I have a student for whom one of the running academic stories since I’ve known her has been her glaring difficulty with writing, spelling, and reading. She frequently reverses letters and numbers (b/d, 6/2, 9/p). There are loads of struggles with vowels both short and long. These issues have negatively impacted her writing (to the point where she often has trouble reading what she wrote, and in spite of her perfect handwriting). They’ve also made a major influence on her reading (because of her decoding, her reading level has budged only twice all year).
Today, I sat with her to guide her through the process of publishing her New York City question and answer book. I could see, for sure, that she has made major improvements in the letter reversal department. She checks her writing often and knows her own weaknesses.
Those darn vowels, though…
She had to sound out the word “holidays.” She uses a short vowel chart to compare sounds she wants to sounds she sees on the chart. So she’s sounding out the first vowel sound in the word and looks at me, confidently asking, “E?” I ask, “Does it sound like the e in ‘bell’?” “No,” she replies, asking now, “U?” “Does it sound like the u in ‘cup’?” “No,” she replies. We do this for each round of the guessing game, and unfortunately, her answer to my question is always, “No.”
Here’s the thing, though. Despite my obvious frustration and concern as we do this dance through phonics that are expected to be mastered in kindergarten (I don’t have much of a poker face), she never allows herself to become frustrated. She doesn’t let herself get down. When I point out that she wrote, “Hom” instead of, “How,” she smiles, puts her hand to her head with an, “Ohhhh,” fixes it, and we’re on our merry way. I’ve never heard this girl stress out or allow her self-esteem to dip. She never says, “I can’t”.
While I know, conventionally, this student is focusing at an academic level two years behind where she “should” be, I also know that I have given her some strategies to address her needs independently. Most importantly, I know that her positive attitude will sustain her and she will go on to be successful in the ensuing years.