Thursday, 19 September 2013

looking forward

It turns out I'm an introvert in disguise. For my whole life I've thought I was an extrovert, but nope, wrong. I'm chatty and exciteable and socially adept but I default to quiet solo activities when given the choice. I don't actually prioritize spending time with friends; I practically have to be dragged to social events. HB has been pushing me to get out of the apartment a little bit for my own good. Last week one of my favorite classmates in my grad program, El, invited a few of us to her home, and so I sternly told myself I couldn't skip it.

And so, ensconced in wicker chairs on El's deep southern-style porch, we discussed teaching philosophies, our grad program, and personal growth. All three of them are full-time employed in preschools; I'm minimally employed, flitting between babysitting and tutoring shifts, and spending the rest of my ample free time preparing for the month-long bicycle tour HB and I are planning and working on a few art/zine projects. El just started a job at Escuela, a bilingual preschool in our neighborhood, which incidentally is the preschool that Ezra just started attending. Two of my other favorite classmates also work there, one as the assistant director. All of them have been encouraging me to apply for a substitute position at Escuela for months and months.

So this week, at El's invitation, I did a two hour visit to Escuela.

I loved it.

I don't have a whole lot to compare it to, since my preschool teaching experience is limited to the three summers I spent between college terms working as an assistant/sub/floater teacher at the large, primary-colored, corporate preschool in my parents' very affluent, suburban neighborhood. My impression of that school can be summed up with "loved the kids, hated the rest of it."

Escuela felt completely different. There were no arbitrary rules, and the kids were not only permitted to explore their ideas but given the space and time to really dig deep into their projects. Transitions were gradual and followed a fluid rhythm rather than a rigid schedule, so that part of El's class was outside while four of them remained inside with their other teacher for an extra 20 minutes working on their project (tearing up leaves and petals on a light table and making "ice cream and sandwiches" with them) until they were ready to head outside. Collaboration and conflict resolution arose organically and without teacher intervention. Most of the classrooms were open so that kids could float between them instead of being locked into their own room with their own age group. And, small but important, they have a garden that the kids accessed during their outdoor play, picking and eating the produce they had been growing.

After my visit, I stopped in at the office and chatted with the assistant director (also one of my favorite classmates) about applying for the sub position. She's setting me up with the paperwork, and if all goes well, I should be starting at the beginning of November, when HB and I get back from our big trip. The sub position is a good way for me to feel it out, decide if it seems like a great long-term fit or whether I should continue looking at the other preschools on my "preschool crushes" list.

Ezra's parents are very excited that I'm applying there -- Ezra's dad keeps saying he'll tell the director to hire me and give me a raise right away, which is very sweet but a little overbearing.

I'm really looking forward to it.

High fives,

Friday, 6 September 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 22

"I saw a honeybee with its pockets full of pollen."

Sasha referred to her mom's stainless steel to-go coffee mug, which Sasha was using for a smoothie, as a "metal water bottle"

On the (humid) weather: "It's really sweaty today."

While playing: "Even dinosaur friends eat each other." And, shortly thereafter: "Now you're a t-rex zombie!"

Sasha was pretending her dog was a horse she was training, but felt she needed more dogs (to be more horses). I suggested she be a dog, and she said with a tone of great incredulity, "Me, be a dog? I'd rather be a high-ho farmer" -- without a shred of irony.

As an airplane rumbles by outside: "Shut up, cloud!"


Monday, 2 September 2013

Reading with Sasha

Since summer started, I've been tutoring Sasha once a week in literacy skills. Girl will happily sit and listen to me read aloud for literally as long as my voice holds out -- which is several hours, by the way -- but ask her to sound out the simplest word in the title of the next chapter and she completely shuts down. I've really been digging deep into my creative well to come up with unorthodox reading and writing activities for her to try during our tutoring sessions, all centered around specific sets of vowel sounds introduced sequentially.

We've done lots of reading and writing that engage different senses, as well as games like Hangman, Bananagrams, and match-the-flashcard-to-the-spoken-word.

writing in sand with a chopstick; we've also done fingers and feet

writing on felt with yarn segments

yes, that is a playdoh sculpture of the sea

  ...but she still fights it the entire two hours set aside for tutoring. She likes this stuff better than simply laboriously sounding out skull-numbingly dull Bob books for the frillionth time, but she'd still much rather be doing almost anything else. She stalls, she whines, she bargains, she toys with anything not bolted down, she literally lays down on the floor and covers her face. Coaxing her to read is a monumental act of patience and persistence.

I did some research on it several months back and I'm fairly certain the kid has dyslexia. She's got just about every symptom on the books. I was all jazzed to teach myself how to be a dyslexia-specific tutor for Sasha, but when I brought it up with her parents, they noncommittally shrugged and said that their "instincts say she's just on a slower path." I talked with Sasha's first grade teacher at the end of the school year and he agreed she was showing some signs of dyslexia. He asked me to encourage her parents to get her tested so that, if needed, she could get an IEP (individualized education program) for second grade. Unsurprisingly, they decided not to test her. They prefered to wait it out, see how regular tutoring went, maybe reevaluate sometime in the unspecified future.

Well, here we are at the end of summer, and she's made a little progress, but not a whole lot. She still balks at any opportunity to develop her literacy skills. Even when we're engaged in imaginative play and an opportunity arises for low-pressure writing -- such as writing tickets and placards for our "art gallery" -- she'll almost certainly decide we don't need to do that part even when it was her idea to begin with, or she'll opt for scribble writing. (Scribble writing is an important pre-literacy "representational thinking" skill, but typically kids start incorporating actual letters once they begin developing phonemic awareness around age 3 or 4.)

a classic example of Sasha's scribble writing
 The thing is, I'm not equipped to tutor her if she has a learning disability unless I get specific training for it. And if her parents don't want to explore that possibility, I'm kind of stuck. So, with the start of second grade looming, I plunged back into googling things like "my 7-year-old hates reading" and sifting through the resulting avalanche of parenting forum advice.

Through parent recommendations, I found an online program that looks like it might be a good fit for Sasha -- very short daily lessons, game-based, lots of actual rewards mailed to your actual door, funny characters, British accents. And designed with dyslexia in mind, but not exclusively marketed that way. It's got a complete moneyback guarantee at any time, and stellar reviews. So I mentioned it to Sasha's parents.

And they seem willing to try it out!

I'm really relieved, because I've felt like the burden of teaching Sasha how to read and write has fallen squarely on me, but unless she gets instruction tailored to kids with dyslexia (or whatever cognitive challenge she's got going on), she just won't make much progress. This online program could be the solution.

All this has made me reflect on how I intend to parent my own potential future children. I do hope that I'll be the kind of parent who, when someone close to my child says, "hey I think your kid has a learning disability," that I will take it seriously, do the research to see if it seems likely, and try to address it appropriately as early as is reasonable. I hope I don't instantly dismiss it.

I hope this online program turns out to be the Thing That Works, and that someday Sasha will enjoy reading as much as she enjoys being read to.

High fives,