Try this as an experiment. Maybe you haven’t done them in some time, but try doing a few push-ups. See how many you can do? None? A couple? 10? 20?
Regardless of the number that you can successfully complete, there will be a point where you will hit a wall that is the point where effort doesn’t matter. Perhaps with a little extra effort you can crank out one or two more, but essentially you’ve hit a point of frustration. You can’t go past that point.
With most academic tasks (e.g., reading, spelling and writing) the same applies. That is, these tasks fall on a continuum, a range from the most basic and easy to the more difficult and complex.
Just like the push-ups, children can be plotted on a continuum for the skills from the easy to the frustrating.
It may seem sacrilegious to some of you, but when I assess kids I am more concerned with figuring out where a child is on the continuum than determining whether he has a given label or diagnostic category.
Knowing where a child is on the spectrum or the continuum helps us with taking an appropriate next-step action, where the label is just that – a label.
For example, if I give the child a representative first grade level passage and he reads it comfortably and confidently and can answer some comprehension questions, I know something. He has mastered basic sight words and at the point he can read smoothly at this level he has the cognitive ability to process the information.
If the same child starts to show signs of struggling with larger words at perhaps the third grade level, that also tells me something. Probably his reading is based primarily on memorization and less based on an internalized system of decoding more challenging words.
Ah, now I can roll up my sleeves and start targeting those skills that are shaky. We can get down to business.
Or, take the example of a child who reads smoothly with all of the passages read, but whose comprehension, particularly for questions that are not directly in the text (i.e., inferences) he looks at me confused when the questions are asked.
Aha. Maybe I should start explaining inferences to this child and give lots of examples for practice.
We turn ourselves into knots trying to find the reasons behind the difficulty. I get comments all the time like, “What region of the brain is producing these challenges?” “Was it due to ear infections from 10 years ago?” “You know, I think my grandmother may have had dyslexia and that must be the explanation. They always talked about her reading backwards.” “I know Uncle Joe can’t focus on anything. That explains the ADD.”
On and on it goes. None of those speculations move things forward guiding “next-step thinking.”
Know at what point the skills start to break down. Identify the skill deficiencies. Target them. Practice them.
Then your child will start to feel better about himself or herself.
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