Manuel began the school year as a very enthusiastic and hard working student. He would sit down and try his best to do what he was supposed to do. Shortly after school began, Manuel started to stand out as being academically quite low. Despite attending Awesome School all of the previous year for kindergarten, his reading level was still at the beginning kindergarten level. He didn’t consistently know all of his letter sounds or his numbers to 10.
But, despite this, Manuel continued to fully throw himself into whatever we were doing. I quickly implemented many interventions with him, trying to bring him up academically, while maintaining his wonderful work ethic.
Manuel always liked to write. And, compared to his reading level, his writing level was fairly high (though still falling far lower than the majority of the class). I hoped to draw upon his enjoyment of writing to help develop his reading skills. I worked with him a lot on his writing, encouraging him to sound out words to the best of his ability, to go back and reread what he had written, to get ideas down on paper in whatever way he could. His writing progressed a bit, and he always enjoyed writing and sharing his writing with others.
A few months after the start of school, Manuel began going to a different teacher for guided reading – one who had more experience working with struggling students, and one who also had a reading interventionist working together with her during guided reading time. For much of the school year, Manuel got two guided reading groups each day. His reading moved a little bit, very slowly. I stopped doing weekly assessments on his knowledge of letter sounds and moved onto assessing his ability to read nonsense words (a popular “testing” skill in first grade, which I should write a whole post about at some point) and his ability to read simple kindergarten passages. His progress from week to week was very, very slow.
Sadly, as the year progressed, Manuel began to realize how very low he was in reading compared to the rest of the class. His behavior worsened a bit, and his focus decreased. His guided reading teacher said that she was having problems getting him to do his centers work when he was with her, and he was always out of his seat, bouncing around the room, when he was with me. He started to make comments about how he couldn’t read. He saw that other kids were reading much more complicated texts, while he was struggling with most anything given to him. I always did my best to reassure him that he was learning to read. I explained to Manuel that it was taking a little longer for him to learn to read than for some of the other kids, and he, for whatever reason, was having a harder time of it, but that just meant that he had to stay focused and try extra hard. I tried to reassure him that it would come, eventually.
When I spoke with Manuel’s parents during conferences, they talked about how Manuel’s older brother had a very difficult time in school. He is a few years older than Manuel and receives special education services for reading. His father stated very matter-of-factly one time that “Manuel’s older brother has the hardest time in school. Manuel is a little bit smarter than his older brother. And Manuel’s little sister seems like she’s going to be a little smarter than Manuel.” It’s not really fair for any of the kids to put them in a hierarchy of “smartness” like that, but it is what the parents have observed and essentially been told by the teachers at the school.
So, throughout the year I worked with Manuel. He received many, many literacy interventions. He ended the year still reading far below grade level, but he did advanced about one year (from beginning kinder level to beginning first grade level) over the course of the school year, so there definitely was progress made.
The exciting thing about Manuel was that all year he seemed to understand math. Whatever his difficulty was with reading, he generally was quite average in math. Toward the end of the year though, Manuel’s mathematical understanding leaped. He wasn’t just average anymore – he was good at math. I told him this every day. I was so happy for him, so happy that we had found an area in which he performed so strong. He has a complex understanding of number sense and is able to talk about numbers, explaining where they belong in a hundreds chart, explaining what it means when you talk about something being in the “ones place” or the “tens place,” and doing a variety of other things with numbers. His one problem, even at this point, was that he still was not able to consistently identify or write the numbers 1 through 20. We had worked on it and worked on it. But, like with reading, there is some sort of disconnect going on in his brain that is making it extra hard for him to read numbers and write the numbers he is thinking of in his head.
I have thought about this and talked about it with many people. Manuel has the concept of the number six strongly in his head – he can picture six of something, he knows at the core level what six means. But, when shown the number 6, he just can’t quite seem to remember that the symbol “6” goes along with the mental representation of six objects he has in his head. Therefore, when he write out problems (and takes those painful standardized math tests the first graders were required to take this year) he doesn’t always perform as highly as he should. Manuel is good at math. He is excellent at explaining the concepts to the class, and through these explanations has proven to me and his peers that he is proficient in math.
During the final week of school, we had an awards assembly. Each teacher was supposed to hand out awards for the two academically strongest students, the two most improved students, and the two student who best exemplified the positive character traits we were supposed to have worked on during the year. (I, being the constant pseudo-rebel that I am, gave out slightly different awards. I didn’t like those categories.)
Throughout this assembly, I was sitting next to Manuel. As kids from other classes got called up to receive their awards, and Manuel received nothing, he kept whispering to me, “But Ms. Grownup, I’m good at math, right? I’m good at math?” I of course reassured him that he wasn’t just good, he was very good at math. Fortunately, both for him, for me, and for his classmates, as his math abilities really began to bloom around April, Manuel’s behavior began to improve a little bit too. He was still unfocused at times, and constantly out of his seat, but now he has something he knows he is good at. Whatever his other academic problems are, he is good at math. I am glad I was able to convince him of that, that he was able to see that and believe it. Because Manuel is good at math and deserves to be recognized for it.
Manuel will need to keep working very hard as he continues in school. I passed along to his new school all the data and information I had collected on him this year – detailing the interventions we worked on with Manuel and their outcomes. I hope that Manuel gets the services he needs to continue developing in reading, and the recognition he deserves for his hard work and excellence in math.