Friday, March 23, 2007

The "A-ha" Moment

It is always my intention, and hopefully my practice, to celebrate the things my students can do instead of focusing on the things they can't. I refuse to adhere to a deficient model of education that implies a child is somehow always lacking. This philosophy establishes a no win situation - at some time, in some way we all come up short. Instead I try to concentrate on the process of ongoing development. If a child enters first grade with the knowledge of how to hold a book upright, I applaud that. I know what the next step is and how to help support student learning. I enjoy watching the students grow. and it amazes me how fast they learn. Blaming the child and shaking my head when they fail to identify the letter 'b' is not helping anyone.

This week New York City public school teachers are given the opportunity to meet with the parents and caregivers of the students they teach. This is a time when we discuss student progress, interests, share information to strengthen the home/school connection and determine goals. This is also when we hand the parents their child's report card. In first grade the academic subjects are rated on a scale of 1-4. A 1 means "far below grade-level standards" and a 4 means "exceeds grade-level standards".

Imagine with me for a moment that you are Johnny's mom and you come in to meet with his teacher. You know that Johnny is involved with his school work, he is creative and funny, artistic maybe, excels at telling stories, has a keen eye for noticing detail and always tries his best. You are proud of your boy. You should be. Then you sit down and are handed a report card that is riddled with 1s. Every subject...1. What would you be thinking? Probably you begin to question your judgement. You are disappointed and saddened to see this. What did you do wrong? As a teacher I HATE when this happens. Those 1s splashed across the page do not reflect the growth Johnny has made in such a short time. They do not clearly tell the story of his amazing progress, from perhaps writing scribbles and random strings of letters to detailed drawings with labels. This may not be up to standards but it must be celebrated.

With this in mind I want to share an uplifting, goose bump inducing story that occurred just a few days ago. My co-teacher Lauren (pictured above) has been instructing one of our deaf students each morning in what is labeled "Academic Intervention Services". This is targeted instruction for students in areas where they may be struggling. Since September his expressive and receptive language have improved dramatically and we are bridging that with literacy.

One of our reading goals for him is to extend his sight word knowledge beyond identification of names. Every day Lauren plays games with him using a deck of index cards that they created. On one side is a word (for example 'YOU') and on the other there is a picture of the student signing the word. The theory behind this is that through this explicit instruction in making connections between this arbitrary labeling - for language is arbitary, a rose by any other name and all that - the child would realize that the words he is seeing on the paper have meaning.
Well, the "A-ha" moment happened this week during one of our read-alouds. When the word 'you' was signed this boy stood up and fingerspelled the word. For the uninitiated, this is using the alphabet sign for each letter to spell a word. This is the equivalent of a hearing child saying each letter; y-o-u. Lauren and I were both very excited to see him make this connection. We celebrated it with smiles and signing 'wow'. Our support seemed to drive him on because he stepped up to the word wall (pictured) and began pointing to word after word and fingerspelling it and reading it by signing each word. This is an amazing leap. This is a milestone, a watershed moment in reading development.

A moment like this could never be reflected in the 'standards' given on the report card. This child would still be labeled a 1 "far below grade-level standards". Without benefit of the limited space for comments on his report card or face to face interactions with his parents to detail this achievement who would know? My point is this: Children are so much more than test scores. Let's remember to celebrate that.

1 comment:

marxsny said...

It appears there is some work that needs to be done with regard to education reform. I think the educator playing a central role in the reform is paramount to the success of the reform.


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