Yesterday, I watched a student try to complete a book report during class. I should hardly call it a book report. It was more like one of those old-timey worksheets that you fill out with the character names, five lines for a story summary, and a simple, “Did you like this book? Why or why not?”
Never once was it modeled for him. And never once did anyone clarify what the expectations were for the assignment. But that’s a whole separate issue.
This child has a learning disability in the area of reading.
I watched him independently attempt to write his “report” for a few minutes before I jumped in to support. It nearly brought me to tears. It was comparable to watching someone who is paralyzed from the neck down attempt to walk from point A to point B – with no wheelchair, with no walker, without a hand to support.
This child was expected to apply a hundred different skills that were already independently challenging for him. And we were asking him to do them all at one time.
He can’t read at grade level. Yet we were asking him to refer back to the text. That he couldn’t access.
He struggles with phonemic awareness to write individual words. Yet we were asking him to write complete sentences. Complete paragraphs.
He struggles with retaining information because his brain is trying so hard to decode each word. Yet we expect him to have a summary indicating what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the novel.
He can’t remember which way his b’s and d’s go. So by the time he finishes writing the word, ‘bedroom,” he’s forgotten what he was supposed to write down.
Yet we ask him to do all of these things. All at once.
And then when he doesn’t turn anything in, we reprimand him for not completing the assignment.
We would never expect someone paralyzed from the neck down to walk from point A to point B without the support of a device or another human being. So why do we expect students with learning disabilities to get to point B without our support?
You may argue that you’re trying to hold each child to the same expectation. But isn’t the objective to get to point B? Isn’t that the expectation? And just as someone with a physical disability may receive physical therapy to manage his/her condition and use treatment techniques to prevent further disability, our students with learning disabilities are continuing to develop their skills. They continue to receive interventions in the area of their weakness.
But if you require them to use all that energy every single second of the day, they won’t be able to get through even a fraction of the day.
So, no, you say that it’s “high expectations” that you are holding them to. But what you’re doing is holding “unreasonable expectations.” Expectations that will do more harm than good. Expectations that have the power to shift a “love for learning” into a desire to avoid learning altogether. You can still hold high expectations. You can still expect them to read a novel, write a summary about it, and complete a book report. But you need to ensure you have the proper accommodations for your kids.
And you need to know that they want to achieve. They want to do well. And, with the proper supports, they can and they will. But we must find ways to wheel them to point B. Because they cannot do it alone. They cannot do it without our support.
Questions of the Day:
- Does your student/child love learning? How do you help shape their experience?