Friday, January 4, 2013

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

So we've all seen the cartoon at left, explaining why it's silly to force those of different abilities or skills into the same molds. I recently came across this very conundrum during a reevaluation for the Committee on Special Education (CSE) for a fourth grade student.

Z has been struggling for a long while, and is actually supposed to be in sixth grade but has been retained twice (almost three times, last year he was promoted mid-first quarter due to his age). Z has some severe language deficits that are really impacting his ability to read. He has extreme difficulty with decoding--confuses and substitutes sounds, reverses/transposes letters while reading and writing (i.e. will say "substitute" as "suditute" or "supitute"), doesn't retain learned sounds and sight words, etc. Z has been through the same, basic, 1st grade level reading program for two and a half years, and has made little lasting progress. He's practically memorized it, but can't translate it into classroom use in the subject areas, like science and social studies, and doesn't have the knowledge base and skills to move on to the next level. As the fourth grade curriculum becomes more challenging, he's stagnant. To say he's frustrated is an understatement.

So if everyone can learn to read using decoding and phonics, why can't Z? And why are we still instructing him using the same program he's already failed at twice? Because there isn't anything else available. In my building, we follow one to two district endorsed reading programs, all of which focus on phonics. Z is placed in an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom with two awesome teachers (he was in a model classroom last year, too), so he's received a great deal of individualized and small group instruction. His teachers have supported him in so many ways, and yet he still struggles. To say we're defeated is an understatement.

At his CSE meeting, we scratched our heads about what special education services we could provide for Z. Clearly, the Integrated Co-Teaching setting, despite his wonderful, attentive teachers, was not meeting all of his academic needs. We discussed placing him in a 15:1 Special Class, which in my district is for students with severe learning abilities who need more adult attention to achieve learning standards. We were hesitant, knowing that if he left our building for another placement, we couldn't guarantee that he would have a classroom with a high level of intervention, like he was getting from his two teachers (one would hope, but we can't assume). Unfortunately, we didn't have a good answer, a good place, or the right program to fit a kid like Z.

In the end, we did decide on a 15:1 Special Class, but it wasn't a comfortable one. His special education teacher in particular broke down in tears, knowing that despite providing a lot of support to Z, we didn't have what would be able to help him take off academically, especially with reading. It may be that the 15:1 won't either, but we're hoping that a very specific, detailed Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a self-contained class will be able to provide him with more varied programs and curricula to draw from, so that he isn't sitting decoding CVC and CVVC words, like "cat" and "roar" for another year.

How do you support kiddos that don't fit the approved curricula and programs used in your schools, when there may not be the man power or budget for other options?

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1 comment:

  1. In our small school system teachers supplement the highly phonetic focused reading instruction programs with activities/skills from a more whole-word learning style such as configuration of words, working with words in context rather than isolation, and language experience approach where stories are dictated by the student and use only the words in the repertoire they have developed. This has been successful with students with language delays. I am in a small rural school system and there have been several students who just don't benefit from a predominantly phonetic decoding approach. I wish your student well. It appears that it might be hard for him to find the exemplary level of support he has had from you and your colleagues. N. Gregg


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