Kadir has a long road ahead of him. His IQ sits well below the average, he has trouble paying attention, and he probably could be situated on the autism spectrum as well. He has a hard road ahead of him.
We've been working for a year, but most intensely since January when his mom pulled him from school and started a homeschool program that was done in self-defense. I don't think, long-term, that Sherri can be his best possible teacher, but it may be that she will be his best available teacher. I cannot be his best possible teacher, either, and next year I hope to be back in some classroom somewhere and I truly cannot be his teacher anymore. And that's all said and done and we know this is a short term arrangement.
We took spring break off, and we're taking this Friday off as well, but met today so I could see what was going on with him and what he should do this week with his mom. We started with more map skills, which are just about impossible for him. I need to stop pulling things off the internet and make my own map skills sheets because we need to start at extreme basics. Extreme.
I sat there at the table with him and thought, my God, nothing I'm doing is helping. He is just as incapable of simple tasks as he was when we first met. I was discouraged, and my jaw hurt a bit and my patience was low. I took two ibuprofen (I'm down from 4, so that's good--I do want to someday not be in chronic pain, I mean, is that too much to ask?) and got a cup of coffee. Time to try again with something different.
He's working in a spring semester 1st grade math book (Singapore Math). Some things go well (he knows a lot of his multiplication tables). Some things do not. He has no concept of place value. He cannot subitize (quick mental calculation of the number of objects in front of him--to see if you can subitize, toss a few coins on the table and tell me how many are there. If you don't have to point and count, you can subitize). He doesn't understand time or money.
He has a long hard road ahead of him.
We are working on addition up to 100, some across the ten ("carry the one" for those us from older math terms). The book has lots of methods to do this, and works from the concrete to the abstract. We're working through this bit by bit and the most frustrating part isn't that he doesn't really get it, but that he doesn't get the pattern. There will be 5 problems on the page that follow a pattern and each one is brand spanking new.
I've been here before. I taught a classroom full of children, my first year in the classroom, who did not understand pattern. Later at my parish school, most students did and the ones who didn't were so confused and confusing. I remember reading, so long ago, that this is a symptom of learned helplessness, but I can't give you a reference. I don't remember when I learned it. But the idea is that if you don't have any patterns in your life, if nothing makes sense and nothing can be changed, then a page full of addition problems are each individual confusing crazy things to be tackled, each one is new and each one is hard. There is no pattern.
This is Kadir. Completely.
And then there was today. After the map page failure, he asked me if we could do some math. It was like his brain woke up from spring break for a moment and I pulled out the math book. It was adding ones, with the tens staying the same, or the opposite. (For instance, 54 + 2, where the ones place changes (6) and the tens (50) does not; or 72 + 20, where the ones place stays the same (2) and the tens changes (90)). The page started out the same as it always has:
Kadir looks at the picture of 5 bundles of 10 sticks and 3 extra sticks and starts counting from zero instead of understanding that this is 53 (the number is right below) and he can start counting from 53 and add those 4 extra sticks to get 57. I stop him. I cover up the picture of 53 and just let the 4 sit there. "Start from what you know is true."
"But how do I know it's true?"
In a flash I saw classroom experiences where nothing is solid and everything is a trick. Conversations with Fiona's teacher when we were writing her 504 plan: is school a place of learning or a place to trip kids up? Asking my principal at my parish school, who taught the "smart" algebra kids while I taught the "slower" algebra kids in 8th grade (both groups wound up with the same percentage testing out of algebra I in high school), why on earth she would put "doozies" on a test that hadn't been expressly explained beforehand. Why are tests supposed to be tricks? Why can't they be genuine examples of WHAT YOU TAUGHT and what they learned, not some esoteric example you found in the back of the book that no one has gone to look at because no one knew it was required?
"Kadir, it's true. All the numbers on the left-hand side of this page are pictured right above them." I point to all the examples. "You start with that number and use the picture to add either more tens or more ones."
He looks at me, like he's trying to figure out what I mean by that. I show him. We do two of them together. We look. We prove. We do. He does the other three alone. On the next page, there are pairs of problems. 50 + 40 =, followed by 52 + 40 =. All of them follow the same pattern. Two sets of tens added together, and then one of those sets has something in the ones place. All the answers keep the ones place the same from the first number. I point this out with the first one. He looks and nods.
He does the page correctly. Still counting on his fingers, but now by tens: "50. 60, 70, 80, 90--92!" All of them correct, all of them the same pattern.
This is only the first step. He needs to be able to see the patterns in the world, now, and remember the patterns from the safe environment of the workbook. He's nowhere near knowing, spontaneously, what 34 + 40 might be. But that scaffold can be built.
I don't regret letting Sherri know I can't continue next fall and that they needed to find more resources if homeschooling continued, or a good classroom otherwise. I don't--I cannot spend my whole life tutoring Kadir and bringing him to a point where he can count change and read a map and so forth.
But I kind of wish I could.