In the fall semester last year, I had the opportunity to work in a 2nd grade classroom for my FNED 346 class. I was placed in a Providence elementary school and given a list of the six students I should be working with, since they were “the lowest of the low.” In my training, I was basically told that these kids had no hope. This was purely based on test scores. When I actually got into the classroom and had a chance to talk to the teacher, she looked at the list and disagreed with it. Although the six students on the list had tested the lowest on standardized tests, she felt as though there were other students who could benefit from one on one help more. I ended up staying throughout the spring semester as well because I enjoyed working with the kids so much and saw so much improvement in the students I worked with.
For my special education placement in the spring semester of 2015, I was placed in another Providence elementary school. This time, I was placed in a 4th grade classroom and worked one-on-one with one young girl. She struggled with reading at a kindergarten level and could not pass the basic addition timed tests, while the rest of her classmates were doing multiplication and division. It seemed to me that her teachers had essentially given up on her. The system was also failing her. On multiple weeks, I had to read her the standardized reading tests. Her teacher told me “It’s really a waste of time. Even if you read it to her she has no comprehension skills. Just try to get it done as quickly as possible.” She also spent many hours taking the PARCC test, even though she could not read. So “she will just pick random answers and then sit there while everyone else finishes.” This is where I struggle with standardized testing. It seems to me that these hours could have been better spent working one-on-one with her in areas that she struggles, rather than setting her up for failure
I came across these two videos, and I think they are so important for anyone who works with children to watch. Take these messages to heart:
A third story hits really close to my heart. We have a little girl at the dance studio, Mariah, who I have had since she was four years old. She is nine now. Mariah is on the autism spectrum, and many of our staff and instructors get frustrated when they have her in class. They do not know how to work with her to help her be successful. When I was talking to some of the teachers the other day, I said “I love Mariah”. My statement was met with blank stares, confused looks, and “How?!” My response is simple. She is a very special girl with very special talents, and even though her brain might work a little differently, she is just as amazing as all of our other students. The kindness Mariah displays towards other students is remarkable. Sometimes she has trouble controlling her body and actions, but she recognizes this and does try to control herself. When I was subbing for one of her classes, the teacher warned me that Mariah was in the class and I would need another person in the room because she is “out of control”. I politely rejected the offer, as I don’t see a need for her to feel different and that I need help to control her. I feel that this undermines my control as a teacher, and “others” her. The first half of the two hour class went ok, but I had to keep redirecting her. With an hour left in class, Mariah sat under the barres and refused to participate. She was tired, bored, and overwhelmed. She couldn’t control her body, and her only solution was to sit against the wall in a ball. But as a teacher, I never want any of my students to feel isolated or disconnected from the class. I knew that I needed to do something to intervene to make the rest of the class manageable for Mariah, the other students, and myself. At this point, I knew two things: 1) the thought of a whole hour was too much for her, and 2) stickers motivate Mariah. So I made a little visual chart. I broke the rest of the class time down into 15 minute increments. Every 15 minutes, Mariah could earn a small sticker on the chart for good listening and focusing on controlling her body. If she got all four stickers, she could get a big, sparkly sticker at the end of class. I have never seen Mariah behave so well. When she started to lose control, I simply had to show her with my fingers how many minutes she had until her next sticker. I didn’t even have to say anything. I will definitely be passing this technique on to her other teachers so that we can provide the best environment possible for a very special little girl.