So I’ve been working with elementary school students with learning differences these past five weeks. I’ve drunk the kool-aid! Having spent a lot of time with them, I now say that they have “learning differences” instead of “learning disabilities” or “learning disorders”. The kids are all smart and perfectly capable of learning what we have to teach them. They just don’t learn it the same way that we do.
They’ve also caught on that on Fridays, my class performs a play for the whole school. So for, like, all of Monday and Tuesday, whenever they had a free second, they would ask if they could do Calvin and Hobbes as their Friday performance. I wrote up a script for Calvin and Hobbes, in which Calvin takes Hobbes to school and cheats on a test using Hobbes and his Stupendous Man costume. It was taken word-for-word from a Calvin and Hobbes book. I loved it, entirely because I got to give Hobbes the line SOOOOOSIE IS A BOOGER BRAINNNNN.
I still struggled with writing it, because these are kids with learning differences. I had no idea what their level of reading was. Calvin has an immense vocabulary, and a lot of the punchlines are based on that. I ended up deleting an entire exchange between Calvin and Susie because, according to a lecture by a school psychologist at orientation, my kids don’t understand sarcasm and lying. All that Susie did in the exchange was use sarcasm and lie.
Still, I printed out copies of the script and handed it to the kids to read out loud. It went as terribly as I thought it would: the kids pondered over every word, and the counselors had to help two of them through the reading of it. It took us 45 minutes to get through a 2.5-page script. If we had had the entire five weeks, I’m sure we could pull it off, but I had two days to get a not-terrible play out of these kids.
And I had already picked out a play for them. I’ve seen Gruffalo’s Child, which features weird acting direction and clumsy, plain animation, neither of which would be terrible except that it’s an Oscar-Nominated short film. Still, the story is cute, and the story is great as something to read aloud to kids. And it features plenty of small parts with just one or two lines, perfect for a group of kids who can’t read but want to try reciting lines.
In the middle of the 45-minute struggle to get through Calvin and Hobbes, a little girl stood up, walked over to me, gestured for me to bend down, and then whispered in my ear. “None of the girls want to do Calvin and Hobbes. We all want to do Gruffalo’s Child.”
So I enacted my plan with confidence. After we finished reading Calvin and Hobbes, all the boys shouted that it was fun and that they couldn’t wait to perform it, who would play Hobbes, who would play the narrator, etc. etc. I had them quiet down, then told them that Calvin and Hobbes featured a lot of talking and reading, while Gruffalo’s Child was a lot simpler and easier and more fun, and that we’d all have a great time doing Gruffalo’s Child. But, I added, it was totally up to them. We would cast a vote. Who wanted to do Gruffalo’s Child? Who wanted to do Calvin and Hobbes?
Gruffalo’s Child won by a landslide.