bag and you can take it." "Inna bag, apple."
This afternoon as I came home, I was greeted by a smiling boy wrapped in his blue blanket. Charlie has worked at his reading comprehension program in his home ABA sessions in matching words to pictures. Later, after putting on his pajamas, Charlie got his bucket of photos and sat on the heater and the set of his mouth and his shoulders told me he was agitated, so he was asked to go to the couch, and he did. Around 9.15pm, Charlie found the case for an old Wiggles DVD: "Wiggles, I want Wiggles, turn onna light!" He found his little DVD player and turned it on.
Jim and I looked at the clock and at each other and told Charlie, "You can watch Wiggles tomorrow but gotta get to bed tonight." "Wiggles, turn on," said Charlie. "Turn on." His eyes were big, his shoulders heaving, his face pleading. "Yeah, well, bedtime you know," I said. "And we have to brush your teeth too." Charlie was asleep within five minutes of lying down on his bed.
Strong memories of children's TV shows---especially those of obsolete dinosaurs--still crowd Charlie's mind and even his dreams, or rather nightmares. At school and during his ABA session and the meeting we had for our home program tonight, the long streams of raw stimuli and sensory and verbal data that Charlie contends with all day are put into a box. It is enough for Charlie to "look at" his classmates, to tell us his address, to sort shapes, to identify "E" and "find the same." What look like baby steps in language and socialization become the marathoner's strides. It helps to have a framework to put all the mess of the world--the really messy mess as Charlie perhaps perceives it---to have a worksheet with nice boxes, with lines to demarcate what you need to know for the quiz tomorrow and what is extra credit.
For my Greek students, the extra credit is translation, where they have to put all they have learned together. For Charlie, extra credit is immediately awarded for every spontaneous utterance, or look in the eyes; or when Charlie--like my Greek students in this age of ADHD and Autismland--takes the initiative and tell us what he needs, clear and simple and straightforward, like the future in a box.