Thursday, January 18, 2007

Loving the Little Breakthroughs

I conduct the reading program at my son's school every Thursday, and there's one little girl in the class who's still struggling with the very first set of letters. School started in August and we've been working on a set of eight letters ever since then. One boy is still struggling as well, but he seems different to me because he at least communicates with me and I can get through to him somewhat. The girl, however, stares at me with her huge, brown eyes and doesn't answer questions or respond to most of what I say. She lays her head on the table and just looks at me, then looks away, bored. I have no idea what goes on inside her head. For a while I wondered if she was just shy, but she plays with other kids at recess, and seems talkative when outside. (Maybe she's just shy around me?) Her parents seem loving and supportive, from what I've seen. For a while I thought maybe there was an ESL issue, but the girl's twin brother is also in the class and has made it through all the letters and letter sounds. I've also wondered if there's a possible gender issue; maybe the kids' parents are favoring their son...? Without proper testing, it's anyone's guess. The teacher says she's going to have a few kids tested, but she's encountered delay after delay and there's no way this kid is going to get into first grade at this rate.

I've tried repetition, playing various letter games (which work only inconsistently), putting my head on the table to talk at her level -- whatever comes to mind. I continue to be hopeful, but I sense her discouragement and I've begun to feel discouraged, too. Today I started with this girl, since she needs the most help. I noticed she seemed to be hiding a smile, so I playfully said, "Don't you dare smile!" She thought that was funny and hid an even bigger smile behind her hand. "Are you laughing?" I asked incredulously. "Don't you dare laugh!" She snorted and hid her head under the table. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but something seemed to be shifting. "I can't believe you're laughing under there!" I sputtered. "Don't you dare laugh under there!" Now she was giggling nonstop. I stuck my head under the table and asked if she wanted to play a game. She sat back up and pointed to all the letters I'd laid out, identifying all eight correctly. We high-fived and low-fived. Then I stacked up the cards to isolate the letters and had her identify them. She shouted the first letter at me, and I pretended to almost fall off my chair. More giggling. She shouted each letter more loudly than the one before it, and I pretended to jump out of my skin each time, eliciting more giggles. And she was totally getting it. Something had clicked.

Then the teacher took all the kids to the lunch area and I sat there alone, tearing up a little. I'm not so naive as to think this is the end of her reading problems, but today was definitely a victory for this girl and I'm just so darned proud of her.