Teaching Beyond the Graphs

Guest Post by K3 Tutor, Kelly Meany, working at CW Harris Elementary School.

When I first began
working with Philip Wright*, a first grader at my service site, CW Harris
Elementary School, he barely spoke. A single nod or shake of the head was often
all he would offer me, other than the moments he was instructed to speak
because of the intervention we were on. Philip was particularly behind for a
first grader; he knew only 14 Nonsense Words at the beginning of first grade,
and we immediately began work on letter sounds. When he was successful at
reading all of the letters, I would go above and beyond in my congratulations;
there was something about his demeanor, his quiet voice and downcast eyes, his
hunched shoulders as we worked, that told me normally Philip did not think he
was successful. Even when met with these congratulations, he would not smile or
say anything in return. In those first few weeks, I began to feel silly with my
praise, having my “Great work Philip!” “I am so proud of how fast you read
those letters!” “Every day you show me you learn more and more and your mind
grows and grows,” variations being met with silence. Regardless, I continued

As we moved into the
blending words interventions, I began to require a response to my praise. “I am
so proud of you, Philip,” I would say, as his progress monitoring score, the
grade-level test he takes each week, rose, “How does that make you feel?” He
would respond with a simple, “Good,” but I knew that his spirits were rising.
Sometimes after we read a page of words for a second time after instruction to
move more quickly, he would exclaim in his soft voice, “I did that real fast!”
I would play it cool, agreeing with him, while internally bursting with
excitement because I saw signs that he was finally beginning to recognize his
own improvements.

However, Philip’s
progress on his weekly tests began to plateau. His progress monitoring graph,
although still climbing, was doing so at a much slower rate. Nervous to lose
this momentum, I would continue to offer him the same type of praise even if
his progress monitoring score was only rising by one point each week. It had
become immensely important to me, almost equally as important as helping his
graph grow, that I help Philip believe in himself. After the progress
monitoring test three weeks ago, Philip turned to me before I could say one
word of praise and said simply, “I am proud of myself.” I felt overwhelmed;
this was the milestone I had been waiting for, a palpable shift in Philip’s
recognition of his own skills and accomplishments. Each week now Philip says
some variation of that statement to me. He smiles when he conquers pages in his intervention packet and eagerly returns my high fives.

If we were to
quantify Philip’s progress using only his graph, his progress, though certainly
significant, is not itself outstanding. It is in the smaller moments of joy he
feels learning, of feeling capable, of feeling, perhaps for the first time in
his education, that he is smart that mark Philip as one of my most changed
students. This is the skill that will assist him in places I can’t reach; when
he is struggling with a difficult math problem, or reading a problem in
science, he may forget his score on his weekly test, but hopefully he will not
forget to believe that he can do it if he keeps trying, and that his
perseverance alone is cause for celebration.


*Student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.