Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 10/The Scoop From Someone Who Knows
The Scoop from Someone Who Knows: Expectations of a Dyslexic Student in an Elementary Classroom
by Amy Crowder
Background of Topic
Prior to students stepping into a classroom, teachers have already begun to formulate expectations of not only the individual student, but perhaps the entire class. Recent studies have shown that teachers have both high and low expectations for all students and there is a great possibility that these expectations are teacher centered (Rubie-Davies, 2006). According to Brophy's study (as cited in Rubie-Davies, 2006)) there is a +/-5% achievement difference per year based on student reaction to teacher expectations. Throughout a student's academic career this would add up to a significant impact on overall achievement.
Factors that influence teacher expectations are often socio-economic, race, or gender biased. However, many also formulate expectations based on a student's achievement level. Weinstein et al. (as cited in Rubie-Davies, 2006) used the Teacher Treatment Inventory to investigate student perceptions of the differential treatment of classmates considered to be high and low achievers. Based on response, students felt that teachers had a positive relationship and greater interaction with high achieving students compared to low achieving students.
Contrary to Wienstein's research, Babad (as cited in Rubie-Davies, 2006) has shown that teachers felt they show more compassion and emotional support for low achievers. Babad (as cited in Rubie-Davies, 2006) discovered that students perceive these interactions as being exaggerated and pretentious. Perceptions such as these lead to the formation of unfair expectations.
Students with cognitive disabilities are held to a different level of expectations based on their individual abilities. In the following interviews, we will learn how a fifth grade student with a learning disability perceives himself in his classroom and discusses his feelings about his teacher's expectations of himself and his classmates. His mother shares her personal expectations as well as her opinion on past and current teacher expectations of her son. Lastly, his fifth grade teacher will share insights on general teacher expectations as well as those specific to this student.
Introduction of Experts
Teacher expectations of students with learning disabilities can range from non-existent to mediocre to abnormally high. In the following interviews you will be introduced to a fifth grade student, his mother, and his homeroom teacher.
Harry R.* is a fifth grade student in a local elementary school. In 2007, Harry was tested and diagnosed with moderate dyslexia and dysgraphia. Dyslexia is a learning disability in which people have difficulty with specific language skills including reading, writing, and spelling. Individuals are poor spellers and writers, and often confuse letters and numbers when they are reading. According to the International Dyslexia Foundation (2008) the primary issue is word recognition and reading fluency. Dyslexia is often passed from generation to generation (IDA, 2008). Dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects how well students use written language and is characterized by disabled handwriting, often accompanies dyslexia (IDA, 2008).
During the primary years (K-2) Harry struggled with reading and was brought to tears on many occasions. In second grade, his parents made the decision to relocate him from a private school to the current public school he attends in order to receive the services of a reading specialist. Harry describes his struggles with reading, what he thinks about past and present teacher expectations, and what changes he has seen in himself since his diagnosis.
Gloria R., Harry's mother, has been a continuous supporter of her son throughout his academic struggles. She speaks of her own expectations for Harry as well as comments on past and present teacher expectations for both Harry and all elementary students.
Mrs. R. Crowder teaches Harry Writing, Reading, and Math. She has been teaching for forty years and has developed a very specific set of expectations for all of her students. Mrs. Crowder shares a few of her general expectations as well as those specific to Harry and his abilities.
(*Named changed to protect student's identity.)
Question: Tell me about what it was like learning to read.
Harry R.: It was very hard. Sometimes it felt like I was dumb. I couldn't understand all the words on the paper. They looked mixed up. As soon as I would figure out a word, I couldn't remember what it meant. Writing was hard for me. I couldn't spell words so I just wrote down the way I thought they were spelled.
Question: What are some things that your teachers told you while you were having a tough time?
Harry R.: My teacher in second grade told me I needed to work harder. I could be a better reader if I really worked at it. I wanted to give up. When I asked for help they told me I needed to look at it more and I would understand it. Everyone else in my class was reading chapter books but I wasn't. There were too many words and the print was really little.
Question: Did you ever think something was wrong with you?
Harry R.: I thought I was broken. Like my brain was defective and it couldn't be fixed.
Question: What are some things that you did to help you improve your reading before you found out you were dyslexic?
Harry R.: Well, that's easy. You were my tutor for 2 years.
Question: Do you remember those things I kept making you do over and over again?
Harry R.: Yeah. Phonics flash cards, games, tracing letters with my finger, learning those words on the ring, grouping words with like sounds. Lots of stuff. Oh, you taught me how to write in cursive too.
Question: A few summers ago you were tested and found out that you were dyslexic. How did this make you feel?
Harry R.: At first I thought it was a bad thing. But then I realized it was a good thing. It felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of me. I realized that I wasn't really broken and I could improve.
Question: I helped you get a 504 plan before the beginning of fourth grade. How has that helped you?
Harry R.: All of my tests are read to me except for reading. (I think that's weird don't you?) I take plain English math tests too. My teachers give me more time on my work and I get to work in a little group so I won't be distracted. My grades have gotten better. I have made Honor Roll since the beginning of fourth grade. Overall I think I am a better student.
Question: Do you think that your parents have high expectations for you academically?
Harry R.: What's "academically?"
Question: You know, like school work. Do you feel pressure to do well in school?
Harry R.: Yeah. Momma still worries if I get a bad grade. I guess she knows I can do the work but sometimes I still get confused and make mistakes. Mrs. Crowder says I rush and forget to read directions closely. Then I make careless mistakes.
Question: Can you see a difference in the kinds of expectations Mrs. Crowder has for you than your past teachers? Does she expect more or less of you than your classmates in spite of your dyslexia?
Harry R.: Mrs. Crowder pushes me to do my best because she knows I can do the work. I am really good in Math and got a 600 on my math test in 4th grade. I know she expects me to get a 600 this year. I think I will. She pushes me in writing too. I hate to write and this year I had to take the writing SOL test. I was nervous but I could use my Franklin Speller. I think I passed. And you know I won honorable mention in the "Letters for Literature" contest this year.
I think she expects the same of me that she expects of everyone else in my class. Mrs. Crowder supports me and gives me confidence in myself.
(Who Just Happen to be Dyslexic)
Question: Harry was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2007. Before he was formally diagnosed, had you decided "this is it, this is all he will ever be able to do?" Did you make peace with what appeared to be diminished learning abilities and lower your expectations of Harry academically?
Gloria R.: Alan (Harry's father) and I have never given up on Harry. There were times in the beginning when our frustration matched or rivaled Harry's. I felt helpless but I knew that there was something wrong with him that could be fixed. He had so many other interests and excelled in specific areas. He is very inquisitive. Harry loves science and nature...he loves to be outside. He can tear apart or put together anything. But he just couldn't get the hang of reading. I have always felt that Harry was very intelligent. So no, I have never lowered or considered lowering my expectations of him.
Question: Did any of Harry's previous teachers make excuses for his reading difficulties? Do you think they had lowered their expectations due to their observations?
Gloria R.: Oh definitely, definitely. His first grade teacher kept telling me that he was just developing a little slower than the other students. She said that little boys are slower at learning some things than little girls. Looking back, I honestly think she was using that as an excuse because she didn't want his reading troubles to be a reflection on her as a teacher.
Before we changed schools in second grade, Harry's teacher kept telling us that he needed to work harder. The problem was that he worked so hard with so few results that both he and I would end up in tears every night because of the constant struggling. Again, I think his teacher didn't want Harry's reading to be a reflection on her as a teacher. When we decided to enroll him in public school, his teacher broke down and said she was a failure. I guess I can see where she was coming from but Alan and I were only doing what was best for Harry.
Question: Once Harry was diagnosed, his academic performance began to change as did his attitude. Do you think that it is fair to say that both you and his teachers increased your expectations of Harry?
Gloria R.: For sure. After Harry got his 504 in place everything began turning around. Once he saw that he could be successful his confidence level soared. He was excited to go to school everyday. He put forth more effort than ever before. It was like his "want to" switch was turned on. We began to see a whole new child. I always had high expectations for Harry in school, but once I saw him bask in the light of success I wanted him to keep it up. I would like to think that he doesn't feel that Alan and I pressure him to do well. It's just that I thought it was always there... now show us what you are made of.
As his teacher last year, you pushed Harry to do his best. I always found it refreshing how you expect the same from all of your students. I remember what you told your class at the beginning of the year: "Try your best and you will be successful." You never singled out a specific group or child, but you looked for the best in all of your students. And they tried their best not only for you and the other fourth grade teachers, but for themselves. Harry has told me that sometimes when something was really hard he didn't want to give up. It was important to him to do his best. Fortunately, that drive has traveled with him to fifth grade.
Question: In your opinion, should and do teachers formulate student expectations based on socio-economic, race, gender, or cognitive ability biases or should student expectations be equal for all learners?
Gloria R.: I do believe that there are teachers who build their expectations according to the type of children they teach. A child that has a horrible home life with little parental support may not be expected to be as successful as a child living in a stable environment. To me that means you don't give up on them or expect any less. Instead you need to find ways to bridge the gap. Discover ways that you, as the teacher, and other school staff can help this child. The color of a child's skin or whether they are a boy or a girl shouldn't matter either.
As far as a child with a cognitive disability is concerned, I think that all children should be held to certain expectations. A child with a severe mental or physical disability may not be able to learn as quickly or as much as another student, but they do have the ability to learn on some level. Those are the students who often try the hardest. I know that Harry's disability makes him unique. Even with a learning disability, his teachers hold him to the same general behavior and academic expectations as they hold other fifth graders.
Question: In your opinion, should and do teachers formulate student expectations based on socio-economic, race, gender, or cognitive ability biases?
Mrs. Crowder: I do not believe that a teacher should modify student expectations based on a specific set of conditions. An African-American female and a white male should not be held to any set of expectations based on skin color or gender. A child receiving free lunch is no different from a child paying for his lunch each day. I expect all of my students to try their best academically. Lots of teachers concentrate on academic expectations and forget about behavior. In fifth grade I remind my students to be good decision makers because they are role models to the younger children. Making poor decisions directly impacts student behavior, which ultimately impacts learning.
I believe that children with cognitive disabilities should be held to the same expectations as other students, within reason. Depending upon the severity of the disability, it is impossible to expect a child to perform under the same standards as a normal learner. The same disability may also influence the child's behavior, which limits expectations. Factors including severity of the disability, motivation of the learner, and the willingness to teach all learners will dictate a teacher's expectations.
Do teachers formulate expectations based on biases? Sure they do and early on I was just as guilty as the rest. I like to think that in the past forty years I have honed my expectations as a teaching professional.
Question: What are some expectations that you have of all of your students?
Mrs. Crowder: I expect my students to try their best, be positive role models, treat others fairly, tell the truth, and show respect to both peers and adults. I expect my students have an open mind with which they learn many new things. Of course with the SOLs, I expect my students to learn the concepts necessary to be successful on standardized tests. The outcomes are not always what I would like them to be, but I am happy if they tried their best. Effort is the biggest part of the battle.
Question: Let's talk about Harry R. Is he a unique example of a student with a learning disability? Do you modify your expectations of him in any way?
Mrs. Crowder: Harry is definitely a unique case. I do not hold him to the same expectations in Reading and Writing as I do my other students because of his dyslexia. His grades are above average in all subjects, more so in Math and Science. In fact, he was tested for the gifted and talented program and I am recommending him for Honors Math in sixth grade. Aside from his reading difficulties, Harry is an above average student.
Looking back, I suppose I do modify my expectations of Harry. I know he has great ability. Often I get frustrated with him because he does not take his time, gets confused, and makes careless mistakes. He does great things. His writing has improved tremendously and he did pass his Writing SOL test. That's something that we all were biting our nails over! I encouraged him to enter the writing contest earlier in the year and he chose to write to Henry Winkler. He is the author of the Hank Zipzer series. He won an honorable mention for Virginia. His self confidence soared due to his success.
One of Harry's loves is magic. This entire school year he has toted around a copy of a biography on Harry Houdini. I mean, this is a high school level read! It took him six months to read that book, but he was determined to finish it. This year he performed for the second time in our school talent show, incorporating ideas and tricks from Houdini's biography. His determination is unbelievable!
Undoubtably, yes! I expect huge things from Harry now and in the future.
- Author Unknown
Harry R. opens our eyes to how teacher expectations can vary based on an individual. Although he has a learning disability, his personal expectations are very high. He bases these expectations on feedback from his teachers and his parents. Harry uses the word "pushes" when he describes Mrs. Crowder motivational strategies. While he recognizes that extra push, he still believes that he is treated like every other student in his class. I perceive that extra push to be symbolic of a higher level of teacher expectations.
Gloria R. speaks to the expectations of Harry's past and present teachers. She notes that in earlier grades some teacher's expectations were lowered for Harry and makes a connection to teacher performance. This reiterates research that shows that expectations are often teacher centered (Rubie-Davies, 2006). Gloria R. recognizes the connection between Harry's academic improvement and the increase in expectations from his teachers.
As a veteran teacher, Mrs. Crowder shares a few of the general expectations that she holds for all of her students regardless of their learning ability. She recognizes that Harry had diminished reading and writing abilities and does not hold him to the same academic expectations in those areas. Harry's giftedness in other areas, in conjunction with his ability and drive, have lead her to hold him to a higher level of expectations.
In my opinion, it is important for new and current teachers to formulate expectations not based on bias, but on the student as an individual. All students, regardless of achievement labels, should be held to similar general expectations. The exception to this should be based only on the severity of a cognitive disability and its impact on learning and behavior. Teachers must think of the student first and ignore self interests.
(from Relationships Matter, Educational Leadship, September 2006)
1. Which of the following is NOT a typical bias that many teachers use to formulate student expectations?
B. Individual school success
D. Socio-economic status
2. Based on Weinstein's research findings, students believe which of the following:
A. Teachers have a negative relationship with both high and low achievers
B. Teachers have a positive relationship with high achievers.
C. Teachers have a positive relationship with low achievers.
D. Teachers ordinarily do not form close relationships with their students.
3. Nancy is a fourth grade student who has a specific learning disability which makes it difficult for her to learn in math class. Her grades are average to above average. She loves to read and excels in art. Nancy is a hard worker with great ability and puts forth her best effort in the classroom each day. Given this information, the teacher's expectations of Nancy are most likely to be:
A. Exactly the same for Nancy as for her other students.
B. Extremely high because of her giftedness in art.
C. Lower in math due to her learning disability, otherwise the same as her classmates.
D. Very low because she has a learning disability.
4. Marcus, an African-American twelve year old, is mildly mentally retarded and suffers from cystic fibrosis. He attends a public school and is taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE). He loves to go to P.E. class with the students in his homeroom and is well behaved. Although he has limited physical and cognitive abilities, Marcus always puts forth his best effort and has a wide smile on his face. Which of the following best describes the expections that Marcus' P.E. teacher should have for him based on his abilities?
A. The teacher doesn't want Marcus in the class at all because he is afraid that he will get injured.
B. The teacher has the same expectations for Marcus that he has for the entire class.
C. The teacher should have high expectations because of his enthusiasm for P.E.
D. The teacher should have lower expectations for Marcus regarding physical activities due to his disabilities, but the same behavioral expectations as the rest of the class.
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