This is the final week of term for our primary school students. Parent/Teacher interviews have taken place and report cards have been handed out.
Last night, one of my students, Sam, arrived at the tutoring centre most upset about his report card. This child is in fourth grade and struggles with reading and spelling. He has problems with auditory discrimination so cannot easily hear the sounds that make up words. Because he can’t hear the sounds he can’t recognise the letters that make up those sounds when he tries to decode when reading. Over the eighteen months that he has been having tutoring sessions, he has brought his reading level up from non-existent to about a year two level.
His parents are delighted with his progress and, usually, so is he. But, last night, Sam shuffled into class, did not greet anyone, slid into his seat and sat with his head down.
His mother showed me his report card. It was as I had expected it to be. His teacher reported that he was still in the developing phase for many areas of English and had assigned the D that was required by the reporting rubric. In her comments, however, she wrote that he had made progress in all areas and could, with support, create narrative and persuasive texts using simple language. Overall the comments were positive throughout the report but all this young man had seen was the D in the rating column.
Sam had decided he was stupid.
His mother was distraught. She is well aware of how far her son has come with his learning and was having a hard time seeing him so very unhappy. What an impact one little letter D can have!
At the centre we work in groups of four, with each child working on an individual program. The children are of different ages and grade levels. They become friendly and supportive of each other as they meet up each week for class so, when they saw their friend unhappy last night, his group-mates wanted to know why.
I said nothing, just sat with the report card highlighting every positive word I could find. (Mum had given me a photocopy of the original one…I do not deface report cards!) The other three kids were hanging over my shoulders reading along as best they could and soon realised what I was doing. Max, who is a bright-spark who comes for extension work, was counting how many good things we were finding.
‘Seventy- seven,’ he announced when we finished. ‘That’s a lot of good stuff.’
Following a discussion in which the kids compared their results with Sam’s, we blanked out the letter grades and made a graph to represent Sam’s results in each subject area. Sam decided on a scale from nothing to brilliant where he thought he stood in each area. Whenever he was too harsh on himself, someone was quick to point out the positive statements that been highlighted so that he would rethink his assessment. Then I added some bars to the graph to show how I had been achieving at age 9. Good for English, reasonable for Maths, hopeless at PE, hopeless at technology ( yeah, they laughed when I told them computers hadn’t been invented way back then) and so on. The other kids added bars too and there was our graph.
Now here is where the wisdom of children comes in.
So what did it show us? There was much discussion. Group consensus was that it showed we are all different. We all have strengths and weaknesses and that we all have room to improve. It definitely showed that none of us was stupid. We celebrated with a lolly from the rewards jar and everybody settled down to work.
Sam went home smiling. What a difference! He was no longer just a D. He was someone who had learned stuff this term and been recognised for his progress, however small that progress had been, by a group of people whose opinion mattered to him.
Well done, kids. A+