I work everyday with a few of my students to help them with skills to bring them up to grade level. Depending on each child's need we work on writing their name, identifying their letters, sorting letters by whether they have sticks, curves, or both sticks and curves, or practicing their word wall words.
As I work with one of my little girls I realize just how far a road we have to go before we're up to grade level. She's a sweet, happy little one who tries her heart out, but everyday, despite how hard she works, I realize that we're going to have to take yet another step backwards, break the task down just a little bit more, make it a little easier for her to grasp.
We started with identifying the letters in her name. After a few days of realizing that this wasn't going to come without some significant interventions I took the letters individually. Then I realized that even that wasn't enough so we went backwards further. We worked on sorting letters by their shapes to draw her attention to the different letter shapes. A step back further, we only sorted the difference in shapes between c and e. We've walked the hallways looking for every E or C we could find to add to our sort. We've sorted E and C magnetic letters, paper letters, and her own written letters. Today I was left wondering how we could go back further. She still isn't retaining the information- still could be shown a letter in her name and will say c or e for every letter.
So, after much time spent scratching my head I grabbed my thinkblocks and we labeled one E and one NOT E. We went through my large bag of magnetic letters sorting E/Not E- discussing each letter, deciding which was which. We'll do it again tomorrow and slowly add other letters using the same pattern- T/NOT T.
What I love about the patterns of thinking is that it gives me a structure to use when I'm trying to figure out how to break down tasks for my learners with special needs. For the rest of us making the distinction between E/Not E is pretty basic- and something our minds do automatically. So automatically that when we're looking at how to help a child access the curriculum we may overlook such a basic step. But her little brain clearly isn't picking up the distinction between E and not E. Her brain is going to need to learn to make that distinction automatically. The goal, of course, is that she will soon generalize that each letter is its own distinct being.
Many children learn these skills when they are much, much younger as they learn to sort items in their environment. Some children, like my little one, need extra help in making these distinctions.