I spend 90 minutes a day in one of the classrooms for students with intellectual disabilities, teaching guided reading and writing groups. It's my favorite time of the day. I get 45 minutes with each group to do a reading/writing/word study combination lesson. I can tie all of those elements together, draw connections between them, and really push the skills and (hopefully) the love of literacy because we have the time to get deep into what we're doing.
Yesterday someone said, "These kids are still going to be illiterate. First grade, second grade reading level? It doesn't matter. These kids need to be on a fourth grade level to be considered literate."
It sounds harsh, and at first I was taken aback. But it's the truth. If we don't get these kids to a fourth grade level before they leave our school system then we haven't given them the ability to read.
That stopped me in my tracks. What do I want for these kids? Will we get to that fourth grade level by high school? Am I pushing hard enough to get them there? If they are in fourth grade and reading on a kindergarten level what do we need to do? Is it time to work in survival literacy skills, or is there still a chance to produce literate adults?
My gut is to push. To start thinking long term- what do we need to put in place now to get to that fourth grade level long term? Is what I'm doing enough? Is it time to change the path and re-think my approach? But by pushing am I overlooking needed survival skills they will need in their future? Is reading essential to their lives?
Depends on the child, doesn't it? And the hard part is, despite the best teaching, you don't know how each child will unfold between now and high school. So I think you have to proceed along both paths, but with more emphasis on life skills if that seems to be where the child is headed (or until the child shows you s/he is headed toward a higher reading ability). And more emphasis on getting to that 4th grade reading level if the child is showing signs of being able to do that. And keeping in mind that plenty of intellectually disabled students who do reach a mid-grade reading level still end up in jobs that don't require reading, for a variety of reasons.
You are right, of course. It depends on the child. And we don't have crystal balls to determine what the child will learn in middle and high school.
I'm sure that many of them will end up in jobs that don't require reading, even if they do get to a fourth grade reading level. But I think being able to read can be tied to a quality of life.
So true. I have a family friend whose job is to collect tickets at the movies. But she keeps a personal journal and enjoys it a lot.
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