We've only been working together for a little while, so I'm still finding out where the blank spots in his grammar knowledge are. Anytime I ask him what part of speech a word is, he'll say it's a verb, on the theory that verbs are so complicated, if he's done anything wrong, it's probably with verb formation. Well, um, actually looking at the word to see which one I'm pointing to would be a good first step for figuring out what part of speech it is.
But that's okay, because at our most recent meeting, he was hungry and looking forward to having pie for dessert that night, and a verb is a thing that can be done to pie. I had him take a highlighter and mark all the verbs in his paper, so every time he came to a word he thought migh be a verb, he would test it in a sentence with pie.
"She climbed pie. She made pie. She killed pie. She became pie. She became pie? Well, if aliens come, maybe she could become pie. She through pie... She threw pie? She through pie... No, that's not a verb."
And on like that, until he started improvising a melody to sing his little pie chant to, and then the pie chant grew a chorus about how much he was looking forward to pie. All the while, he was furrowing his little brow over the page, marking up words.
Then we talked about tenses, and we got out some more highlighters so he could color code his past tense verbs and present tense verbs. He wanted a highlighter for future tense verbs, too, though there weren't any in his paper. Not to be deterred, he lined up the highlighters all in one hand so that, when he closed his fingers around them into a fist, the pens stuck out, sort of like claws.
"Wolverine!" he shouted with glee. "If Wolverine was a teacher, he'd replace the adamantium claws with, like, chalk, and a red pen, and a white board marker, and he'd be, like, SNIK!"
I damn near fell out of my chair laughing.
"Well, I would, if I were Wolverine," I said, "but in some school districts, the adamantium claws might still be a teacher's best bet."
So for a while he hung onto his highlighter claws, noting his verbs' tenses while keeping up a steady stream of superhero sound effects. At the end of this process, he said, "Lookit how in this paragraph, I switch tenses, like, every other sentence, but the next paragraph is all present, but the one after that is all past."
Okay. He gets it.
I feel so lucky that I get to teach this kid one on one in his family's house, because if I had to teach him in a classroom with 35 other students, a 47 minute class period, and a rigid, externally imposed, teacher-proof curriculum, I'd have to be yelling at him every minute about disrupting the learning process for everyone else. You ever notice how, when a teacher tells a kid he's disrupting the learning process for everyone else, the teacher has already given up, for the moment, on the disruptive kid having any learning process at all?
Instead, he's one of the highlights of my week.
If he needs to sing goofy songs about pie in order to learn his parts of speech, that's fine. He's his own Sesame Street.
If he needs to pretend to be Wolverine to learn his tenses, that's okay, too. Snik! He can even address me as Bub, if getting further into character will help him distinguish between the active and passive voices. I draw the line, though, at cigars. Not even for the subjunctive's sake could I allow young Wolverine Akkineni to smoke cigars.
Oh, yeah, and I wrote some stuff, too:
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