I think that last year, when I was still young and idealistic (ha!) I wrote more about my students than I do this year, when I mostly complain about my draconian administration. I was so tickled yesterday to share the good news about Azul that I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce two of my students who really keep me up at night -- I could use some good advice on how to deal with them!
Neel has been in my school since pre-kindergarten. Last year was his second year in first grade, and he left it reading at a level B despite being held over and receiving Academic Intervention Services last year. It's taken this long to get Neel evaluated for special services, which he desperately needs because, hello, he should be in third grade and he doesn't even have a complete grasp of one-to-one correspondence yet. Finally everything went through and Neel was recommended for special ed placement, but the only one that's been available so far was rejected by Neel's parents. Meanwhile, Neel sees kids who have been in the country literally only a few months flying past him in reading skills.
Every time I meet with Neel, I get more and more worried about his lack of progress -- Neel is actually going backwards. He is obviously lost in mini lessons and even in small groups, so the only way to work with him is one-on-one, which is so difficult because of the time crunch -- I'm constantly getting pulled out of his class and asked to cover for other teachers. In the meantime, Neel retains nothing -- like, if we read a word together and then sound it out five times and put our fingers on it and say it and chant it and repeat it and get our mouths ready for the sounds and then I distract him for a split second and ask him to re-read the first word...he can't do it. He has literally almost no sight word vocabulary (maybe ten words?) whatsoever. I'm not even entirely sure he has a firm grasp on letter-sound correspondence! So clearly that's what Neel needs to work on, but the thing is, Neel worked on that in kindergarten and he worked on it in first grade and he worked on it when he repeated first grade. What Neel really needs is a small, intensive setting...something I can't give him.
William was in second grade last year, and he thought everything was a big, hilarious joke. Needless to say, now that William is in second grade again this year, things aren't nearly so funny. William is reading at a level G (sample level G text: "One day Flora went to the zoo. She looked at the giraffe and the giraffe looked back. She looked at the panther with its coat of silky black"), and all this year he's struggled with motivation. But just recently after guided reading, I was able to move the other G reader to level H (whereas I don't think William is quite ready yet), and he's completely shut down; he even refuses to come to the meeting area for the mini lesson. I tried a sticker chart; that worked for about a week. But William is so immature that it's like a complete battle even to get him to have a productive conversation with me -- he won't look me in the eye, he's breaking pens while I try to reason with him, etc. Most of the time I want to wring his neck, because his attitude is the major issue that's holding him back and preventing me from meeting with my other students, but I also understand where William is coming from -- if I had been left back, and I was a struggling reader, I wouldn't like to read very much either.
Lately William has taken to this attitude that he "knows all this stuff already" and that I have nothing to teach him. I got so fed up with this that I gave him an M level chapter book and asked him to read a little so we could talk about it. (Ironically, I realized later, it was about a student who had been left back. But William didn't notice this.) I ended up just feeling bad about it because it wasn't my intention to shove in his face a reminder of exactly how far behind he is, but I don't think William even realized that he really couldn't understand the book. His attitude is that he's always the victim, nothing is his fault, etc. Case in point: Today he finally came to the mini lesson about three-quarters of the way through it, did not sit in the spot where he belonged, and was obviously fooling around out of my eyesight because two other students were laughing at his antics. Then after the mini lesson, he gave me the same line about how he knows everything already. So I asked him to tell me what I had been teaching in the mini lesson, and he said, "I couldn't understand it because Edgar and Ariel were laughing at me!"
It's like William wants to be a better reader, but he's not willing or not able to put in the actual word or concentration to do it; he thinks it'll just happen like magic, overnight. He also hates to read his "just right books," because I'm sure he realizes that they're "babyish" compared to the books he should be reading. So today I tried a new tack: I gave him five minutes at the start of independent reading to choose any book he wanted from the library to read. When his five minutes were up, he had to read from his book baggie. It seemed to work...for now. We'll see how long that lasts.
For your first kid. Does he work well with a picture vocabulary? Can he identify pictures and describe a scene? If so, then what I would do is to draw a line around a word to form an independent picture of the word. Not a box or square, but curvy lines. See if that helps--if it does, then he probably thinks in pictures and you may have more opportunity getting him to read doing that rather than phonetic. Talk to your sped people who tested him. Find out what his word attack scores were (nonsense words). Focus on safety words right now.
Kid number two--boy, that's the kid that we need high interest low level readers for. What happens when you read something to him at a higher level and ask him questions? Does he show any understanding?
Otherwise, I'd keep on doing what you're doing, pretty much.
I also am working with a held-over first-grader who is still reading well below grade level. He's on the cusp between C and D. After consulting with parents and specialists, we brought in a tutor to work with him one-on-one during our extended day program. (Tutor is a grad student getting Master's in literacy, not some random high school kid.) The tutor is using PAF with "Jason", which proceeds at a much slower rate and in a much more explicit manner than Fundations (the program that's working well in our school for most kids, but not for "Jason". It seems to be helping quite a bit so far. We'll continue for as long as we can. --NYC assistant teacher
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