Sunday, September 30, 2007

Special needs: moving to 5th grade

I haven't had many posts in this blog recently, but, of course, if you're using a blog reader that shouldn't matter. If you're just checking this web page periodically ... well, you should be using a blog reader.

One reason I don't post so much is that our personal situation(s) have been relatively stable. I'll have something more to say about personal care assistant (PCA) funding in Minnesota soon, but for now I'll comment on the particular problems of late primary education and special needs.

A low IQ special needs child is coming to the end of the "mainstream" road by late primary school. That's when some children are reading at the college level while the special needs child is struggling with very basic literacy. Now we're shifting to preparing for non-mainstream education, and continuing to push for as much literacy as possible. We have a minor interest in arithmetic, but really functional reading is our only academic goal.

There's very little science to help us. Reading research focuses on children with normal abilities or focal reading disorders. Complex multi-factorial reading disorders are well beyond the bounds of what reading science can help us with. If a child has reasonable word recognition skills, but awful word attack skills, do we push on their weakness, build on their strengths, or balance both? Many people may think they know, but none have any data. For now we have an opportunistic balanced approach, based largely on what our child can be incented to try. One big factor is that phonics reading materials assume the interests of a 1-2 year old child. Our child's interests are much closer to those of his chronological age group. There's almost nothing written for the interests of a 10-12 year old and the reading ability of a 6-7 yo.

Lately our 5th grade teacher has been sending home assignments using "High Noon Reading Fluency" exercises, level A (1st grade theoretically, though the A to D reading excerpts all seem rather similarly difficult to me). This is helpful, because we assume he can only spend a very limited amount of time with our child. So this gives us something we can build on at home and on the weekend - especially if we can do the work and evaluation, but have the teacher deliver the result and exercises. Our child is very keen on pleasing teachers, so we do best to leverage that. We've ordered a complete set from RLAC; I chose them because I liked the sample PDF they provided, the quality of their website descriptions, and the free shipping.

I'll post on how it goes. We have, by the way, used a variety of reading software packages over the years, but our child does much better with physical paper. I think the cognitive burden of the user interactions is much lower with paper, so he can bring everything he has to the reading task. Electronic interactions are too distracting, and they demand cognitive cycles for the electronic interaction alone. He needs everything he has.

There's another interesting aspect to this search. It turns out that the Google Search "high noon reading fluency" is the "key" to a range of interesting online educational resources for special needs and neurotypical children. Try it and explore ...

[1] Google Reader and Bloglines are my favorites, the reader built into IE 7 is obscure and limited, but simple once you figure it out, Safari has a fine reader, Firefox's reader is so-so.

No comments: