September 3, 2012 in Special Education
For most of my career, I have taught kindergarten. I started with general education and then moved to special education where I still reside virtually. The curriculum in kindergarten is pretty easy. Rhyming is probably the hardest thing for the kids to learn, and some kids who learn to read easily still have problems rhyming. The rest of it – not too difficult.
One of the neatest things about teaching kinder is watching the growth. The kids grow leaps and bounds within weeks and they are so excited to share their newfound knowledge. Because the kids learn so quickly and easily, it’s very easy to identify when a student is having problems.
“Alex” was one of my favorite students. He was a stinker, but did it all with a smile on his face. Alex had a hard time in school and behaved as such. He knew his colors and his shapes. He knew some of his numbers, and some of his letters. I always knew there was something up with him, but no one would listen to me because he was five. I do agree that we don’t want to label kids too early in life, but there was a clear problem here. Everyone started to listen to me after we completed an art project one day.
We were recreating a story that was in our book. The kids had a piece of paper and several scraps to make a tree trunk, leaves, a sun, and a blanket. As you can imagine, the sun was towards the top of the page and we worked our way down to the blanket underneath the tree. I did my sample on the board and they copied my sample. The kids loved the project (what five year old doesn’t love art?) and as I was collecting them, I looked at Alex’s creation. He had done his completely upside down. The sun was at the bottom of the page, the tree was upside down and the blanket was in the air. This coupled with the fact that he consistently copied his name upside down was enough for me to take his art to the school psychologist.
Finally, everyone agreed with me that something was not right. He was evaluated for special education and guess what? He qualified. It can be hard to diagnose a learning disability in a five year old – they just don’t know enough for there to be a discrepancy – but he clearly had one. He was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder and continued to struggle, even in special education. I taught him in special ed the following year. He knew he couldn’t do it, but learned strategies to cope with it. To this day, I have only seen one other child with a learning disability as bad as his.
The moral of this story is- don’t second guess yourself. If you suspect a child has a problem, start the process right away. There are several hoops to jump through with RTI and SST and the sooner you start them, the sooner you can get your student help. This doesn’t mean the kid who is behind should be thrown into an SST meeting and the parent pressured for a special ed evaluation, but it means to put the student on the radar. Teachers often have a sixth sense when it comes to kids who are having learning problems. Go with your gut.
And don’t underestimate art as an effective tool for identifying learning problems!