No, I wasn't in the bathtub and discover the theory of displacement, but it felt almost as momentous. Sometimes teaching children who have come from a different and deprived background is challenging. It stretches me in ways I didn't expect and sometimes it requires me to play detective. This morning was one of those mornings.
It is always a mystery to me when H. and I hit a road block in terms of school. We'll be going happily along and suddenly it's like a switch flips and we're not going happily along anymore. My first question is always: have we changed to a new seizure medicine? As I've written before, that can play havoc with learning. But this time, no changes in medicine. I couldn't figure out where we stumbled. And the trouble with stumbling on one thing is that it sets in motion a chain reaction that then causes us to stumble on everything. With H., success causes more success and misunderstanding brings complete and total shutdown. I'll leave it at yesterday was a not a banner homeschooling day for either of us and I was feeling a bit of a failure by the end of the day as well. Pretty yucky all the way around.
Today I decided to start with something I new she would be successful at and then move onto math, which in a complete reversal from previous years has turned into a really good subject for her. Since we were on a roll, I decided to try one more time the thing that derailed us yesterday... accompanied by an enormously deep breath. At first, it appeared that we were going to get stuck again and it baffled me. Here is what was happening. (I share this because it might help someone else and we did figure out what was wrong so it is no longer an issue.)
It was a word in her Draw-Write-Now book, which she loves. It was 'arrived'. To help her decode it, I took off the 'd' and had her start with 'arrive', shortening it even further with the syllable '-rive'. This she sounded out and it seemed a simple matter to add the 'a' sound at the front. Seemed. It was mysterious. She could read '-rive' and 'a-' separately, but when I asked her to put them together she would inevitably says, "ave," leaving out the entire interior of the word. At first I couldn't figure out what was happening. Could she not see the inside of the word? Could she not remember what she had just said? What would make someone do this? After figuratively slamming my head into the table I tried something else. I used another similar word to see if the same thing would happen... and it did. She could sound out the parts separately, but when I asked her to put the two parts together, the entire middle was left out. Arrrhhh....
And then came the Eureka! moment. If you are trying to make a word with one syllable, one sound, you have to leave out the extra ones and it makes sense to say the beginning and ending and leave out the middle. This is what she was doing. In her mind, 'a-' was one sound or work and '-rive' was another. There is no way to say arrive with one syllable. So she did the best she could to make it into one. H. was operating under one set of assumptions and I was operating under another. English is awash with multi-syllabic words, Mandarin.. not so much.
To test my theory, H. and I talked about words having different sounds and having to say each sound in order. We counted sounds. We wrote numbers underneath each sound. And then we read the two different parts of the word and afterward, with bated breath, I asked her to put them together. AND SHE DID! There was great relief all the way around. For me, for the other children having to listen to this going on, and especially for H. We are all so happy I almost felt like throwing a party.
The moral of the story? I have found that 99% of the time, when I have a child making the same error over and over, there really is an underlying reason. It's my job as teacher is to figure out where everything went wrong. If I have a child failing, it's not their fault, but it's my responsibility. The moral is to keep digging.