In my summer school classes, we have students who just finished second grade who can’t add 8 + 6, who can’t tell the difference between a card that says “brain” and a card that says “lung” even when there are pictures that go with it, and, most upsettingly, who don’t know all the letters of the alphabet. We have students who just finished first grade who don’t know all their letters, and one who didn’t know that you read from left to right.
None of these students were retained. None of them were referred for Special Ed testing. None of them were even put in for the Student Assistance Team, which is the first step to being monitored in case they would benefit from being retained or tested.
Most people hearing this situation will immediately blame their teachers. Some might blame their parents. A few might blame the kids themselves (though let’s remember they’re 8). Except yesterday I got a little taste of how this situation might have arose.
I only had 9 kids in my classroom, which is nothing. But of those 9, one was a preschooler who literally cannot do anything on her own, two are still working on the most basic CVC reading and counting to 20, two can kind of manage a worksheet but can’t focus on it for more than 15 seconds at a time and aren’t particularly motivated to try, 3 are able to do their work at a normal speed, and 1 is super motivated and zips right through everything. Differentiation nightmare.
I have an assistant for summer school, so she took the two lowest kids, I took the 6 higher kids, and we let the preschooler color. But even with those 6 kids, it was really, really hard to keep the lowest kids motivated, the higher kids knowing what to do, and the superstar moving along. One kid wrote two sentences in the time it took others to write 6 sentences, and he only wrote those 2 because I was prompting him constantly. Another was OK as long as he had my full attention, but when I started helping someone else he yelled my name increasingly loudly to ask how to spell everything. Meanwhile, the girls are doing fine, but they do still need to be monitored and helped through tough bits.
We got very little done in this 45 minutes. To be fair, I think it would be easier if the kids were more comfortable with a routine, if they had more structure, if it wasn’t a chaotic summer situation. But still. It’s not an excuse, but I can see how, if you had all these students with this wide a range in one class (which, in our school, you might…come to think of it, I probably will next year) you could easily let the very lowest kids stumble along learning very little while you taught the bulk of the class.
It’s not right. It’s not fair. I would like to say I would never let that happen over the long term. But it happens all the time, and I can see how. There is no excuse for not referring these lowest kids for extra help and extra support; that is a matter of documenting and caring, neither of which are very hard. But as for boosting those kids and making sure they grow in a regular activity…teaching is really hard.