Advice on Speaking with Child's Teacher

My 8-year-old daughter is dyslexic as well as inattentive ADHD. She attends a private school and is on an ISP. After reviewing her recent report card, she broke out into tears at the low marks she received. She was especially heartbroken over getting the lowest possible marks in two categories: “listens/follows directions” and “shows effort.”

Do you have any recommendations on how to address this with the teacher? I feel as though her work does not always represent the amount of effort that she puts into it. This is a child who is tutored all summer long and after school during the school year. She works extremely hard to try and keep up, and I just want to make sure the teacher understands how hard she works.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

I feel for your daughter. It seems her teacher is unaware of the challenges for a student with dyslexia, particularly relative to the amount of additional effort expended to access the curriculum when compared to her peers without reading disorder. Additionally, her attentional challenges would significantly impact her ability to listen and follow directions. We need to help this teacher understand your daughter's learning needs in order to adapt her teaching style and expectations so that your daughter meets with success. As Richard Lavoie advocates, students should leave our rooms with more chips (i.e., positive feedback creating a positive sense of self as a learner) in their baskets than when they walked in the door. This teacher needs to learn how to fill your daughter's basket.

I highly recommend having the teacher read the book "A Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. It's a wonderful story about the transformation of a student with dyslexia after she is assigned to a teacher who understands her profile of strengths and weaknesses (i.e., figures out that she cannot read). You should read it with your daughter. Buy a copy for her teacher (every year). It is a wonderful book to read with the entire class.

Here is a piece I wrote for teachers.

It seems that your daughter is not getting her accommodations fully implemented, particularly relative to her ADHD needs. You might meet with the teacher, the principal, and your daughter's support team to discuss how the report card devastated your daughter and to come up with a plan so that she receives marks that keep in mind her accommodations and better reflect her perceived efforts in those areas. Above all, her self-esteem needs to be preserved! Use the sandwich technique -- "I really appreciate ___________. My daughter needs this to change____________. Again, I really appreciate your effort in ________.”

I might also meet with the principal separately and suggest some professional development for all of the teachers since your daughter will be moving on to the next grade, and we want to ensure that her teachers know how to best support her learning and self-confidence. This will not only benefit your daughter but all students with learning differences and disorders. I find, in my work with the schools, that teachers have just not been trained in teaching the student with dyslexia, so just don’t know. Also, students with ADHD-Inattentive Type can be misunderstood since they are not hyperactive and jumping out of their seat or interrupting the class. An inservice on this topic and how it impacts learning would be beneficial as well. It is my experience that teachers do want their students to succeed, and most are amenable to learning new ways to support them.

I hope you are able to make some inroads at the school and that your daughter has a report card that better reflects her effort and an understanding of her learning and attentional challenges.