Monday, April 11, 2005

Celebrate...then back to work!

Effective teachers know that we have to prepare our instruction, our classroom environment, and our expectations to accommodate the wide range of readiness skills demonstrated by our students. At every level of study, teachers face this often overwhelming schism; Jenny D reminded me of this not too long ago when she described the extensive scaffolded support she gave to college students as they wrote an important research paper. A colleague who teaches first grade grapples everyday with the leeway she is having to give a young, immature, and possible ADHD child who is severely effecting what was their calm, orderly classroom life. As a special ed teacher, I, too struggle with the amount and type of extra help children might need to meet learning objectives – and with the culture of high stakes testing bearing itself down on me and my kids, there’s never been a tougher time to make these choices. We commit to doing Whatever It Takes, but with many special needs kids, on-grade-level standardized testing just doesn’t make any sense.

Last week the Learning Disabilities specialist and I quietly celebrated a small but significant improvement in our student’s writing skills. He’s seven, going on eight, but until a few weeks ago, his writing has been the nonsensical mix of letters common in an early kindergartener. We’ve been working with him for two and a half years, accommodated his developmental delays and addressed his specific learning disabilities. It’s taking a lot of patience, and focused direct instruction, but he wrote a sentence in his journal on Wednesday that could be read by just about anyone. That is, he was writing the sounds and letters, and it made sense!

He was so proud as I read the journal entry aloud.

This is a kid with definite specific learning disabilities. He has been terribly physically abused, the weight of which hammers down on his little soul everyday. His emotional disabilities are real. He stutters when he’s having a bad day, so bad he can hardly get a sound out. He throws himself on the floor and kicks and screams in response to non-preferred tasks and directions. Sometimes he hits his head on the floor or scratches at his legs until they bleed.

He’s not MR, so he is not a candidate for the alternate assessment our state offers to children who won’t pass grade level standardized exams.

So a year from now, the kid will be taking our state tests. Is there any chance he will pass? Even with non-standard accommodations, this child won’t be ready.

He’s just now getting started.

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