Monday, July 18, 2016

My First "Special Education" Reading Teacher!

My First Reading Teacher, My Amazing 2nd Grader Yvette!

Yvette was an absolute darling who could melt your heart with her infectious smile. She was so excited the first day of school, she had only one thing on her mind, she was going to learn how to read Clifford the Big Red Dog to her mom. Yvette had a new, stuffed Clifford held tightly under one arm and a tattered Clifford book under the other and of course her adorable smile. She adored Clifford and wanted to share his adventures with her mom. Yvette said her mom couldn't read to her so she wanted to learn how to read to her mom. This little girl had a mighty passion that would not be tamed or extinguished. Her giant smile was my introduction to teaching a Special Education Cross Categorical Classroom! Yevette had the heart, desire, curiosity, passion, resilience and a love of learning that was contagious, she changed my life as a teacher.  

She was so eager to learn how to read and couldn't wait to start that she was expecting me to start teaching her that moment, I was taken aback at her persistence. She spent the year with this giant smile and her giggly, infectious enthusiasm. She was excited every moment of every day, sounding out words, reading sight words, and listening intently to all read-aloud stories with her giant smile, four-plus hours a day of reading instruction, never complaining or getting tired. The school used two 90 minute reading blocks for all students not at grade level including my self-contained classroom. The only thing that would make her pause was the need for an impromptu hug or when she learned something new, hugs were in order. She amazed and taught me more in that year than I ever taught her.

Yvette’s Marvelous Method

Yvette never caught on to Phonics, the 44 phonemic sounds and or any phonemic rules. With her "learning disability" and the complexity of learning English she was lost for most instructional practices. I was a bit lost being a first-year teacher teaching in a cross-category, self-contained special-education class. I didn’t know how to teach reading let alone how to help a student, who was classified mentally retarded. I wanted to help her meet her goal that she shared with me the first day of school, so we tried what worked with me when phonics failed. We treated every word as a sight word and just practiced and practiced. We worked on the Dolch sight word list first and made over seven hundred flashcards that year for all the words and phrases in her favorite Clifford books, great fairy tales, songs, and nursery rhymes. She loved her flashcards with all the smiley faces and stickers for learning the word or phrase. She seemed to associate reading success with how many flashcards we made. We read stories sang songs, drilled the sight words and Fry Instant Phrases over and over with hugs and stickers celebrating ever success. We spent three and even four hours a day reading words, writing words aloud in the air, and reading Clifford stories "over and over" to meet her Clifford reading goal. When you spend that much time on one goal there is no option but a reading miracle.

She was the teacher who taught me to think outside the box, and to teach students using any method that works. Always following the school or the district curriculum can lead to failure for many students. At the end of the year her mom came in and Yvette was so proud to sit and read Clifford to her, mom. Yvette’s mom was in tears as she listened to her daughter read. It was a miracle!

Yvette was diagnosed MIMR (mildly mentally retarded) and according to her IEP (Individual Education Program) would have never learned to read. Yvette’s IEP goals and objectives were disheartening. Her only goal for the year was to learn thirteen letters of the alphabet -- nothing else. It was her great desire and trying something different that made all the difference. It can’t be done, she can’t do it, it’s impossible, she’s retarded, they will never read, the books to hard, or all the other nonsense that I have heard the last ten years that prevent teachers from believing. Yvette’s courage has kept me from ever saying they can’t or they won’t. A second grade mentally retarded student that learns to read in one year will set your attitude and expectations as a teacher. We spent the year laughing, smiling, hugging, and learning to read and reading to learn. Yvette taught me what believing in high expectations really means for student outcomes.

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