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Emmy Costantino

Special Education Inquiry Assignment
Part 3
I am especially touched when young teachers, who believe that their struggles are
unique, find relief in the revelation that older faculty still struggle with problems like
their own (Palmer, 1998,p. 151)
Over the last few months I have had the pleasure of assimilating into the Priestley
Elementary staff under the incredible mentorship of Mrs. Cody Bottiger. At the start of
this experience I selected the new student, Evan, to observe for this Special Inquiry
Assignment. Initially uncertain if his deficit was due to discomfort, as his prior school did
not identify any disability and a straight A/B report card, I figured tracking his progress
and monitoring his work would be beneficial to both myself and my mentor teacher.
After spending a semester working closely with this student it became clear that his level
was significantly lower than others due to literacy discrepancies, not comfort level in a
new school. That said, after speaking with his father at conferences, it became very clear
that the potential for Evans retention in the second grade is very real. This experience of
following an unidentified student throughout his time this year, entry at Priestley to now,
has been absolutely incredible. Being able to hone in on one aspect of his learning and
see all the steps that lead to this final decision of retention is a learning experience I could
never have imagined for myself. I was exposed to so many different aspects of aid in
elementary school from testing processes such as disability screenings, regular reading
fluency checks, and Dibbles testing, to implementation with interventionists and pull out
programs. Being that I have the intention of working in Special Education after
graduation, this experience was incredibly rewarding and a perfect opportunity to see first

hand all aspects of identification and how best to help students requiring extra attention in
the literacy field.
The question I aimed to address throughout this assignment was, How can I best
help a struggling reader improve their literacy? This question drove my investigation
leading me to learn how to interpret test results and discuss intervention strategies I could
incorporate in- class with his pull- out teacher Mrs. Pennington. I chose to focus in on his
deficits regarding reading because I feel literacy has a larger lifelong impact. Reading is
everywhere! How could a person function in todays society without being able to read
road signs? menus? text messages? Learning to read is easiest at a young age and
understanding the nuances and structures in word construction is required for writing as
well, therefore proficiency in literacy encompasses all aspects of daily life. Evan was the
ideal candidate for me as well because I work in small group with the 3 lowest reading
groups, of which he is one. The teacher plans small group instruction based on clusters
of students with similar needs in one of the CAF categories (Boushey & Moser, 2009,
p.7) This year we have implemented the Daily 5 curriculum. As a result of that, our
reading instruction program is known as CAF, which includes the areas of
Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency and Expansion of vocabulary. We have noticed in
working with Evan that his struggles filter into many of the categories. He has most
troubles in phonemic awareness when reading and because of this cannot sound out
words properly. Because I was given the opportunity to work closely in this area with
him I have been able to see the hurdles he must overcome as well as the strides he has
made this year in working with all of the specialists and aid. We work hard to help
students understand that we are all in various stages of development. Students are taught

to honor where they are and where their classmates are in their learning journeys
(Boushey & Moser, 2014, p.24). What I find truly remarkable about this class of students
is that no one is mocked or made to feel self- conscious for being a member of a pull- out
group. There are a few teachers who come to our class during RtII time, knock on the
door, and collect those requiring extra attention. In Evans case, at 10:45 Mrs. Pennington
comes, brings him to her room for aid in phonemic awareness and returns him by recess.
The transitions are seamless, the kids never say more than oh Evan, Mrs. Pennington is
here before returning back to what they were doing, and nothing more is ever said. I do
not think there could possibly be a more perfect example of a group of classmates who
accept where their friends are and honor their learning journey. In knowing that Evans
main problems were in phonemic awareness I decided to meet with Mrs. Pennington after
bus duty one Monday in order to discuss what I have noticed and what she notices in her
room. I wanted to know what was done special in this room that I could incorporate into
my small group. As Caf small groups are a combination of students with the same needs
I figured applying what is done in this classroom to my group requiring the most aid
would only be beneficial. It was with this in mind that I took my research to the next step.
I collected what I had observed and the tips offered by Mrs. Pennington in order to create
the most helpful small group meetings I could. It was time to begin the assessment
portion of this assignment. Applying some new tricks I was able to analyze relevant data
and track his growth as opposed to just observing it.
Though stated above, Evans main deficit was identified by Mrs. Pennington to be
in phonemic awareness. Upon hearing that Evan would need extra attention in small
group once he was identified, I panicked! I am a beginning teacher, I have no experience

or specialty with students requiring specific attention, how will I help him? Am I
competent enough to help him improve or will I flounder and prove to be a horrible
teacher? Upon reading The Courage To Teach, I found the quotation But there is a
deeper reason for our blindness to our students fears, and it is more daunting: we cannot
see the fear in our students until we see the fear in ourselves (Palmer, 1998, p.48) It was
in this moment that I realized in order to be any help to my student I must first address
my concerns with my role as his primary reading group teacher. With help from Mrs.
Pennington and my mentor teacher I slowly grew more comfortable in my role. I realized
that I would need to do a lot of scaffolding, a lot of reading aloud before allowing them to
do it on their own and activities which would blend what we were doing in our morning
phoneme lessons, with the leveled readers we are to include as well. While were
listening to the children read, were seeing whether they are applying the strategies
toward a goal we worked on in the previous conference (Boushey & Moser, 2009, p.62).
While I interpret conference to be the previous mornings phoneme lessons, I still think
that this quotation deeply reflects the formative assessment I did daily. When entering
whole group after a discussion on vowel sounds both long and short, what creates them
and why I was stunned. In whole group Evan could tell me exactly what each word
sounded like and what the reasonings were as to why it sounded as it did. When reading
aloud in small group though Evan would come up with his own words. When reading the
word heat in a story about fire, he said hat. Through scanning the word he recognized
this starting letter, ending letter, and one in the middle, however scanned right over the
vowel diagraph ea making the long sound we had discussed just a few minutes earlier.
This guessing strategy Evan tries to employ, Mrs. Pennington says he does quite a bit and

is common among beginning readers who do struggle with phoneme awareness. They
know the sounds and appearance when it is presented clearly, but in practice or in a word
it becomes challenging to apply the rules they may seem to understand. As a result of his
read aloud being incorrect wording his comprehension was off. The topics he was
blending into stories did not match the main idea so understanding of text became flawed
as well. This domino affect was demonstrated when we did fluency reads with Evan. In
the start of the year, Mrs. Bottiger and I did fluency reads with all of the students. This
showed to us what their beginning levels were. They had one minute to read a text aloud
and with marking why they misconstrued words and marking where they stopped we
were able to see if they were on level according to second
grade curriculum standards. In the summer/ fall we would
like to see about 51 words read correctly per minute but
Evan had only 12. By the end of fall/winter we would like
them to be around 72 words read, but this test showed 24
words read correctly per
minute. This
Summer/Fall 2015

discrepancy between the

target number and his performance show to me that

there is a true disconnect between fluency and
phonemic awareness. Though his scores did double,
showing some success on the part of Mrs. Pennington
Fall/Winter 2015

and myself, he is still far below grade level. It is with this information that it became
clear Evan may need to be recommended for retention.

As I had said in previous writings for this assignment as well, his Dolche word
results were also vastly below grade level. For the first test we saw majority of the words
for second grade to be incorrect, less than half of the words on the first grade list, same
for the kindergarten list, and about half of the words were accurate when we utilized the
pre-primer (or pre-k) Dolche word list. As this is not a comprehension test, and, unlike
the results above we were not asking story questions, it is much easier to tease apart his
struggles with word identification on this format. It was put more eloquently in our
Integrating Differentiated Instruction book in saying, just as toddlers do not wait to
master the rules of grammar before they begin speaking, neither must any school- age
learners fully master the fundamentals before attempting to use them (Tomlinson &
McTighe, 2006, p.119). If Evan cannot read the words, he will obviously not be able to
comprehend the text. Therefore with much reflection it became clear that we must first
see growth in his reading capabilities before expecting any improvement on the
comprehension aspect. Potentially, as Dolche word lists do, applying rules to single
words before trying to attack sentences may be less intimidating. If he can make short
words sight words he will be able to scoot over them faster when reading and focus his
time and energies on the longer more involved words. He may become more successful
when feeling less overwhelmed by words on a page if he is confident in his mental word
bank. We must always keep in mind that our aim is to collect appropriate evidence of
learning based on the goals, not to simply offer a cool menu of product possibilities
(Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006, p.76). This in mind, the frequent progress checks, like
Dolche lists, allow me the opportunity to possess evidence of progress toward our
important literacy goals. With results scoring that low in Dolche and fluency readings it

would be unrealistic or cool to assume that Evan should reach the goals set by common
second grade standards. Creating more attainable goals, and frequent goals that he can
achieve at his own pace, for example, a 2 word increase per week as opposed to just
expecting Evan to hit 72 words at the end of the second marking period is, I feel,
appropriate evidence. These progress checks and results allow us to move from
overarching benchmarks to a specialized plan. The effort we put into working with him
not only aids his comprehension and skill acquisition but also allows the family to see
that we are a team working toward a common goal, literacy improvement and
competency in reading and writing throughout the year.
Throughout the year we also did many graded writing
pieces. When we have not yet edited his work, Evan does not
apply the rules we review in the morning lessons to it. This
piece shows a perfect example of this disconnect with god to
go (good to go) and cechis on fire (catches on fire). It is
this connection he is lacking, the bridge between learning and
application. In recognizing this disconnect and being able to
progress check I am better able to reflect on what I have done, what I need to do, what is
working and what scaffolding I still need to implement. I can also reflect and adjust my
evaluations accordingly as I zero in on the deficits that may require more attention
allowing me to give more specialized help.
In reflecting upon my experiences working with Evan thus far, I have really
noticed him coming into his own. He has made incredible strides in his level of selfconfidence and it shows when he is working with others in the class as well. Coming in

as a new student Evan was very shy, he curled into himself when seated at his desk and
did his best to fade into the background. After moving his seat to the front and becoming
aware of this desire Mrs. Bottiger and myself did all we could to break him out of his
shell and assimilate him into our classroom community. In reference to creating a
nurturing class environment, the text What Every 2nd Grade Teacher Needs to Know
says, when we help children create such a community we free them to be playful and to
take risks-both essential conditions for learning (Wilson, 2010, p.53). Being wrong and
making mistakes is the best way to learn. Trial and error is essential to the process of
understanding. Knowledge, as we have discussed heavily in regard to educational
pedagogy, is only knowing facts. In contrast, understanding is comprehending why the
answers are what they are and through investigation and inquiry these reasons become
clear allowing learning to break the surface and becomes deeper, encouraging
understanding. Understanding is vital to application and to expect Evan to apply what we
know in class he must first be able to feel comfortable making mistakes, testing out
different phoneme combinations in order to see what makes sense and why. This
investigation is only possible though with the risk- taking community of which the text
As with the data analysis explained above, I was provided an opportunity to
receive tangible rapport of comprehension. These physical results demonstrated to me the
successes and failures of what strategies were in place. Great teachers have a plan and
purpose for everything they do. If plans dont work out the way they had envisioned, they
reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust accordingly (Whitaker,
20012, p.124) As explained by Whitaker, when plans were not succeeding and writing,

especially in essays, was not improving piece to piece in the way I had hoped, I had to
adjust the plan. I was able to incorporate more broken down graphic organizers for
thought organization leading up to final products. This ability to break down the steps
even further gave Evan the chance to focus on smaller chunks at a time. Allowing him to
zero in on each piece of the essay puzzle eased some of the overwhelming uncertainty he
often showed upon being presented with large writing tasks. Being able to focus on these
smaller pieces allows for more opportunities for success as well. These many small
successes allow him to build the confidence his peers have when accomplishing with
success, one big writing, but as he does not get as frequent praise from large assignments
the smaller bits enable him to feel the sense of individual achievement felt by his peers
more often. 8. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and
school. They treat every person with respect. In particular, they understand the power of
praise (Whitaker, 20012, p.123). Knowing that praise builds confidence, I tested this
theory. I noticed that the volume of Evans voice and his desire to participate in whole
group discussion drastically increases. This increased participation, as I discussed
previously, shows his ability to take risks and create deep understanding. Therefore, it is
clear that this positive atmosphere created by respect for everyones place on the learning
journey, and the positive attention he receives due to increased scaffolding, leads to a
greater desire to risk take and evidently practice his skills through trial and error.
Knowing my student on a personal level, his struggles and therefore discomfort, his
understandings and thus successes, I have realized, it is imperative to create this positive
rapport which is clearly vital to the learning process and the results I hope to achieve.

Having short- term as well as long- term goals, lots of feedback through
observations, formative assessment, and praise for hard work, is crucial for teachers
working with any struggling student. This idea of feedback for both what can be done at
home and in the classroom is what guided Mrs. Bottiger and my parent- conference form
(Evans is attached). On it was what we have noticed through observation and testing,
and how we as teachers and as parents can work as a team to increase his literacy skills.
This team ideology is pivotal to success especially because hearing that their child is
struggling is hard for any family. Knowing that someone is on their side and the teacher
truly does want to make a meaningful difference really is the best way to meet the need
of both student and family.
This project was an absolutely incredible experience. As I have said before, I
would really like to work in special education upon graduating this year. After learning
about how vital the relationship is between students and parents, it was only solidified at
conferences when said by Evans father, we have considered retention for Evan, do you
also feel he should repeat second grade? This is not easy information to repeat or hear.
Having the positive relationship as a team like we did, and being able to show how much
thought and work we had put into formulating a conclusion about this, both us as well as
Evans father felt that this was a well- researched solution. Though deficits are obvious, it
is also quite clear that Evan strives to improve. Early in the year, he had expressed an
interest to me in wanting to read the book Many Caps. This was well beyond Evans level
and when I asked (as we are supposed to) if it is a good fit for him, if he is able to read
most words, he expressed concern with the high level. I have recently seen this book in
his book basket though, expressing to me that he is stumbling through it slowly in an

effort to reach this goal. In relation to the comfort level of Evan as a student now, it was
evident when reading the story they wrote (previously attached) that he was
uncomfortable with his level. Through allowing him to practice reading multiple times
throughout small group, and drawing his attention to how accepting and inclusive this
classroom is he moved from saying I am so scared to I am so excited to do this, can
we read now? Every week since the reading to class Evan has asked me to write a new
story. Through practice and repetition of the same words (as I suggested above with
Dolche words) it is clear that Evan can do it. As his comfort level with a text increases,
his ability to slow down, make mistakes comfortably and succeed in the face of adversity,
dramatically increases! I have absolutely loved working with Evan this year and cannot
wait to help children with potential learning deficits in the future utilizing the skills and
techniques I acquired through this experience.

Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The daily 5: Fostering literacy independence in the
elementary grades (2nd ed.). Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.
Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2009). The CAFE book: Engaging all students in daily literacy
assessment & instruction. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse ;.
Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's
life. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Tomlinson, C., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction &
understanding by design connecting content and kids. Alexandria, Virginia: Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Whitaker, T. (2012). What great teachers do differently: Seventeen things that matter
most (2nd ed.). Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education.
Wilson, M. (2010). What every 2nd grade teacher needs to know about setting up and
running a classroom. Turners Falls, Massachusetts: Northeast Foundation for Children.