Today there was an assignment on the exploration of the Americas for the special ed class I had today. It involved my reading to them a page with four paragraphs and answering a series of questions. When they asked for help, I would tell them what paragraph the answer is in. Sometimes, I’d have to get more specific.

The final paragraph read:

Ponce de Leon returned to Spain in 1514. The king of Spain was pleased with his discovery. He appointed Ponce de Leon governor of Florida and gave him a royal grant to colonize it. In 1521, he again landed in Florida with two ships and 200 men. The Indians there fought with the colonists. Ponce de Leon was badly wounded in battle. He died soon afterwards at the age of 61.

The question was: What title did the king give Ponce de Leon?

Student complained that she couldn’t find the answer.

I told her that it was in the couple of sentences of the paragraph.

Ponce de Leon returned to Spain in 1514. The king of Spain was pleased with his discovery. He appointed Ponce de Leon governor of Florida and gave him a royal grant to colonize it.

Still no luck. I rephrased the question. “What job did the king appoint Ponce de Leon to?”


No, it was a job in Florida.

Royal grant?


It says royal grant.

That’s not the answer, though.

But I can’t find the answer.

Keep looking.

Five minutes later… King of Spain?

No, the King of Spain appointed de Leon for a job. What job?

I don’t understand.

If I am the teacher of the classroom, what is Ponce de Leon to Florida?

The teacher?

Keep looking.

It’s in {points} this sentence:

He appointed Ponce de Leon governor of Florida and gave him a royal grant to colonize it.

Five minutes pass.

Is it colonize?

Read it again.

I can’t find it.

This process was repeated with “Who did the colonists fight that were already here when they arrived?” Also, “What did the King of Spain want Ponce de Leon to do to Florida.” I can’t recall that she answered a single question without a significant amount of guidance (though none perplexed her as much as that one).


I figure there are four possibilities:

(1) She can’t read. At all. I’ve had her before and I would think that I might have noticed something like this. But maybe not.

(2) She can read, but doesn’t understand these particular words. The thing about this one is that she speaks at about a 4th or 5th grade level. I never have trouble understanding her. She seems to understand what words mean. Otherwise, I’d just assume this.

(3) She can read, but doesn’t understand the point of reading. That the answer is in the content of the question rather than simply finding the right word. She’s impatient and trying to find a short cut. Though, as with four, it took her longer to hash this out with me than it would have for her to read it.

(4) She can read, but has learned that expressing frustration will get someone to give you the answer. Though, as with three, the whining was more effort than the reading would be.

I’m not sure what the least depressing answer of the four is.

Category: School

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Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

6 Responses to Reading About Florida

  1. no more mr nice guy says:

    Even a very lazy student would have understood the meaning of the sentences of the paragraph.

    If she speaks at about a 4th or 5th grade level, it means she may have some cognitive problems and it can explain why she was not able to understand the sentences of the paragraph..

  2. mike shupp says:

    My two cents….

    Your student is reading “literally”; i.e., she is looking for matching terms rather than comprehending. E.g., a text reads “Sam handed Bob a green ball.” If asked “What did Sam hand Bob?” the student will find the magic word “hand” and go on to “A green ball.” If asked, “Did Sam give anything to Bob?” the student will look at that sentence over and over, and be unable to answer the question because “give” is not part of the text.

    Your student has speech. She uses and understands oral language. She knows that a ball is round, for example. She doesn’t look at at “ball” written down on paper and imagine something round; what’s on paper is simply a squiggle; she’s learned to say “ball” when she recognizes that particular squiggle, but it’s an empty sound.

    I’ll make a guess — she’s not very good at understanding similes and metaphors. She’s probably not good at coming up with similes and especially bad to creating antonyms. She does make elaborate comparisons.

    How you get her beyond this point, I don’t know. A suggestion: Have her read aloud quite a bit, until she absorbs the idea that the world of print actually is linked to the world of oral speech. Later on, you can try for silent reading.

    Two cents more. “The king of Spain was pleased with his discovery. He appointed Ponce de Leon governor of Florida and gave him a royal grant to colonize it.”

    This doesn’t look tough to you or me NOW, but I recall such sentences being daunting as an elementary student. It isn’t obvious — immediately, instantly, beyond fear of contradiction-style obvious — whom all those he’s and his’ and him’s refer to, AND THERE AREN’T RULES TO GIVE US ANSWSERS. We have to try substitutions (“pleased with his discovery” — is that “pleased with his own royal discovery”? or “pleased with Ponce’s disovery”? Uh, I guess the last idea works best.).

    We get better at this with time and experience, of course, and after a while it generally goes quickly enough that we don’t recognize what we’re doing. (To make my point, imagine some interactions — politial plots, let’s say — between three or four individuals, with pronouns liberally interspersed rather than names or titles or other defining terms. You could drive even the sanest of men bats!)

    Your student isn’t doing this automatically. I’m not sure what a cure might be, other than to gain experience. Find something she likes to read and keep her reading. is my suggesting, even if it’s slushy and even if it’s below her academic grade. Over time, she should advance.

  3. mike shupp says:

    Agh! A correction: third paragraph “She does NOT make…” Sorry about that!

    Also… feel free to piss on my suggestions. It’s been almost 60 years since I started reading, and I didn’t have the problems your student is having, so I can’t claim useful experience. You’re the guy in the trenches!

  4. trumwill says:

    I think Shupp gets it about right.

  5. rob says:

    The question was: What title did the king give Ponce de Leon?

    Does she know what a title is when it’s applied to a person? Does she know what a governor is?

  6. trumwill says:

    Rob, the question itself caused a number of people in the class to need help. Most of the students, though, were able to understand when I re-framed the question “What job did the King appoint Ponce de Leon to?”

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