One of my nine year old students is what we refer to as ‘Twice Exceptional.” This means he is gifted and learning disabled – he is dyslexic. I will refer to him as “M.” I have recently done a lot of work with him on demystification and recognizing his strengths and weaknesses. However, this boy was feeling very unhappy at school as he felt his teachers were not understanding him at all. My coordinator suggested that I get M involved in the problem solving process by asking him to write a letter to all his teachers.
The result was greater than I had ever expected. M had taken all the concepts and terminology I had spoken to him about previously and used it in his letter. The only help he received from me was a reminder to use paragraphs so that his letter was easier to read and to end off his letter by thanking his teachers for reading it.
I cannot insert a copy of M’s letter here as I have not asked his parents for permission to use it. However I can give you an indication of what he wrote.
M started off telling his teachers that he is finding it hard to learn in class because he is Learning Different (LD) He told them that his goal is not to make teachers angry and how much he hates getting into trouble. He wrote about the fact that he has an inquiring mind and so when he is interested in something (a distraction) he finds it hard to pull away from it, so, when he hears the teachers voice in the background he is unable to think about two things at once.
M told his teachers how hard spelling is for him, even though he works very hard at it. He told them that it might always be one of his weaknesses. He also very bravely told his teachers that when they bang on his desk or shout at him, all it achieves is him focusing on the fact that they shouted…so he can’t listen to them anyway. He asked his teachers to use his special focus strategy which is to tap two fingers on his desk to help him focus on the right thing.
M told his teachers that he loves learning and does not want school to be a hard place for him because he is a great thinker.
M’s letter is full of spelling mistakes – as it would be for a true dyslexic child. I did not correct them or help him with any of the spelling, but because he is LD, his poor spelling is part of who he is. It does not take away from the fact that he is a boy with very high intelligence.
I received an email from M’s parents that night saying how emotional they were reading his letter, but that they would treasure it forever. They thanked me for empowering their son.
I presented a scan of M’s letter at our staff meeting last week. It was met with silences and “phews.”
At the end of every school year I get my students to write unaided letters to their new teachers. Wouldn’t it be great if all of our students were able to write honest letters to us about what they are REALLY feeling? We might not like what we read, but it would sure make us more effective teachers!