Elea is an 8 year-old third grader. Up to this point in school, her mother has had few concerns about her academic performance. Her report cards have been solid, and she always seemed to enjoy school. She learned to read with no difficulty, picking up the connections between sounds and letters. Also, she readily learned her basic arithmetic skills, such as addition and subtraction.
Elea is a big-time collector of all sorts of things. She has numerous shoeboxes in her room that she uses to store stickers, colored pencils, trading cards, comic books, etc. Lately, she has really gotten into postcards, and her mother and relatives pass on any they receive to her. Elea also enjoys drawing and coloring, and she has become quite an artist. She keeps her creations in several folders that she labels.
Lately, however, both Elea and her mother have become a bit anxious about school. Elea has complained about being bored with much of what happens in the classroom. For the first time, she earned a “needs improvement,” on her report card, for reading. This came as quite a shock to Elea’s mother, who has seen Elea sound out long words with no trouble whatsoever. Elea has also started having trouble with math.
Elea’s 3rd grade teacher has observed that she daydreams a lot during story time, although she focuses more when the book has pictures to go with the text. He also sees Elea as being an excellent decoder, but she has great difficulty answering questions about what she has read, and her comments about reading passages are often way off the mark. In terms of math, she performs well with basic calculations, but she is quite confused by some of the word problems she is now asked to solve, such as figuring out how much a meal will cost by looking at menu prices.
- Good phonological processing and decoding of words
- Strong memory for math facts and procedures (such as subtraction)
- Good at drawing
- Collecting all sorts of things, especially postcards
- Drawing and coloring
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Language comprehension; she can decode words, yet she does not understand what she is reading or what she is hearing during story time (which is likely why she looks to be daydreaming)
- Understanding the concepts in math; she has her math facts and procedures down, but in order to apply them in real-life situations she needs to have a stronger conceptual grasp on arithmetic
Possible Management Plan:
Elea and her mother both need to know that she has an excellent foundation for school learning. She has overcome big hurdles some children really struggle with- decoding and picking up basic math facts. Her artistic ability also needs to be highlighted, and her affinity for collecting things is unique and interesting. They both need assurance that much can be done to improve Elea’s language comprehension and concept formation in math. Getting a handle on these weaknesses now is critical, since demands are really going to start increasing after 3rd grade.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Elea’s understanding of concepts could be improved through working on organizing her collections into subsets. For example, she might divide her postcards into those with nature scenes vs. those depicting cities, or by geographic region, etc. This could be an opportunity for further learning, since she could become motivated to learn more about an area displayed in some of her cards.
- Her artistic ability could help support her language comprehension. For example, she could draw scenes from a book the class is reading. Graphic organizers (e.g., web charts) could help her as well. As she gets older, she might be more effective in taking cluster notes (combinations of shapes, words, and arrows on the page) as opposed to purely language-based notes.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Pre-reading activities, such as providing 3 words to listen or look for, might help direct Elea in her language processing. These might be visually highlighted for her in some way.
- Reciprocal teaching is a technique that involves guided questions and prompts (such as making predictions about what will happen next in the story) and can improve language comprehension.
- Elea’s mother can spend time reading with her, asking her lots of questions and encouraging her to talk about stories.
- When reading independently, Elea could use self-monitoring techniques, such as FACT (Focus attention, Ask yourself questions, Connect Ideas, Try to picture important ideas) (Houghton Mifflin, 1986)