Concerned about your student’s progress at school? (part 2)

As a former school psychologist, here are my “insider” tips… Missed Part 1? Check it out here.

Today’s post is all about presenting common referral concerns when you find your young learners struggle:

1. Recognize efforts.

Sometimes tensions are running high. The teacher seems averse to helping Tommy. Tommy seems averse to working with the teacher. The reading specialist does not see a problem. You seeing the reading specialist as the problem. Whatever. The point is everyone must come together to resolve the issue for the sake of the child. When approaching issues with school faculty and staff, try to first recognize the efforts of the school– even if you must seemingly pull something out of the air (but hopefully you won’t have to!). For example, “Thank you, Ms. Smith, for meeting me today. I really appreciate your time– I know you are very busy!” “Thank you, Mr. Jones, for all the notes home. I really appreciate your efforts to keep us in the loop.” “Thank you, Ms. Garcia, for taking the time to perform all these additional assessments.”

2. Use objective language.

Okay, now we are getting into the meat of it. How do you communicate your actual concerns? Start (at home!) by brainstorming objective language you will use to describe your concerns. This means using language that reflects your observations, not so much your feelings. So for example, you may start with “Tommy is a mess!” and change it to “We have noticed that Tommy is struggling with chronic disorganization– the planner, the binder, the managing of time and assignments, etc.”

Most academic skills are fairly easy to describe objectively. What’s more difficult is describing behavior objectivly. In grad school, they drilled this into us, and you may wish to enlist a professional here (self-promotion plug!). But it may look like something like this… instead of, “Jane is always tantruming at home, she shows no respect,” to “Jane has become very defiant at home, mostly when we want compliance for basic family expectations. We may ask her to begin her homework and she will burst into tears, slam doors, hide under the bed…”

Keep notes on behavior and progress you see at home.
Keep notes on behavior and progress you see at home.

3. Try to quantify.

Besides translating the referral concern into objective terms, parents (and schools) must work to translate the referral concern into quantifiable terms. This means beginning to think about the data points that you believe are important and even how you are monitoring them. You may just feel your daughter is struggling with reading… but what have you noticed about this struggle? In my next post, I will discuss some suggested data points. But, for example, you may have noticed she avoids reading. When you get her to read, she has trouble sounding out new words. The rate at which she reads seems to not be improving. And so on.

Here are more examples of how I would reframe referral concerns so that we know exactly what we need to be doing.

“Tommy can’t read. He isn’t retaining anything, no matter how we work with him.” You may try: “We’ve been working with Tommy 4 nights a week for 30 minutes a night. We are reading the leveled books the teacher sends home. We preview words with Tommy, then have him read to us. We try to help him sound out words but we notice he forgets the sounds that go with certain letter combinations (bonus points if you bring in examples!). We have noticed reading is not becoming any easier for Tommy, his speed and accuracy are not improving.”

“We are getting a lot of reports that Janey isn’t paying attention at school. She isn’t focused at home, either. We have to constantly remind her to do everything.” You may try: “We are getting a lot of reports that Janey isn’t paying attention in school– the PE teacher, the art teacher, and the classroom teacher. At home we are noticing that she struggles with verbal instructions and staying focused for more than 5 minutes on homework. She does argue and get frustrated with all our reminders.”

These revised referral concerns may seem simple, but they reflect excellent observations. Tommy’s parent is demonstrating the work they do at home and how they do it. They have shown exactly what they have noticed and hopefully the teacher will have observed this as well and can offer feedback on new interventions to try. In Janey’s example, the parent has picked up on what could be working memory and sustained attention issues.

Problem solving will happen with the school team, but you are part of that team so I encourage you to embrace your role as detective and evidence gatherer.

Tune in for part 3 here

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