Blown Away in Social Studies

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So we are more than 3/4 through the school year now. I have a student I’ll call Fernando. Fernando came into 7th grade with a big smile and a friendly, helpful attitude. He proceeded to do almost no work whatsoever. Another teacher tested his reading for me. He tested at the 1st grade level. We took the MAP test. He tested at the 2nd grade level.

Aha! He had missed the Special Education Boat! I discussed this with a colleague. We agreed. We were going to start special education paperwork after he had been in System 44 for awhile, our reading program that teaches phonics. The idea was that we could use System 44 as proof of Fernando’s need for help, documentation from a state-approved intervention that the boy needed help. (It is extremely hard to get someone into special education for reasons not worth posting here. Multiple meetings and documentation of multiple interventions are needed.)

Here’s the problem: I think Fernando may be learning to read. I did very little on this, I’m ashamed to say, assuming that a kid who was 6 years behind grade level just had to have some underlying problem preventing him from learning. Also, I’m not an elementary teacher. I don’t actually know how to teach phonics.

But this week we read a difficult passage I took from the internet on school disciplinary policies. The vocabulary in that piece was at least at a 7th grade level — intended for educated adults. I figured I could teach it because interest would be high, so I used it as my current event for social studies. Fernando read twice. Fernando volunteered to read. He looked at me after both paragraphs with this look that triumphantly said, “I did it!”

A few days later, I remain essentially stunned. That thing was packed with four syllable words. I won’t know until I see the homework how well he understood, but I know he is reading so much better than he did a few months ago that I’m not sure about starting that special ed paperwork. He read those paragraphs clearly and comprehensibly. He was so proud of himself, too.

In the meantime, I still don’t understand how a kid can be 5-6 years behind grade level in reading by 7th grade without having some underlying learning disability — but perhaps he doesn’t. Regardless, I feel like I made an assumption and there’s a really good chance I was wrong. I learned something this week.