School was Chool

He was new to my class, staying with a foster family in our area. I noticed right away that, though this was second grade, he spoke like he was three, maybe four. He had trouble making many speech sounds, particularly s, so spider web was pider web, screamed was creamed, and school was chool. Though he had just been taken from his home and separated from most of his siblings–the siblings that, for the most part, he, the oldest, had been responsible for–his good-natured, hard-working, and loving personality was evident from the moment he walked in. When I pronounced a word for him, emphasizing the s sound, he was able to mimic me and say it correctly. But he needed the model.

His sentence structure was also immature. If he didn’t hear me or didn’t understand something I said, he asked, “What you said?” When the special education teacher came into the classroom, he recognized her and inquired, “Do her need me?”

He used been for was. It been fun. He been walking.

Caterpillar was cat-pill-per, frisbee was frish-jee.

It was apparent that this child had had little interaction with adults, not many opportunities to hear our language used appropriately and effectively, little positive reinforcement with attempts at correct speech, like most young children get day in and day out.

During second grade independent reading time, students read books at their individual level, books that present just a bit of a challenge but with which they can mostly be successful. This student was reading at a mid-kindergarten level, but he could participate in this activity, just like the other students, by reading books that were just right for him. While students read independently, I worked with students one-on-one.

One day, he was reading a book called Worm Smells (written by Kathy Caple, published by Candlewick Press), the text of which is in bold below. The first day I read the book with him, I did most of the reading work, helping him get a sense of the story and the language patterns so that he would then be able to use these structures to read it fairly successfully on his own. The next day, I expected him to do more of the work.

Worm Smells

Worm Sams,” he said as he pointed to the two words on the cover of the book.

“Worm Sams? What does Worm Sams mean? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Worm sssams.” He knew we had been working on the s sound.

“Worm Smells.” I emphasized the word smell. “Worm Smells is the title of this book.”

Worm sees a flower.

Worm see a fower.”

“Good reading, but look at this word.” I point to sees.


“Yes, you have to be sure to say the s sound on the end of the word.”

“Worm seessss a fower.”

“Good. Now, do we call that a fower or a flower?”.

“Flower. Worm sees a flower.”

“Smells nice,” says Worm.

“Sams nice, said Worm. Wait, no d. Sams nice, sayd Worm.”

“You’re right, no d. Smells nice, says Worm.” Here, I emphasized how to say the word says.

“Smells nice, says Worm.”

“Can you show me smells with your face?”

“sssssssmells.” He scrunched his face up and drug the initial s out as long as he could.

“Yes, but what does our face look like when we smell? Can you show me?”


It occurred to me that maybe he didn’t know what the word smell meant. “Watch me.” I sniffed the air in an exaggerated manner. “Now you do it. You smell.”

He sniffed the air.

Of course, there wasn’t anything there, any new smell, so it wasn’t as meaningful as it should have been. I reached in my desk drawer and brought out a small tube of hand lotion. I squeezed a little on the back of my hand and did the same to him.

“What is it?”

“It’s lotion. Let’s rub it in.”

“Oh, I thought it was that sun tuff.”


“Yeah, suncreen.”

“Okay, is it all rubbed in? Now we’re going to smell it. Ready?” I drew my hand to my face and he copied me and we sniffed long and loud, taking in the pleasant scent.

“Now, say ‘Smells nice!’ just like the worm said it.”

“Smells nice!”

“Yes, lotion smells nice, it smells good, just like flowers smell nice.”

Worm sees a pine cone.

“Worm seed, seesssss, a pine cone.”

Somehow, he seemed to know what a pine cone was.

“Smells nice,” says Worm.

“Smells nice, says Worm.” He smelled the back of his hand, glanced at me, smiled, and said, “Smells nice.”

Worm sees a strawberry.

“Worm sees a tawberry.”


“Worm sees a ssstrrrawberry.”

“Smells nice,” says Worm.

“Smells nice, says Worm.”

Worm sees a skunk.

“Worm sees a tunt.”





“Smells bad!” says Worm.

“Smells bad!” says Worm.

It was hard to not spend extra time with this one student, to not let his turn go on and on until he got to the point where he couldn’t take any more instruction.

It was hard to not take him home, to not give him the round-the-clock daily life experiences he so desperately needed for his vocabulary and language development.

So I did as much as I could for him while tending, still, to my 23 other students and their unique needs. I watched him show up every day, happy to be at school, happy to be learning. I watched him practice his langauge and literacy skills as he spoke to me and interacted with his peers, read and wrote on a daily basis.

I couldn’t give him everything he needed, couldn’t make up for everything he had missed, but what I could give him was school.

And school is chool.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. outlawmama
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 12:44:07

    I want you to be my teacher.


  2. Billybucb
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 13:10:34

    What a great post! Bravo! I absolutely loved this, but then having been a teacher i recognize the love you have for your kids. 🙂


    • Randee
      Nov 14, 2013 @ 13:25:26

      Thank you, Bill, for reading and understanding. School really is cool. I wish all of society would get that figured out – from kids to parents to teachers to voters.


  3. farfetchedfriends
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 15:09:20

    Very good!
    I was a TA in a public preschool for a couple of years and I could easily tell who had “real” conversations at home. Not talking with the kiddos definitely gives them a disadvantage in early academics.


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