How Did He Learn That?

"Reading" by flickr member henriksent (aka ME)
“Reading” by flickr member henriksent (aka ME)

Part of my teaching assignment is as a Learner Support Teacher to Grade 1 and Grade 2 students.  Some of these students I have been working with since they were in Kindergarten.  I witnessed some of them cry when they were left at school by their parents and grandparents. I watched some of them suck their thumbs and crawl under tables (for years). I coaxed many of them to work with me to learn their letters and the associated sounds. I watched many of our little ones roll around on the ground as their teacher read stories or completed calendar activities.  I learned a great deal about patience and the self-regulation (or lack there of) of many of our students.

After two years of a great deal of support and intervention from Learner Support Teachers (LST), Early Literacy and Early Numeracy teachers, and ongoing, in-depth classroom teacher support, our LST team was were concerned about the learning of many of our students at the end of Grade 1 last year. Many of these students were reading well below what would be expected at the end of Grade 1.  As a result, we decided as an LST team to focus on many of these students when they entered Grade 2 for the 2013/2014 school year. We implemented the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Intervention System with many them this year.

We are just completing our year-end assessments, but the results of one of our students is so amazing, I just had to share it with everyone!

This particular student has an interesting profile. He is in Grade 2 and, like many of our students, has had a history of having a great deal of difficulty regulating his behaviour. Some of this student’s behaviour parallels that of many much younger children. In other ways, this student has an amazing amount of insight and thoughtfulness in many of his responses during group discussion (particularly about the stories they read). This student began Grade 2 reading at a level C, which is a beginning Grade 1 level.

Throughout the year, he continued to progress in his reading, yet we weren’t quite sure how this happened. Yes, he was involved in our reading intervention program, however, he would often come to lessons and not participate, complain, or be otherwise disengaged.

Or so we thought.

You see, what was surprising, this student was learning. He was learning to read, but we couldn’t see it. We were so worried about him. He would say things like, “I hate reading.” and lay on the floor. He would withdraw and move his chair away from the lessons. He wouldn’t read with us individually much of the time. This made it difficult to do assessments to see exactly how much he was improving (or not improving, which is what we feared).

But he was improving.

He was paying attention (even though it didn’t look like it).

He was learning.

He was reading!

When I assessed his reading in March, he had improved to a level that would be appropriate for the beginning of Grade 2. This surprised us.  We talked about his improvement and what he noticed about his reading and the improvements he saw. We were so proud of him and he knew it. We celebrated his success with him and everyone we came across. He was still unsure. This particular student continued to be seemingly unfocused. He continued to have other immature behaviours. He continued to need strategies to help him regulate his behaviour.

For the last 2 months, we have been participating in a modified version of the F&P lessons during our Learning Support times together. Since all three of my students in this group were having such a great deal of difficulty focusing and reading the books during our lessons, I decided to incorporate some self-regulation strategies with the group during our reading lessons. We would start our lessons with some medicine ball work – throwing the medicine ball to one another (or another heavy work activity). Then, the students would choose to reread 1 of the 2 books from the previous lessons (already laid out ready for them at our rainbow table we worked out).  After the reread, the students would have another break time in which they would do other hard work – more medicine ball work, running outside, or stations (sit ups, push ups, burpies, jumping jacks) inside. They worked hard. They would be tired, yet invigorated. Calm. Alert. Ready to learn.  After this second “break time” I introduced the new story to them and then they read the story independently. While reading, they could choose to have a medicine ball sit on their laps or have a ball at their feet to move around during their reading. It was incredible how well these strategies worked with these students!

This week I completed another assessment with this student.   I had just heard from his classroom teacher that this student read a previously unseen Robert Munsch book independently just the other day. I was unsure of which book or level to assess him with, to be honest So, this was our conversation yesterday …

Me: “You have been doing so well with your reading, I’m just not sure what level to start you with on your assessment. I have two books here. One is pretty hard. It is a fiction book at is at the end of Grade 2 level. The other is a non-fiction book at is also difficult, but a little easier than the other book. Which book do you think you want to read to me today?” (I showed the student the covers of the books)

Student: “The harder book. I can do it!”

Me: “I’m sure you can! If anyone can, it is YOU!”

And away he went.

He read the book independently. He read it fluently, self-correcting errors as he went. Once he finished reading, he retold all events in the story in order, making personal connections as he went. He also correctly answered questions after his retelling. It was incredible. I couldn’t stop smiling!  He did it!  He improved his reading 2 grade levels in one year! I’ve never seen anything quite like this!

08 03 11 fireworks11

We high-fived each other after our session together and then proceeded to take his assessment out into the hallway and share it with anyone and everyone we could! And his face beamed. He was now a READER! Just recently, his classroom teacher told a story about this student reading when he was supposed to be doing other work and how the teacher had to ask him to stop reading! We would never have thought that was possible even 3 months ago.

This was a team effort – many of us working together to try to make the best learning environment possible for this little boy (and others, of course). Our team consists of the classroom teacher (Hugh), two different LST teachers (Cindy and I) who have worked with him at different points in the year, our Child Care Worker (Riana) who has helped with ongoing behavioural issues, our Aboriginal Education Assistant (Len) who some direct small group support in a quiet environment, as needed, our Breakfast Coordinator, Marlene, and our Community Schools Outreach Worker, Jethro, who also connected with this student daily. In fact, I am sure there are others who are involved in the success of this child.

Some lessons learned:

It takes a village!

You just never know what students are learning, even if they seem like they aren’t learning anything!

Many times, our students surprise us!

Keep on keeping on.


Be open and be willing to be surprised.

Celebrate these surprises!

We have the best job in the world!


Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

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