W, Y, U and the Vowels / by Alan Strathman

I haven't written in a while, despite having, as usual, a wealth of topics to write about. Then I had a bit of a day today and realized I needed the therapeutic benefit that comes from writing about something.  So......

From 9-10:30 AM Grade 1 has their literacy block. Much of the year I have been in the classroom with the teacher during this time.  At the end of last term, though. I told the Grade 1 teacher that I wanted to spend this term working with three students whose literacy skills are well behind where they need to be. So this semester I have been using this time to do pull-out sessions with Kirmael, Delano, and Dave-v.  Unfortunately, Dave-v has a very difficult home life so he often doesn't make it to school. As an aside, Dave-v (and basically this is pronounced Davey) is a sweet little Rasta boy whose mum died very young, about 18 months ago. The mum was the glue who held the family together despite an abusive father. Now that she is gone, and what an absolute tragedy that was, Dave-v lives with his dad and siblings.  His father is named Dave and the children, from youngest to oldest, are named Dave-v, Davius, Daviana, Dave-o, and then there is an older girl whose name I don't know but which I'm certain begins with "Dav." Last week when I asked Dave-v to have some work signed by his dad or oldest sister he came back with it signed by his brother, who is in Grade 3.

As a further aside, there are not as many Rastas here as there are in, say, Jamaica, but there is still a significant number.  And, boy, Lucians, are not fans of Rastas.  They never speak well of Rastas, even to the point of not considering them.....people. One of the Peace Corps here was explaining the situation to someone who had lived in Jamaica and he said something like this:  If you hear a news story of a car accident you might hear them say, "A fatal traffic accident occurred today. Injured were two men, three women, and two Rastas."  Like they aren't even the same species.

Anyway, today Dave-v was again not in attendance and so Kirmael and Delano and I were working together. Both are really struggling with the alphabet. They cannot keep straight the sounds made by the letters W, Y and U.  They are fine with V. Kirmael, especially has trouble so that when you ask him what sounds W, Y, and U make he says the sound actually made by W.  This might make you think that he really only has a problem with Y and U, since he seems to know the sound of W, but he doesn't really know the sound of W, he just uses that sound as his go to. In Grade 2 I have a boy named Kianté who says T when I ask him what most of the letters of the alphabet are. It's no wonder the alphabet is confusing if most of the letters are T and yet make different sounds.

And neither Kirmael nor Delano get the sounds made by the vowels.   One vowel complication for them is that with their accent, the sound of the letter "i" is "ee." So the letter "e" makes the sound "eh," and the letter "i" males the sound "ee."  American accents are different so that the name of one vowel ("e") is not the same of the sound of another vowel ("i").

So the three of us have been working on these sounds this week.  And the boys are struggling.  And then all of a sudden today Kirmael starts writing his letters backwards AND writing right to left (Note: He is not Jewish so this is not a possible explanation). So, for instance writing his letters backwards means today he started writing his R like the R in "Toys Я Us." And when he wrote "bed" he wrote "deb," but with the "e" facing backwards. Delano, for his part, spelled bed "bde."

In case, I haven't been clear, Kirmael and Delano are a long way from figuring out W, Y, U and the vowels. But this today, made me feel like I need to start from scratch in helping them learn the alphabet. Where did writing backwards come from?

I know alphabet knowledge comes in stages. I get that when I ask them what the name of the letter N is, they can't answer until I give them a moment to start at A and go through their ABCs until they get to N. And then often they say M, even though, and at first this was staggering to me, they had just said that the letter before N was (correctly) M, and then they said the next letter was M too.

How useless did I feel this morning?  Very! How hopeless do I think the situation is for these boys? Completely. Entirely. Fully.

In the U.S., all the boys in my pull-outs would be in special education classes and have teachers who have training and experience in dealing with these kinds of learning difficulties. Instead, they have me.  Now, please note, I am not beating myself up over this.  I am doing the best I can. And having me is better than being back in the classroom with 15 other students.  But I understand that these boys have challenges that are beyond classroom education and even beyond small pull-out sessions with a teacher who does not have training in special ed.  But, I will be back at it on Monday.

One more thing, early on in this blog I mentioned that I am working with three students whose learning is well behind where it should be. But there are five other boys in that same class who are just as far behind.  But a pull-out with eight students would be a disaster because in addition to learning difficulties, these boys have behavior management issues that I would just not be able to handle. Kirmael, Delano, and Dave-v are really good kids, struggling, but receptive to the idea of being well behaved in exchange for a pencil, or a car, or a little dinosaur toy, or a little man with a parachute.

Today, I felt like I had forgotten MY parachute.