CFE Reflection #3: Saying goodbye
So this was the last week of school with students. We made it through a very strange year with Covid19, masks and social distancing. It is bittersweet saying goodbye: on the one hand, I wish it would never end. On the other hand, I’m exhausted and really looking forward to a break.
If thank you cards and small gifts are a sign I’ve been a good teacher, then clearly I have because my desk is loaded with good stuff, and my heart is full of memories.
This week I worked on a stack of grade 7 EAL files, scoring their writing samples and organizing their green EAL folders to be sent to their high school next year. It was interesting to see how they had progressed over the years. Some of the students were ending their allotted five years of English Language Learning support, and one of the students had only arrived in Canada in February.
Kelly had previously scored these samples, but witheld her scores so we could compare. Funny enough, we came to very similar conclusions. She also showed me an example of the Lomeera test she administered in March, the results of which go into their EAL report. And she showed the ministry guidelines on how to create an EAL package and all the required documentation. It’s a LOT of paperwork!
Evaluating a student with suspected reading/writing issues
The other thing I did was score one of my students in their ability to read “nonsense” words. This is a non-diagnostic test meant to see if the student knows basic phonics. All of the words are made-up and the student needs to use their knowledge of other words to decode the nonsense words. Kelly, the resource worker, gave me this test to administer to one of my students who I discovered might have some sort of reading/writing problem. It doesn’t diagnose the problem, but Kelly explained it could provide evidence that she could send in the student’s administrative folder, which would alert the high school resource workers to the possibility she needs further testing.
The test-makers state that the average 11 year old should be able to read 95 words per minute. Unfortunately, the student I tested was only able to read 17 words per minute on average. I did three tests (they are only a few minutes long) and she never scored higher than 20 words per minute and she read more than half of the words incorrectly. For example, she read the word CHUD as ASHDE and the word THRAIN as ATHER. What’s even stranger is that she read the same nonsense words in different ways. She is 13 years old.
I think she has slipped under the radar because she is quiet and uses her time wisely in class. She works hard and always hands her assignments in on time. She’s also a fabulous artist and her work is always very nicely displayed. And I think she has gotten really good at copying words from texts rather than using her own words. Of course Pat, my SA, and I had noticed that her writing was often very far below grade level (once she spelled ‘chicken’ three different incorrect ways), but we wrongly assumed it was because she was rushing. Now I realize that it was in those assignments where she had no text to copy from that her writing/reading problems surfaced. It was those assignments where she needed to come up with her own ideas.
After the test, I asked her how she felt about her reading and writing. She said she thinks she needs help. I asked her if she thinks she can read and write at the same level as her peers in grade seven and she said no. I was surprised by her answers. I don’t know why, but I expected her to be defensive, but she was very aware of her problems. I explained to her why it took us all year to figure out that maybe she needed extra help with her reading/writing and she smiled. She clearly knows that she has developed strategies to mask her issues.
I told her that we would try to get her extra help in high school, but also explained that she would be in grade 8 then and that she needed to also ask for help. That she was at the age where she needed to tell people that she has problems with reading and writing and not to try to hide it anymore. She said she would do that.
When I showed the results to Kelly, we were both really saddened. It’s such a shame that we only discovered this at the end of the year.
This whole experience with this student has brought to mind a quote by Shelley Moore which I heard over and over in a professional development workshop she gave on inclusive education and universal design for learning. She said we should always approach our students, all of them, with the understanding that they’re competent. That we need to presume competence.
She used that quote in the context of a mute student with severe learning disabilities, but I see how it applies in the context of the student I was working with this past week.
When I received work from her that was far below grade level, I assumed she had rushed and not cared about the work. Instead, I should have presumed competence and that she had put her best effort into the work. This is a huge learning experience for me. Yes, there are times when students rush and hand in really poor work. However, I think it’s important to touch base with the student and ask them directly, “Did you rush and hand in sloppy work, or did you give your best effort on this?”
At least that way, I can maybe spot that a student needs resource support earlier on.
I have no idea what the future holds for me. I have gone back and forth about my next moves. I always thought I wanted my own classroom and would do whatever it took to get that right away, including moving to another part of the province, but now I’m thinking it might be best to TTOC for a year. I’m really not sure.
One of the things that I’ve really appreciated about working with Kelly and learning about resource work is that I can now see myself in that role. I feel that perhaps I could enter my profession from this direction as well, so the future is wide open!