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Take Me and My Letterboard Out to the Ballgame

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November 5, 2016

About two months ago at school, I'd just started having short bursts of success with teach-ask on the RPM stencil with a non-speaking student of Korean descent. One September morning, we were taking a break, and my intern, who happens to speak Korean, asked the student if he speaks Korean at home. He spelled, "GRANDPARENTS." My intern then said something to him in Korean and my student spelled out, "ALWAYS" on the board with me. Well, I'm not a speaker of Korean, so I asked my intern what he'd said. He told me he asked, "Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"


I know that many people have doubts about whether students using stencils, letterboards, or other forms of FC are authentically generating their messages or if they're being influenced by their communication partners. Clearly, this story shows that this kiddo isn't being influenced. I also know that often we see or hear stories like this one and we're blown away! These kids are savants! They know all the math! All the languages! ALL the languages!


We need to stop being blown away.


Yesterday I met this same student at his classroom door to walk downstairs for dismissal. He grabbed his laminate letterboard, brought it to me and spelled, "MEIN VATER IS SEHR. WHATS THE WORD FOR LATE?" I think I blinked a few times, had a minor panic attack while my brain rapid-recalled the one year of high school German I spent passing notes with my friends, and then readjusted: OHkay.  So we're speaking German today. We googled late (it's spät, btw) and headed downstairs to get on DAS BUS. (It turns out it's der bus, but we can probably save the lesson on gendered nouns for another day...) When I checked in with his mom and dad, it turns out that he likes to listen to Chuggington (an animated kids' series) in German. 


Not a mysterious savant with unexplained intellectual prowess. Not an intellectually disabled kid being influenced by his communication partner. A smart kid that we need to address and teach like other smart kids. 


Because when we treat kids with stories like these (which I agree should be celebrated, for the record) as amazing! inspiring! miraculous! we make the basic presumption that they are the few among the crowd. The top one percent of the 1 in 68. And isn't that what needs to change? What if ALL 68 are just waiting for the opportunity to grab a letterboard and bust out just ein bissen Deutsch?



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