This year my class is the youngest I’ve ever had. Half of them will turn six between June and late July. Age and development don’t always walk hand-in-glove, but this year I’m definitely seeing a correlation.
I’ll call her June-bug. Much cuter than one of these.
June-bug seemed to be in a fog from the very first day of school when she was barely 5 +2 months old. She had never been to preschool, which is not a terrible thing. June-bug. didn’t know any of her letters by name or sound. She couldn’t count. Numbers and letters were interspersed in her mind. Show her a numeral 2 and she might call it a T and 2 minutes later, she might call it an F.
She would give me confused looks when I pointed out words as I read to her or numbers as I counted objects for her. Her constant puzzled expression made me always picture her with a permanent question mark above her head which said “I have no idea” as well as “teacher has no idea either!”
I took her to my school’s intervention team (the dreaded RTI – Response to Intervention decision-makers). I told them that no matter how much time I spent with her alone or in small groups, June-bug was not making progress as defined by the equally dreaded (by me) mClass tests.
I mentioned that I didn’t feel that these tests were a good picture of this developmentally unready for school child, and that maybe we could just wait for her to catch up (although in my mind I didn’t think she’d catch up this year). Waiting is not much approved in the rush-to-judgment schools of today. Definitely not approved in mine. The team agreed to allow me to continue my interventions in the classroom. I think they did this because they were overloaded with other kids and because I was willing to postpone judgment.
So back to the drawing board. I decided to stop pushing. New intervention strategy: Encourage mom and dad to just read to her. LOTS. No pressure. No sight words. No “which letter is this?” Just read every night.
And in school I helped her with the things that confused her, gave her simpler tasks and stopped pressuring her. I encouraged her to play with her friends. Socialization is important. Role models are important.
Many of the other kids had started writing words with invented spelling and June-bug seemed interested, but her efforts were always just chicken scratches. She would show me her white board and say, “Look what I wrote!” She believed she was writing and I was not going to discourage her. One day she sat in front of our word wall and copied a bunch of words. I read them to her and she repeated them after me. She believed she was reading. She memorized a couple of sight words using hand signals that we made up to accompany them.
But the question mark was still poised above her head and mine.
Then last week I taught our class a song from Heidisongs called How Do You Sound It Out (and yes, you can call this an endorsement, but I’m not selling anything). And something clicked. Or maybe it was just time.
June-bug started sounding out two and three sound words. She took her time with each try and was getting most of them right. I celebrated with her and with the class. I told mom at car-rider pick up that June-bug was reading LOTS of new words. She was delighted.
And today we were doing a worksheet as a formative assessment (don’t judge). It was an old Frank Schaffer thing with line drawings above beginning sounds with lines for the medial vowel and final consonant. Two weeks ago, this would have been an impossible task for June-bug to do alone. Today, I was helping other kids with it and I was quite distracted. The sound of many kids quietly singing the Sound It Out song as they wrote made for lovely, peaceful background music.
Suddenly June-bug was at my elbow.
“Mrs! I wrote these words by myself and I didn’t need any help!”
I’ve heard this before and I looked at her encouragingly, hopeful that she’d gotten some of them right. I’d praise her no matter what.
Then I looked at the paper. Every single one was spelled correctly. One backward b, but EVERY SINGLE ONE WAS SPELLED CORRECTLY.
I grabbed her in a hug and praised her up and down. “You wrote ALL those words BY YOURSELF! You knew you could do it and you did it.”
I took her by the hand and went to the closet where my very part-time assistant was teaching a group of third graders.
“Mrs T, I hate to bother your group, but…” And we showed her June-bug’s paper.
She looked up and said, “I’m going to cry” as she grabbed June-bug in a bear hug or a bug hug, in point of fact.
I said, “You know sometimes we just have to wait until the June-bug is ready.”
She replied, “Or maybe you really are that good.”
No way. This was June-bug every step of the way. I just had to give her time and opportunity.
Then we called mom at work to share the good news. June-bug told mom that she wrote all her words all by herself and then she read them into the phone.
Yeah. I cried some more.