Case Study: How to teach children creative writing when they do not know how to read. A true story.

13 Aug

Case Study:  How to teach children creative writing when they do not know how to read

When I was a Special Needs Teacher in New Jersey I taught a group of exceptional students.  They were from various parts of the world such as Spain, South America and Portugal.  Things I loved about my students:

  • ·      They used to teach me Spanish curse words
  • ·      They taught me Spanish versions of American card games
  • ·      They used to tell me when my butt was getting too fat (gordita- cow)
  • ·      They told me how to grow my hair, cut my hair and when I was getting grey hair
  • ·      That underneath all of the rough exterior were gentle children who wanted to learn, wanted to learn how to read and wanted to express creatively

Things I didn’t’ love about my students:

  • ·      They’re poor family life
  • ·      The sadness in their eyes
  • ·      When they used to get high before my class

All in all they were brilliant kids.  One thing that I like to boast about is that I taught this ‘street’ kid who was 19 years old how to read.  He was already labelled as a failure.  He was someone who was going to fail because he was illiterate and got up to much mischief on the streets.  And, why not?  If no one was going to think highly of him- why would HE think highly of himself?  He used to sell drugs from what my sources say.

I remember the first day he walked into my class.  I informed the entire class that everyone who attended 100% of the classes would get an A in the class.  Well, you should have heard the noise they made!  They were both happy and quite dismayed.  But, I assured them that I would stand true to my word.  “If you complete everything I ask of you- you will get an A.”  I confirmed.

Of course there were a few non-believers.  But, like any thing that has been broken, it takes a while for the glue to hold and dry.  And, once the object has been glued together, you must always be careful not to break it again.  So, the story goes.

How to teach an adult or young adult how to read:

We started off with the basics.  I asked my student if he ‘wanted’ to learn how to read.  He was brave.  He was one of the few that actually stood up and said in his Spanish accent ‘but I don’t know how to read.’  I only replied with a confident smile ‘I will teach you.’

1.  Flashcards.

Everyday for 20 minutes my teaching assistant would go through the flashcards that my student and I put together.  Nothing fancy, just on index cards and a black marker.  I’d say there were 50 words.  Words that he chose and that were prompted.  They were words that he used daily (no, not the curse words).  Words such as and, that, as, a, mom, dad, door, car, food, over, there, etc.  They were considered sight words, but went as far as saying that they were words that he used in conversation as well.

2.  Confidence

3.  Next, we started out with writing a few beginner sentences for an example his name.  “I can write my name,” he would say.  “Show me then,” I would state.  i.e. I walked to the store.  I ran.  He said.  She cried.  My mom, etc.  stuff like that.  Whatever he felt good writing.  A lot of times when you work with students such as these you have to really be attentive to their affect.  When you see them getting frustrated you have to encourage and/ or take a break.  Never push.  I have learned that lesson the hard way.  You always want your students to do better and better, but pushing them too hard could result in failure.

4.  Confidence

5.  Show a picture of someone doing something.  I used to show my students old fashioned black and white pictures.  I would tell them that a picture shows 1000 words.  I would ask them to write as much as they can while telling me a story about the picture I have shown.  I would make them skip lines if possible.  That way, I could go through and make corrections on the line underneath.  Then, they would re-write the story with the corrections made.  You would be so surprised how pleased the students were once they saw the final product.

6.  Confidence

7.  Start reading a short novel such as Of Mice and Men by Steinbach.  Let your students read Of Mice and Men or similar book that has curse words (and let them say them out loud!) When you work with students who are from rough parts in the world sometimes you have to just break it down and bring it down.  By connecting with your students and by understanding your students will make you a more effective teacher.  And lastly…

8.  Confidence- the foundation to everything.  And, if you weren’t born with this foundation or given the foundation because of the home you were born in as a teacher it is important to work on this daily.  Confidence is the foundation to learning how to read.

In the end, my student did graduate.  The decision was actually up to me.  The last week of school he came to one of my classes drunk and high.  I was actually a bit worried.  I didn’t expect it at all.  He fell out of his seat in the classroom and then ran out through the back door because he was scared.  After they caught him, security came to me and asked what I wanted to do with him.  And, I said… pass him.  He was 19 and technically I only ever had one 20 year old who hung on the skin of his teeth to stay in school.  He was funny.  It probably would have done him a lot of good to stay in school.  The next time I saw him he was on the street.  He was a very nice kid.  I always felt safe in his presence especially on the street.  He’d always have my back.  Poor kid wasn’t even able to pass the Army examination.  I wonder what he is up to now?

At least I know that I did my part as a teacher.  I taught him how to read.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

CBS San Francisco

News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of SF

Psychology Teaching Ideas

A blog for teachers of AS and A Level Psychology

Bugle Boy Publishing Co.

How to self publish your own book or ebook


Engaging with environmental, infrastructure, conservation, planning and development issues in Hove


'two sisters divided by the Atlantic, doin' it right"

Hearing the wheels

The ride to Paris and our journey to understanding hearing loss

%d bloggers like this: