* Anatomy of writing failure, part 2

In my earlier post, I described the first two years of a student’s journey into writing failure.  This twice exceptional student with dyslexia not only had little effective writing practice, but developed considerable anxiety about a daily task which was far beyond his skill level.  At that point, he began receiving private intervention, thanks to his parents’ legitimate concerns.  An evaluation indicated that he was unable to blend two sounds together!  Imagine telling this kid to s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the sounds in a word in order to spell it.  By this time, his peers were writing paragraphs.  He was overwhelmed, still struggling to organize his thoughts, unable to spell, and terrified of writing.

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I know you can do it!”  “Try harder!”  These directives and other efforts to “motivate” this youngster were the most common responses to his dilemma.  Despite meaning well, motivation was NOT the issue.  This student lacked the basic skills to comply.  The additional pressure was “crazy-making,” and to his credit, the student had only a few meltdowns at school.  On the other hand, he became a nightmare at home because that was the safer place to release his tremendous sense of confusion and distress.  This intolerable situation continued for almost 2 more years.

Opportunity #1:  Again, provide systematic, specialized instruction to address his significant phonological weaknesses.

Opportunity #2: Provide speech-language therapy to support his weak phonological skills and considerable articulation errors.  Address his weaknesses in categorization of ideas and word finding.

Opportunity #3:  Again, work around the need to spell until the student has the prerequisite skills (see specialized instruction above).  Allow recording, dictation, and copying.  Use technology.

Something to think about:  For good or bad, this gifted student’s life was irrevocably altered by these years of acute anxiety and invalidation.  His summers have been occupied with daily tutoring to “catch up.”  Despite remarkable improvement in reading and writing, he continues to struggle with articulation, phonological weaknesses, organization of ideas, and spelling.  This scenario occurs all too frequently in reading, writing, and math.  Without vigilant parents and effective teaching, his outcome could have been horrendous.  As I noted in a previous post, it is estimated that 50,000 gifted students drop out of school each year.  How many of those are twice exceptional?  Can we afford to lose even one?

Next: What are some effective strategies for teaching writing to older students?

* A is for Anxiety

I’m kicking off my A to Z blogging challenge with anxiety.  Can I do it?   What will others think?  How can I pretend I am good at this or at least hide my inadequacies?   Will I be asked to explain what I mean?

anxiety.JPGThose are questions that special needs kids frequently ask themselves as they tackle school tasks, both academic and social.  Let’s examine the underlying issues.

  1.  Can I do it?  From an early age, kids with reading and math disabilities are typically aware of their limitations.  They do notice other kids reading “chapter” books or solving math problems with relative ease.  When given a novel assignment, these struggling students lack confidence.  This anxiety further limits their flexibility and problem-solving ability.   Early intervention is crucial!
  2.  What will others think?  The age at which this becomes a troubling question varies significantly among students.  Kids with a supportive family and opportunities to shine in other areas (at school or elsewhere) are more likely to withstand the blows accompanying a disability.  I’ve noticed kids seem hard-wired for the relative intensity of their responses, although a harsh environment (school or home) can bring out the worst in anyone.
  3.  How can I pretend I am good at this or at least hide my inadequacies?  I know kids who pretend to be many things other than disabled.  It’s common for some to prefer acting “bad” than looking “stupid.”  To quote 0ne dyslexic kid: “I act up so they won’t think I’m retarded.”   Some resort to crawling under tables or hiding in the bathroom.   Other kids become masters at copying classmates’ work or simply pretending to work.
  4.  Will I be asked to explain what I mean?  Many kids with learning challenges have language and social issues which affect their ability to explain themselves.  Some twice exceptional students have literal and divergent views of subjects which seem incomprehensible to both teachers and peers.  An inability to provide a “correct” answer can become a paralyzing fear, especially if students are required to respond in a whole group or public manner and are not given sufficient forewarning to compose their answers.

I’ve noticed that experienced bloggers often share tips for novices like me who are likely to worry about these same issues.   Are blogging stats comparable to end-of-grade tests?  Oh no!

 

* Integrating content areas into reading, social skills, and math

atomglobe.jpgOK, here’s my bias.  Reading, writing, and math are core subjects to me, as are social skills and classroom behavior.  At least one of these five subjects lies at the heart of needed remediation for special needs kids. I believe reading and social skills are primary.  They both allow access to the realms of the typical learners who may never give a second (negative) thought to their abilities.  Lack of these two fundamental skills can lead to all manner of distress, anxiety, relational conflicts, and isolation.  Social skills and behavior are cousins, so the same consequences apply.  Math and writing follow closely behind as factors determining academic success and basic life skill acquisition.

The good news?  Science and social studies are often areas of interest for kids with the above weaknesses, the kids with autism, dyslexia or dyscalculia, and those labeled twice exceptional.  These content areas provide a footing upon which to build reading skills and a toolkit for incorporating social skills and behavior instruction through science/social studies investigations with peers.

The bad news?  With the pressure to improve test scores, teachers may devalue those benefits of instruction in science and social studies, unless kids are also tested in science, which occurs in grades 5 and 8 in North Carolina.  With time constraints, elementary teachers may shortcut the experiential and authentic aspects of content area instruction.  Worksheets and memorization of facts may become an expedient alternative for authentic exploration.  Special ed teachers are often under similar pressure to produce higher rates of achievement; this can happen in a relative “vacuum” if teachers aren’t careful.

The solution?  Incorporate science and social studies into reading, social skills, math, and writing instruction.  Take advantage of the special interests of kids described above.  Many of them are awesome problem solvers, with creativity and the ability to “think outside the box.”  Allow special needs kids to be leaders in investigations, with support as needed.  Provide opportunities for these kids to learn in small groups with clearly assigned roles.  The research to support this approach is there.  The effective models are there.  Hopefully this section of my blog will support teachers as they integrate content areas into the instruction of special learners.