Phonics/ whole language, Educational Testing and French Immersion

I’m looking to the amazing knowledge of the Dopers. Sorry this is long and rambling.

My son, who will be six in a week, is currently in Grade 1. He started school young, obviously because he is a “December Baby”. He is bright though, loves computers, “How it’s made” has very strong skills in making connections, or finding similarities/differences between things. He loves books, or used to, and story time has always been a favourite. He likes to play office, and build desks, computers out of whatever he finds… a shoe box, a piece of rope, some lego for the keyboard, etc. In a word, he is bright.

He had a speech delay as a child, that was mainly due to problems with hearing. i noted it around 18 months but he finally got resolution about a year later. The day he had tubes put in his ears he commented on hearing the radio on the way from the hospital (Mommy Car Singing!) and by the end of the weekend he was regularly speaking in full sentences. He has an extensive vocabulary and talks like a little adult. He is also an only child, and a bit “slow to warm up” with his peer group although very gregarious and out going with adults. I have had reports to this effect all through his schooling days starting with a very good licensed daycare.

Fast forward, my little man is in Grade One, and he is in French Immersion, which he started last year in Kindergarten. (He had a year of Junior Kindergarten in English the previous year). It is full time teaching of French Language usuing the same ciriculum as the English stream but all teaching is in French. This is public school and no extra charge for me. He is having problems with reading, which I had noted earlier but tried not to over think it, and hoped “he will learn when he is ready”. Now it is becoming a problem, out of 24 words he “should know” by this point (mostly two letter and three letter words) he was successful at only 7 of them. His teacher has put him in some extra help on Mondays and Fridays but the remedial or special education (whatever they call it these days) is only available in English. I completely agreed to any help I could get him. I have also been working with him in English and in French with flash cards to get his words and phonics down.

I also asked if he could be tested because none of his work reflects his knowledge base. I know he has a before/after confusion, a tendency to read letters out of order, some confusion about the lower case letters b and d, and other things that make me wonder about dyslexia or other learning problems. This is quite independant of language.

His verbal French and his comprehension is coming along. He gets reinforcement at home,as my partner is fully bilingual with French as his first language. (No accent, and although primary and secondary school was in French, his college was in Engish and he has worked in both languages as an adult) We speak English at home, although I try to improve my French which is functional but not quite fluent, and I simply have not used it much in the last 20 years.

Anyhow, today I get an email reply from his teacher. I asked that my son be tested and they say he cannot because he has not had schooling in English the results would not be valid. (Specifically the WIATT), and they would prefer to wait a year to test him.

I am obviously concerned. The knee jerk reaction is of course, pull him out of French Immersion, and focus on the English. However, I don’t think its the language, its the actually decoding what is on the page, and thats regardless of what language he is in.

Any suggestions? Should I push for him to be tested anyway? Go to private edcational systems like Scholars or Sylvan for testing/extra help? Continue to work with him and have him tested next year? Disrupt his world and his friendships by taking him out of FI and putting him into the English stream?

Of course Im not going to make life altering changes by doing something “because a stranger on a message board told me to do that” and you are not my son’s teacher, yada yada… but any thoughts? Advice? Anyone in similar circumstances? Any special education teachers on the board with their thoughts?

Any commentary?

Should I be pushing for testing?
I realize it was long and rambling, but anyone have any thoughts?

How is he being taught? The fact that he’s supposed to be somehow recognizing words may not bode well for him - he needs to be decoding (and taught how to decode).

Sounds to me like he’s getting the same sort of teaching that my nephew got in preschool, where they were never taught “how” or “why” but there was a lot of memorization. Most parents gushed over how their children were being “taught Art already” but it was being able to yell the names of six art posters, for example.

Do I understand correctly that the school is saying he can’t be tested for dyslexia because he’s in FI? That sounds like saying that someone can’t be tested for deafness or near-sightedness because of being in FI: it makes no sense at all.

Do the words they’re supposed to recognize have anything in common other than being short? Most little kids I know are able to recognize nouns faster than other words. The first two lines in the classical Spanish reader were “mi mamá me mima” (my mother pampers me) and “amo a mi mamá” (I love my mommy): as you can see, what they have in common is that we were being taught the letter M.

If you think there is something wrong then you should have him tested. That you are prepared at least in theory to pull him out of school suggests to me that you think something serious is up. I trust your feelings about this and you should too. School personnel often say the opposite but my own experience is that the mother of a child when she is honest with herself knows better than anyone whether or not something is up.

The bilingual issue is a thorny one if you are in the US and not in a large city. I took my Dutch/English bilingual child to Holland to have him tested the first time, because there they at least spoke both languages. Even here the quality of the testing has been, er, spotty. ** In general, though, if the money is there I would consider having him privately tested. The reason is that sometimes a WISC or a WIAT is given in order to see if there is a big enough gap between performance and verbal scores to, in itself, diagnose a language disorder. The trouble with that is that then the IQ score is available and people reach all kinds of annoying conclusions based on it. Since the tests are normed to monolingual kids’ vocabularies, they are indeed not always reliable.

But get his hearing tested again by a real live audiologist first thing out of the box. It is a very common source of problems and is often overlooked.

Does he also have trouble with above/below, in front/behind, left/right?

What does his teacher think is the issue and why is she urging waiting a year? If the problem is dyslexia, surely he should be getting a DEST-II or a DDT?
**He received for example an IQ result of 134 and of 70 within a year and a half and tester # 2 insists to this day that this is because kids’ IQ scores often drop as they get older.

He’s very young, yet. In most areas of the U.S., your son would still be in kindergarten, because they make kids with fall birthdays wait that extra year. It would not be considered a problem or unusual that he was at this stage of his reading development.

He had speech delay/hearing issues.

He’s in French immersion classes.

Those are three excellent reasons not to worry this year about testing and his reading. The best thing you can do is try not to transmit anxiety or allow him to feel he’s not measuring up at this point. If his teacher is comfortable about the pace of his development, considering how much kids vary at his age, then his classroom experience should be fine.

First of all, I am in Canada, Ontario to be precise. Basically my choices for schooling are English Public Schoolboard, English Stream, English Public School Board; French Immersion, Catholic School Board English or FI, or the French Language (Catholic) School Board, which he can attend because his “Stepdad” has French Language Rights. (Educated in French Language), but which is not practical because it really requires French to be the first language in the home.

The school seems to be big on “sight words” which require memorization, and pretty weak on the whole phonics thing. Which is funny, because every remedial approach, or extra help or whatever go back to phonics to help them. IANAEST ( I Am Not An Elementary School Teacher) but if the “extra help” you are offering my son is working with word sounds and putting them together to make the words he should know, why isn’t this being done in the classrooms?

The words on his French sight word list are things like va, ta, sa, ca (with the cidille, which my partner thinks is advanced) ma, mon, ton, son, voici, voila, Je, tu, il, ell, est, c’est, il y a. So, (translation I, you, he, she… is are his, hers my yours … not even many words to build sentences with. Just “know these words”)

I never really knew there was a problem until a few weeks ago, before any comments were based on his social development, which I addressed earlier. Suddenly, he’s not keeping up… wasn’t there signs before now? He’s not the first December Baby in FI, and not the first kid to fall behind in the early months of Grade 1.

The idea of letting my son flounder for a year before he gets tested frightens me. I already see a change in his attitude, last year he loved school, this year I see him less eager to hop on that bus in the morning. I’ve got a call in for hearing testing and other things I can do independantly. Next week I plan on talking with his teacher more, (Night shifts this week, so Ive been sleeping during her “prep time” that is allocated for things like lesson planning and talking to parents…10-1030…I go to bed at 8 to get up for 3pm)

He does have problems with before/after, here/there, on/under/over, following my arm to find something I am pointing at. He knows left from right, however and is right handed, (never “switched” because I’m a proud lefty) but yesterday/tomorrow confuses him … On Sunday he described something that had happened Friday as being Two days after yesterday) and he descibes his toddler toys as being “Too old for him so can he give them to someone with a baby?”

Thanks for the responses everyone, even you Chicken Fingers, because I am trying very hard not to transmit my anxiety to him. You and my partner are on the same page, and I do have to think about the fact that not every school board would have him in Grade 1 right now.