The Communication Arts class is meeting in the library for the entire week learning to do research. Today the librarian gave a presentation on The Great Wall of China. To help the kids learn about different research sites, they were given a list of questions about China and three sites they were to go to, to find the answers. This was going to be an impossible assignment for Kaedra.
Kaedra struggles more than any other student I worked with. She’s in all the sixth grade general education classes, but it seems like so much of the material is beyond what she can comprehension. She has difficulty grasping anything that is not concrete. Schoolwork to her is continuously looking for the right sentence to copy from the book or board. I know by ninth grade she might be in a completely separate program that focuses more on vocational skills, but that amount of pull-out program isn’t yet appropriate for Kaedra. She continually surprises everyone around her by what she is learning. Even though her standardized scores are very low, they are always higher than anyone expects.
Just as the kids started their research assignment today, Kaedra was called to go to speech therapy. It’s always a juggling act figuring out how to schedule therapy times. No matter when you schedule it, students miss things. Part of my job is to minimize the disruption. I knew it would take a full period for Kaedra to do even half of the questions, so after she left I just filled in the answers to most of them, but left one question open in each section. That way she would get to use each of the three research sites. There was just ten minutes of class left when Kaedra came back. She had quietly slipped in and was standing next to me.
“What should I do, Mrs. Jones?” she whispered up at me. Even though Kaedra is almost two years older than her classmates, she is physically the smallest student in sixth grade. She usually speaks in a whisper. She has a hard time maintaining any eye contact and usually appears to be looking at something on the ground five feet behind you when she talks to you.
“Come on over to this computer and log on,” I said. “We still have time to do three questions.”
Kaedra sat down at the computer and logged on with her username and password. That’s always a lot to remember, and she was biting her tongue as it came out of the side of her mouth. This is her typical pose when she is concentrating on something.
I hate it when she gets behind and really wanted for her to get this finished before the end of the period, so she could start with everyone else tomorrow. As soon as she was on the internet, to hurry things along I took the mouse and quickly clicked through the half dozen steps to get her to the page I wanted her to see.
“Question number six asks how many people live in China,” I said to her. “See this number here? That’s the number of people in China. Write that answer in for number six.” There were ten digits that Kaedra had to copy, and it took quite a while because she kept losing her place. Finally I began dictating the digits along with the commas. I kept looking up at the clock, knowing the bell was going to ring soon. To keep things moving I quickly went through four back clicks and three forward clicks to the next site.
“Question eleven asks for the capital of China,” I said. “Right here is the name of the capital. That’s what you write for number eleven.” Beijing is not a familiar word for Kaedra, but she quickly copied it. Three minutes of class were left and we had one more question to go. “Phooey on going to the next site,” I thought. The answer to the last question was right on the web page I had up.
“Kaedra, the answer to number fourteen is also on this page,” I said, pointing to the heading “Monetary Unit”. “Number fourteen asks what the monetary unit in China is.” I pointed to the word “Yuan,” on the screen. This was another totally foreign word for Kaedra. I kept my finger next to “Yuan” as I said, “For number fourteen write what the monetary unit is.”
Kaedra must have sensed my urgency because I could see her eyes widen as she worked hard to write. I kept watching the clock. Kaedra was biting her tongue again. Just as she finished, the bell rang.
“Good job!” I said. “We finished the questions on time.” Kaedra was beaming as she handed her paper to me. I knew she was feeling good about getting her work done. Speech therapy and a completed worksheet all in one class period. “I’ll give this to the librarian for you,” I said smiling as I took her paper.
Kaedra skipped to the door. Sixth graders don’t usually skip, but I knew she felt good about what she had accomplished. I was feeling pretty good too. I’m racing against the clock with kids all the time. It seems like everyone is always whipping past my students, and they’re never able to keep up. But not today. We battled the clock, and we won! I thought as I looked down over her worksheet.
Next to question fourteen asking what the monetary unit of China was, Kaedra had carefully written “What the monetary unit is.”