Aaron is a fourth grade who is a very good athlete and does extremely well when it comes to relating to other children and adults. Yet, since the age of six he has presented a perplexing challenge to his teachers and parents.

Aaron's academic career has been decidedly uneven. In first and second grade, he performed fairly well, learning to read easily. Currently, however, he reveals a rather slow reading rate. Although his comprehension is adequate, Aaron has trouble writing or talking about what he has read. In fact, he sometimes weaves his own ideas into what he has read – significantly modifying what the author had in mind!

Aaron has shown a great interest in science and current events. He loves to visit the local museums and can’t wait to talk about what he saw to his classmates. While Aaron can describe these adventures with great detail, when called on in class to answer a specific question, he is noticeably hesitant and lacking in confidence. He understands the question, but the answer eludes him. Aaron also has difficulty with the multiplication tables. When he is trying to solve computations, he uses slow counting strategies to solve the problems.

At home, Aaron's parents have witnessed a steady decline in their son's feelings about school. He has told them on several occasions that he is "a complete dummy." His parents and teachers believe strongly that Aaron is a very bright boy. In particular, they observe his excellent memory for little details, especially relating to things that happened a long time ago. He often produces highly original and insightful thoughts that he can communicate orally, but he seldom is effective at transferring his great ideas on paper.


  • Memory for little details
  • Oral language
  • Inquisitive


  • Science
  • Current Events

Areas in need of improvement:

  • Recalling specific details when reading
  • Relating what he reads to prior knowledge
  • Getting ideas on paper

Talking to Aaron

Aaron needs to understand that he is not “dumb.” It should be explained that there are different types of memory and while he has a great memory for little details and events that happened a long time ago, he has trouble finding information in his memory. It is very likely that Aaron understands what he read while he is reading it, but he is having difficulty recalling the information later. He may also be having trouble with his writing because of the multiple memory demands. Aaron should be helped to think about ways of storing and finding information more easily and accurately.

Taking Advantage of Strengths and Affinities:

  • Use Aaron’s love of current events and science as a motivating factor for experiencing literature. Encourage a subscription to a current events or science magazine; go on regular trips to the bookstore or library to browse novels about these subjects. 
  • Use science as a mode for helping Aaron build knowledge, learn content, and become exposed to sophisticated reading materials. Have him read about science topics he is already familiar with as a way of reviewing or confirming his knowledge, while also building reading abilities. Introduce new content through this familiar medium.

Accommodations and Interventions:

  • Aaron is going to need direct instruction in active reading techniques. This may need to be in the context of one-on-one tutoring sessions to focus on teaching Aaron how to make better use of his reading time and effort. Strategies may include previewing, paraphrasing, differentiating fact from opinion, making inferences, drawing conclusions, factual recall, and using context for comprehending word meanings.
  • Teach Aaron how to use self-questioning strategies. For example, as Aaron reads, have him develop a list of his own questions to answer. Convene class-wide or small group discussions based on students’ answers to the different questions they posed during their reading. 
  • Provide Aaron with techniques for working through facts that are not consistently recalled, instead of having Aaron use his fingers as a concrete counting mechanism, which requires him to stop, put down his pencils, etc. An alternative is the "touch math" technique, where Aaron touches points on each number with his pencil while counting. This technique might provide a concrete reinforcement for him, while also helping to preserve the fluency of the problem.
  • Integrate drill and practice activities into a fun format, such as a game with a deck of playing cards that students can play in pairs, or software that offers well-designed math activities. 
  • Encourage the use of calculators to check accuracy and to do computation when appropriate (e.g., when facts are embedded in longer computations). It may be helpful for Aaron to write down numbers before entering them, or to use a calculator with a paper printout to reinforce the facts.