Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding the Key

One of the problems with relying on standardized testing to determine whether children are being educated is that "standardized" and "individualized" are extreme opposites. Even with non-disabled children, you learn more about their ability to take a test than any material that may be on that test. And I grade standardized writing tests for a living.

Joey is a whiz at math. Hey, its numbers, how hard can it be? Numbers, with predictable, unwavering rules and answers! No problemo!

Joey is not a whiz at language. He has a lot of difficulty with expressive speech, he has some issues with connecting events and scanning (just try to ask him to find anything, such as a toy he left in the kitchen).

Word problems can pose a challenge to all sorts of people with language and processing issues. The ability to analyze a statement and glean relevant information is something I have college students struggling with in my classes. However, in standardized testing,Joey will be expected to look at a word problem and come up with the answer. Just like that. It isn't that he can't do it- it is the time it takes him to do it. Not only do you have to answer correctly. Next grading period, he will also have to do it fast.

A little flashback: when I was in fifth grade, we took tests to determine which math and reading sections we would be in. Those of you who were not in the nerd crowd in fifth grade may not realize the consequences of taking those testing and ending up in the wrong section. You were already a social pariah; being a misfit even among misfits was like finding yourself a reindeer with a stupid glowing nose on the Island of Misfit Toys. It was social and academic ruin.

These tests were not just about getting the answers right- you had to get them fast. In the end, kids who finished the test, even though they got questions wrong, were rated higher than kids who got everything they did right, but didn't finish. So I, already teetering on the brink of Extreme Nerd-dom, was pushed over the precipice. Every question I answered was correct. I just wasn't fast enough. I spent the entire fifth grade bored to tears in the second-tier math section. It wasn't math that was the problem. It was processing and writing.

Therefore, I hate timed math tests.

Meanwhile, Joey needs to learn to do word problems, or suffer the same fate, only worse, because what he really needs to do is be in the second-grade math class, not piddling about in some second-tier first-grade math class. But we have to prove it via standardized test- his classwork isn't enough. Especially when he is being assigned "P" grades* in math, despite his boredom.

So we (his case manage Mrs. Huff and I) swung into action, and called his speech therapist, Ms. Nikki, to help. And here is what happened:

Ms. Nikki, being a genius, explained to Joey that word problems were like little stories, and playing a game of "Blue's Clues." He needed to find all the clues in the story, put them together, and answer the question.

She then gave him some word problems, and showed him how to "find the clues", how to figure out how to put them together (creating the abstract equation- are we adding the numbers or subtracting them?), and then how to "answer the question" (such as "how many more..." or "What is the total...?")

Not only did he learn to do it himself by the middle of the session, he was having fun, he was proud of himself for figuring it out (he's really smart!), and he understood what he was supposed to be doing.

She gave him something to connect to, and understand what was expected. She used his love of reading (stories!) with his love of The Mighty Striped Man and his Blue Sidekick, and got him to really be interested in what he needed to be doing. I bet we have very few problems with those word problems- unless being timed gets him.

*In our school, the lower grades do not get ordinary grades. They get "S" (Satisfactory), "P" ("Progressing with Effort") and "N" ("Needs Improvement"). So this lady spent our meeting telling me how great he was doing and how bored he was with the math, then basically gave him the grade of "C" for his math. Huh?

1 comment:

Niksmom said...

Wow! Hat's off to your SLP! What a great way to teach Joey about those word problems!

Fingers crossed that he continues to br his brilliant self and do well with academics! HUGS!