Tag Archives: identification

Struggling to Read with Comprehension


There are two kinds of people who decide to enter the teaching profession: those who were good at the game of school and those who weren’t.  Those who weren’t nurse a hope that one day they might make a difference to someone else who isn’t good at the game.

I was mainly the latter although I was pegged as someone who Could Do Better if only I worked/did my homework/ was motivated/ wasn’t so lazy.  I was very good at reading so as a teacher and even though I knew better, I never really got the concept that a child could read words with some fluency and yet haven’t a clue what they had just read.  Never, that is, until I started studying Chinese in September.

I am a motivated student, prepared to work hard.  Most days I spend between three-quarters of an hour and an hour and a half studying, using every tool that comes to hand in addition to doing the assigned homework.  I wasn’t able to start the course until a couple of weeks into it and it was another four weeks before the textbook and workbook were available.  I used Internet sites and my notes to study for the first couple of quizzes.  My wrists and thumbs hurt from writing characters in pencil on paper and on the pad on my computer.  I remember why written work was such hell for me in school.

My average is probably an A- or B+ in spite of those difficulties and I would be proud of myself except that I rarely understand the professor when she speaks to us in Chinese. I stumble over the simplest replies. I read sentences with the halting lack of expression of a very early reader and worst of all even if I had recognised every character with ease, I still wouldn’t have a clue what I had read.

In short I am that reader I didn’t understand: the one who can read the words without understanding the sentence.  I am beginning to understand how they can get by for so long and even do well in school!

For a start, textbooks and readers today are packed with full colour pictures, diagrams, maps, charts and other supplementary information about the topic at hand.  The non-reader can garner a lot of information from the visual aids on the page.  In fact, students are encouraged to do just that as part of their reading strategies; the illustrations provide a legitimate means of giving readers information about the topic and a chance to anticipate where the text is going.  The non-reader will rely heavily on the information, not just use it a supplement to the reading material.

Secondly, students are often tipped off by the phrasing of a question as to what answer is expected.   “Do you think Goldilocks should have gone into the cottage?” is a fairly clear indication that the questioner thinks not.  It is not easy to create a question to elicit answers that will indicate how well a student understood the story; that is an art in itself.  I have often spent time before class jotting down ideas for effective questions or rephrasing the ones I had.

These readers in difficulty are unlikely to volunteer answers unless they are sure their answer is correct.  While you don’t want to embarrass them, you do want to know how good their comprehension is and you do want to engage them in discussion.  A teacher who intermittently chooses volunteers and those sitting on their hands to answer will prepare all the students for being called on when they aren’t sure.  This will be especially true if the pattern is random so students will not be able to predict who is next. Following up an error with tactful questions to the student or the class as a whole can be the beginning of using mistakes as a learning experience.  Comments more widely directed such as “that’s a different way of looking at it.  How would you support this argument?” can help the class as a whole consider less conventional ideas instead of embarrassing the student who didn’t understand the work.

“Interesting thought, Jenny.  Can you tell us what made you think of that?” will work once the student is confident enough to think on her feet.  This gives her a chance to refer to the text (struggling readers don’t miss everything) or bring in other experiences or texts, strategies encouraged in all readers.

If the struggling reader avoids participating in discussions of stories and other texts, she has many ways of faking it on paper.  Many adults have told me that they just listened to class discussions and used the information as a basis for answering questions.  If the teacher uses multiple choice or fill in the blank type exercises, then the work has just got easier.  Usually a child who is paying attention can figure out which choices or words are the best candidates for right answer.  Then he makes a guess.  If there are, as usual, four choices and the student guesses wildly, he has a 25% chance of getting the answer right.  If he correctly narrows the answer down to three or two choices and then guesses, he improves his odds to 33% or 50%.  If he actually figures out a right answer or two, he may pass.

This all assumes he does not cheat or receive a little help from his friends.  It also assumes that he does not employ bafflegab in writing answers.  This is the fine art of confusing the reader with such convoluted language or grammar and oversized words that it is unclear what the writer intended to say.  A good dose of if-it-doesn’t-make-sense-then-the-answer-is-automatically-wrong usually cures it.  However most teachers do give the student the benefit of the doubt a time or two before lowering the boom.

In other words, the struggling reader can often do a good job of faking it, especially if he is reasonably bright.  When he declines to read in front of the class or stumbles on his words he will allow the world to assume that he is just shy.  He will announce that he hates reading and then no one will know for sure unless they explore in depth.

Why won’t the teacher be concerned?  If the child is generally well behaved, is scraping through in reading and passing in the other parts of Language Arts and the other subjects, that’s good enough.  Many teachers have the attitude that reading is not part of other subjects so don’t support weak students with new vocabulary or more sophisticated grammar in subjects like history or science.  They may believe that they need to accommodate the child in learning the material, not in means of learning the material.  What they forget is that reading and writing are fundamental to academic success.              The language and thought of each subject needs to be learned along with the subject matter itself.

In addition, the teacher will have a handful of students who are working below grade level and others who have been identified as needing support.  The teacher will have her hands full doing the paperwork for those students and planning for them as well as the normal workload for her class.  A brief interview with the parents of the struggling reader and a suggestion that they read with her at home may be all she has time for.  She could suggest educational and psychological testing but she knows that the child will be low on the list and children with more serious needs will regularly be popped in ahead of their student.  In the end the child would be placed in a regular classroom with support, where she is now.

A child whose timed reading comprehension is in the 7th percentile will not get help, in fact, no one will suggest testing if she has a C average (high level 2).  Most teachers will not even suspect that she is anything more than lazy or dislikes reading

So what are the struggling reader and I to do?  I know what I will do.  Classes have finished and I have my final exam on Saturday, December 18 from 7 p. m. to 10:00 p. m.  I am going to start by spending a chunk of my studying time listening to a pod cast teaching oral Chinese and practising saying the sentences I hear.  I will still spend time every day practising writing characters and listening to sounds and writing the characters, pinyin and tones I am hearing.  With luck and hard work, by the 18th I will be able to read a simple sentence of Chinese characters and understand the meaning at the same time.  If it gives me insights into how to help the struggling reader, I will let you know.

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R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)


The R in Theory & Practice in Ontario

One of the good things about the use of R in today’s report cards is that it is a red flag meaning HELP NEEDED HERE!  It does not assess how well a student is learning that grade’s curriculum; where an R is assigned it means that the student will need remediation to reach a level where she can start learning that grade’s curriculum.  The R also indicates that the child’s parents need to be involved.

The questions are what kind of help, how, who will deliver it and how soon it can be delivered. It can be taken as given that the teacher is already differentiating appropriately for the student, although if she is the one teaching 29 students of whom 25 are on IEPs one could be forgiven for wondering how that is going.  (see Inclusive Education in Practice) Cleaning the Augean Stables might be easier.

Planning for a Child Assessed with an R

When a student is assessed with an R, a plan must be created to address how the student will acquire the necessary remediation.  That plan must indicate what the teacher will do and how the parent will be involved.  Both stakeholders and other relevant members of the staff will have input, but creating the plan is the unspoken responsibility of the teacher.

Pedagogically, this is a sound idea.  The student is regarded not as a failure but one who needs help.  The school and family join forces to see he gets that help.  If they can identify ways and means to do it without anyone, and especially the parents, made to feel that they aren’t doing enough, then the child’s remediation might prove effective.

Parents and Teachers Working Together

It takes a lot of tact to discuss simple things at home that can make a big difference at school. All that apple pie stuff about good nutrition, a good breakfast, enough sleep, sufficient time, quiet and place to do homework, consistency and patience are true.  There is a reason children are not born able to stand on their own two feet.

More than anything, most teachers would love to include the following in the plan:

o      Bobby’s parents will continue to work with the school to create an educational and behavioural plan to help him improve.

o      Bobby’s parents will not give up after three weeks involvement in a plan because:

§       They don’t yet see improvement

§       Bobby says his teacher says he doesn’t need it

§       Bobby drives them nuts with his complaining about the plan

§       It’s too much work

Consistency isn’t easy but it makes a difference in helping children.

Teachers and parents often choose the one or two things they see as most important and focus on those.  Further, they tend to choose concrete items.  A favourite is the agenda.

In that case the plan is clear and simple: the teacher will check that homework is written down accurately in the child’s agenda and initial it.  At home, the parents will check the agenda, see that the listed homework is done and initial the agenda.  (see Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors? for Dr. Maggie Memen’s model for shared responsibility for homework)  The teacher may add that she will follow-up with an in school team meeting and seek the advice of her colleagues.

The In School Team Meeting

The in school team meeting as it is usually called is often a good resource for teachers.  The principal or vice-principal attends as well as a special needs teacher and often an out of school resource person.  Their questions are brief, relevant and helpful.  In addition to practical advice they may encourage the teacher to start the process for educational and psychological testing.

Looking for Help Outside the Classroom, the School and the Board

Not all the suggestions require teacher or parent action.  Some require the board to act, for example, by providing psychological testing, but the child may wait six months to a year for board action. Since that kind of delay is too long in the short life of a child’s education, teachers might advise parents to pay for testing privately if they can afford it; this, of course, cannot be written up as part of the plan to help the student.  A teacher who is known to have suggested to parents that they pay out of their own pockets for a service boards are expected to provide is risking a reprimand.

Even assuming he qualifies for help, the right placement might not be available for the student.  Other kinds of help require money, public or private.  Sometimes a social worker can chase down some support; sometimes it is a question of getting in line; sometimes it just isn’t there.

An R May Not be Used Repeatedly

Finally, teachers are instructed that an R may not be used repeatedly. This is a puzzle; what if the student continues to work at this level?  What if the parents and teacher are doing their part of the plan but waiting for the board to do its part?  How does a teacher avoid putting an R on the report card in these instances?  This does sound like a thirteenth labour of Hercules!

R as an Improvement in Attitude on F

In spite of some of the practical difficulties an R creates, it is not the dead-end that an F for failure was.  The spirit is that if a child is not succeeding she either needs remediation or support or is in the wrong program.  It does not preclude the possibility that the child needs to change her behaviour.

As you can see, like a lot of well-meaning pedagogical ideas, the R on the Ontario report card requires solid support to be effective. Whether sufficient support exists in every Ontario school for every student with an R is another story.

For more Information on Report Cards:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card.

For Teachers: Some Charts Based on “Education for All”


PART 4 of “Education for All”

A Guide to the Charts & Questionnaires Adapted from Education for All And Complementary to It

These charts and adapatations are free.  All I ask is that I be given credit for my work.  Feel free to modify to fit your needs.

There are a number of charts in this post.  They divide into the following categories:

USEFUL FOR COLLECTING INFORMATION WHILE IN THE CLASSROOM

Generic Skills Evaluation 23 kids

Generic Skills Evaluation 27 Kids

Generic Skills Evaluation 36 Kids

These are templates for listing student names and recording information on two categories.  If you have electronic copies you can enter the students’ names and will have a template you can reuse for other categories.  If you don’t have electronic copies, you will have to photocopy and enter the students’ names as well as the categories each time you use them.

I have created the templates for classes of 23, 27 and 36.  I hope no one has more than this number in their classes.  I have found that it is easier to collect information using the classroom seating plan as alphabetical lists slow me down.  However the template is useful in the absence of a seating plan or if you are marking a stack of assignments.

USEFUL FOR CREATING A PROFILE FOR EACH CHILD

Writing individual learning profile template

Reading INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PROFILE TEMPLATE

Oral communication individual learning profile template

Mathematics INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PROFILE TEMPLATE

Individual Learning Profile Template Oral & Reading

Individual Learning Profile Template Writing & Math

Learning Skills per report card

Level Descriptors

Questionnaire for Parents of Elementary Students

Questionnaire for Elementary Students

These are as detailed as the charts in Education for All, except that I have shortened sentences and used abbreviations.  I imagine that for many of the categories you will end up putting a tick or a level, only writing a note where a child shows either difficulty or abilities that need recording.  I hope these will prove useful in writing report cards or IEPs.

The questionnaires are not professionally created.  The questionnaire for students is suitable for the older grades.  Teachers of primary grades will need to modify them considerably.  If you do not assign homework, you will need to cut out a lot of questions.  Feel free to modify for your class.  Please let me know how well they work and what difference your modifications have made.  Suggestions and comments are welcome.  Sharing your versions is even more welcome.

I am going to try to create a key, especially applying attribution theory AKA locus of control AKA who does a student attribute success or failure to.  That may take even longer but will probably be useful.  In the meantime, a quick skim of key answers will probably give you a reasonable picture.

Learning skills cover a wide range even within each of the nine parameters.  I have found it useful to reduce the range by combining some skills.  It still leaves a great deal to assess per child.  Some teachers meet this challenge by only evaluating a few skills a term.

I prefer to look at the not-satisfactory to excellent on the report card as the equivalent of ministry levels 1 to 4; the first day of school, I give all my students a level three – good – on the assumption that children whose learning skills are above or below ministry expectations will quickly catch my eye.  This works particularly well if I am using Excel to keep track.  Most days I have an observation to jot down beside at least one child’s name (a date stamp is useful here, especially if you are using the classroom plan). After a couple of months, I check for children who have no comments on my record.  I make it a point to monitor these children carefully because it is often the students we do not notice who slip between the cracks.

The disadvantage of this system is that in first term, some children may end up with higher marks in some learning skills than they normally would.  One or two may be miffed in the first term at not getting the excellent they got in the preceding year, but by and large the system works.

USEFUL FOR CREATING A CLASS PROFILE

Socio Affective Classroom Profile Template

Classroom Profile Mathematics

Classroom Profile literacy

These are simply charts from Education for All to use the information from the children’s profiles to summarise in a class profile.

USEFUL FOR PLANNING FOR A CHILD HAVING DIFFICULTY

IDENTIFYING READING CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES

Identifying Writing Challenges & Stategies to Help

IDENTIFYING ORAL COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES TO HELP

IDENTIFYING MATH CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES TO HELP

The idea here is to help you quickly identify the key problems a child is having and note how you intend to deal with them. Education for All in Chapter 8 has outlined a number of useful strategies and you probably have hundreds more up your sleeve. By circling the problems you have identified and jotting down strategies you are considering using, you have a record of what you identified and the strategies you have considered and used.

They should also be useful for creating an IEP and writing the child’s report card.

USEFUL FOR TRACKING THE PROCESS FOR GETTING MORE HELP FOR A CHILD

Learning Difficulties Tracking Chart (6 pages)

Learning Difficulties Tracking Sheet Shorter Version(4 pages)

One of the most difficult things in a very busy school year is keeping track of what happened when.  These sheets are intended to help you keep track of the in school and out of school team meetings that will occur in the process of getting a child identified as exceptional.  It is easy to forget to bring samples of a child’s work or remember the sample you brought last time or who promised to do what last time.

They will also remind you the things you need to do to be well prepared, so it can serve as a checklist, too. I have used the back of the envelope method but later on, I am not sure what my notes were referring to.  This way, the teacher can circle, cross out or write the minimum and stay focussed on the real job, the meetings and what is best for the students.

These sheets are intended to help the classroom teacher track what is happening.  They are intended to be a personal record.  If you think you may be expected to hand them in, then keep a second copy for your personal comments and questions and photocopy the official copy for your records, too.

There are two versions: the six page version and the short (4 page version).  Both are set up so you can print up one tier and the teacher’s reflections at a time.   They don’t run into each other.

SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW TO ORGANISE THESE

You will need a profile for each child and one for the classroom no matter what.  There are two ways of storing them so they are close at hand.  One is a binder and the other is top of desk files.  I prefer the latter as I don’t like snapping binders open and shut.  I do like having this kind of information easily accessible for putting notes away and accessing it for the administrator who will inevitably have an urgent question in the middle of a class.  Ideally, each child will have their own file folder so you don’t get information mixed up; the folders will hold, at a minimum:

The child’s profile for each subject

The child’s questionnaire

The parent’s questionnaire

Dated samples of work as appropriate

I find it useful to dump any notes from home, notes on behaviour (good & bad) and anything else pertaining to the child as the term rolls on.  It is amazing how much you can forget over a couple of months.  Of course, if it becomes necessary, you will add Identifying (Subject) Challenges & Strategies to Help and Learning Difficulties Tracking Chart and anything else which will help you identify challenges and design strategies to meet them.

A folder for the class profile will also be needed and again any notes concerning the class as a whole can be popped in, too.  The class profile might prove helpful to a supply teacher, too.  Supply teachers often have some insightful things to say.

For More Information

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Commentary on “Education for All”


Part One:

Review of the Ontario Ministry for Education & Training’s Policy on Special Education

This is the first of five posts on Special Education and the document Education for All.
What is Special Education and When Does a Child Need It?

The Ontario Ministry for Education and Training defines Special Education in this way:

Students who have behavioral, communicational, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities, may require special education programs and /or services to benefit fully from their school experience.

How a Parent or Teacher’s Concern Goes from Observation to the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC)

When a teacher’s observations of a student lead her to question whether the child is exceptional and therefore in need of special services or programs, the law requires her to draw the attention of child’s parents, her principal and LST to the child.  Usually the LST then sees that the necessary testing is done to assess the child; if the results of the testing justifies the teacher’s concerns, the LST arranges for an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) to be established to consider the child’s needs and strengths. The parents are allowed and invited to attend IPRCs.  They may bring information to the meeting, express an opinion, veto or agree to their child’s placement.

Default Placement for All Exceptional Children is the Regular Classroom

Ontario law explicitly states that a regular classroom should be the default placement for all exceptional children. Where any child is placed in a special education class such as a congregated gifted class or a behavioral unit, a written reason must be given.  No reason needs to be given for placing a child in a regular classroom.  This regulation was put in place in 2005.

In theory the decisions of identification and placement are made at the committee level.  In practice, the testing has already been done, analysed and summarized and, in most cases, the ministry has predetermined the child’s placement by insisting that the regular classroom be the first option considered.  In less time than it takes to pour coffee, most parents have heard the whole story and nothing is left but the signatures.  In fact, if the folk from the school have done their job right, the parents already know everything there is to know and are simply hearing a review.

Curiously, since the law has been in place for four years, gifted children continue to be the exceptions to this rule in some school boards.  While it might be possible to mount an excellent argument for segregated gifted programs, some of the current experts in intellectually talented children feel that these exceptional children should be mainstreamed.  To my knowledge, no written reasons are being given on each IPRC for putting these children into special classes.

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a Flexible, Living Document

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is created by the child’s teacher, with help if necessary from the school’s specialists, from the IPRC’s conclusions.  The IEP is a work in progress, subject to revision each term and as the child progresses.  What it does, besides reiterating the child’s strengths and needs, is to describe in broad strokes what accommodations or modifications the child’s teacher(s) plans to put into place to assist the student. Accommodations refer to changes made to assist the child to learn material at her grade level; modifications involve a change in grade level. The accommodations or modifications can affect the program, material, technology or methods.  This sounds simple and scientific but it is neither.

The IEP is only scientific in that it is a hypothesis based on good information that will be tested by the child and her teacher. The recommendations of the educational testers are a good place to start, but the teacher and student need to collaborate to find the right balance that will work for the individual. This is a bit like a psychiatrist finding the right cocktail of drugs for someone with severe depression. There are a lot of anti-depressants out there, but some will make some people sicker, some will be too much and others might work but at the price of horrific side effects.  A psychiatrist might spend a year trying different doses and combinations of drugs before finding one that works.  And yet the diagnosis was so simple.

The truth of the matter is that it is in the child’s best interests to make the least change necessary for her to learn at the rate of her classmates, if that is possible.  However, if the student’s confidence has been badly shaken, perhaps more support than is strictly necessary might be called for.  Not only that, but children grow and change; just as one design begins to work well, it quite often appears that the IEP will need changing again as the student faces a new challenge or wants to try handling school without a certain accommodation.

So when I suggest the creation and implementation of an IEP is not scientific, I am saying that while it is based on research, best practices and careful assessment of the student’s strengths and needs, the IEP is still an approximation of what might work.  Implementing it successfully requires professional judgment and flexibility rather than blindly following the plan.

The IEP and the Report Card

The student’s report card will indicate that she has an IEP.  This is especially important if she is working below or above grade level in any subject area, but it also indicates that accommodations are in place.  Until recently academically talented children were not allowed to work above grade level; it is my understanding that under certain circumstances, they may be accelerated in a subject area – or even a grade should it be deemed necessary.  But that is another hornet’s nest.

The IEP is Private

A copy of the IEP should be in the student’s file, also known as the Ontario Student Record.  How soon it gets there depends on how high a priority a teacher gives to filing, as only teachers or specific school personnel (or parents under the supervision of the school) may see the OSR.  It used to be that only teachers could keep the attendance record, but that has changed.  Maybe filing will one day be removed from teachers’ hands, too.  At least from elementary teachers’ hands, secondary teachers do not file.  Since the child’s parents also have a copy of the IEP anyone who has a right to peruse the report card will be able to see the IEP for clarification.

This is a brief summary of what Special Education is in Ontario and what the various acronyms along the path mean.  I have not mentioned issues such as equipment or accommodations external to the classroom.  That is a long story.  Suffice it to say that a computer ordered for an exceptional child in the fall of one year will not be in that child’s hands until the fall of the following year.  A year is a long time in a child’s life, longer if she is struggling in school; what are the administrators in the ministry and the school boards thinking?

SECOND POST:  Education for All and the myth of Universal Design

THIRD POST:  A Review of the Material in Education for All

FOURTH POST:  Gifted Children and Education for All

FIFTH POST: Charts taken from, modified and related to Education for All


FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:

Education for All available in ministry bookstores for $6.00

The Ministry website: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/ontario.html

http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90e02_e.htm

Regulations 35. 3, 11