Monday, April 30, 2012

Same and different

We've been working on identifying same and different with one of my students with an intellectual disability all year but the progress has been slow. It's a surprisingly hard concept to teach. It's not something you can necessarily break down into little steps- it is more of a concept that the brain grasps once it has been exposed to it enough times. We sorted and matched and sorted and matched and compared and discussed daily. 
Suddenly last week he began seeing how everything was the same. He was constantly driving his chair around the room telling me, "the same", and making the sign for same. He was comparing everything- words in our classroom, colors, pictures, smiles. All day long, all the time. And just like that, the connection was made. Once he was able to understand that the 'we' we read everyday in the morning message is the same two letter word on our word wall and the same word in other places in the room he began to be able to identify the word 'we' in other places. Before last week his progress in our reading program, Early Literacy Skills Builder, was very slow. We were repeating every lesson over and over again, aiming for 75% accuracy. Then suddenly he made the connection that things are the same- concepts in the story are the same as the questions I ask- the answers are the same as what is in the story. Words are the same on cards as they are in the book. Letters make the same sound each time- even if they are on the word wall, in some one's name, or in a book (OK, they don't, but we're not ready to get into that yet. /r/ is /r/ is /r/.  Leave it at that).  

I had never thought about what an important concept same and different is for building a foundation for general reasoning, literacy and math skills. Until our students understand same/different they are not ready to begin to read because they don't understand that letters are the same no matter where they are and that they hold the same meaning whenever they are. Otherwise they are just pictures that we float around the room as we give them arbitrary meaning. Of course in order to begin to understand same/different and how it works in literacy they need to be exposed to as much print and literature as possible, so learning this concept shouldn't hold anyone back from teaching reading. It should just remind us the importance of working on those foundational skills. 

It's been amazing to watch him begin to soak in the learning environment around him. I'm excited to see him continue to grow now that this foundation is in place. 

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