Michael is an 8-year old third grader. He enjoys school and has always done well. His past teachers spoke of his excellent behavior and delightful personality. Michael has many friends both in school and outside of school.
One of Michael’s favorite parts of school is story time. Ever since kindergarten, he has loved to listen to the teacher and media specialist read stories. He especially loves mysteries. Sometimes during story time, the teacher lets kids tell stories. Everyone always likes the stories Michael makes up, especially his ghost stories. Michael is an avid reader, but usually selects books that are below his grade level. His mother helps him with his homework and reads with him every night.
Lately she has noticed Michael having some trouble when he has to read in one of his textbooks such as science or social studies. Michael’s grades in these subjects, as well as in reading, have begun to fall. When reading information that contains new or unfamiliar vocabulary words, he reads much slower and has trouble figuring out the words. Michael’s comprehension of the material is poor. He once commented to his teacher, “I just can’t figure out what these words mean.” When textbook passages are read to Michael, he understands the main idea, but still has trouble grasping the details of the information.
Michael’s basic math skills are right on target for this point in the year. He has automatized his addition and subtraction facts, and is making good progress with his multiplication facts. He is a terrific problem solver. He is able to visualize the problem and decide the best strategy to use. “These problems are kind of like mystery stories,” he once commented. However, when the class began learning about measurement, Michael had some trouble with metric activities. “It’s hard to know the difference between a centimeter and a millimeter,” he told his mom.
One of Michael’s favorite past times is playing team sports. He is currently playing basketball and is really quite good at it. His father thinks this could become an area of expertise for Michael.
Talk to Michael about the problems he is having in social studies, science and reading. Explain to him that everyone has areas of strength and areas of weakness. Explain how the words he is having trouble with are words that he does not use every day, so they are more difficult for everyone learning them the first time. This is called decontextualized language.
Encourage Michael to think of figuring out the meaning of words in the same way he would figure out a mystery. Ask Michael if he has any ideas of strategies he could use. Apply this same concept to his problems with the vocabulary of math. Include Michael’s parents in the development of a management plan so that the strategies are consistent both at school and at home.