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Author: Beau Poppen-Abajian

Poppen-Abajian, Beau. “Descriptive Review of a Child: ‘Jane.’” Digication EPortfolio :: Beau Poppen-Abajian's (Señor P's) Teaching Portfolio :: Descriptive Review of a Child, 30 Oct. 2013,

Descriptive Review of a Child: “Jane”

An underlying assumption of the Descriptive Review Process is that each child is active in seeking to make sense of her or his experiences. By describing the child as fully, and in as balanced a way as possible, we begin to gain access to the child's modes of thinking and learning and to see their world from their point of view: what catches their attention, what arouses their wonder and curiosity/ what sustains their interests and purpose. (Prospect Center documentary processes, June 1986)


Will be using the pseudonym Jane.

Jane has no brothers or sisters.

She lives with her mother and mother’s partner of 6 years, who she refers to as dad.

Her biological father is not a part of her life.

Her grandparents see her frequently and live nearby.

Her grandparents are actively and financially supportive of her education.

Jane is 10 years of age.


Third-grade classroom at Hamilton School in Wheeler School.

Private independent school in Providence, Rhode Island, on College Hill.

Hamilton is a school designed for children with clinically diagnosed dyslexia and related learning difficulties.

10 dyslexic students in the class - 6 girls, 4 boys.

Jane’s third-grade class has music, art, physical education, lunch and recess and field trips with Wheeler School two third grade classes

Jane and other Hamilton students have carefully organized Orton-Gillingham, fluency, reading groups which fill about half of each school day - highly specialized to meet student needs.

Most of the students in the class have been at Wheeler since 1st grade, while two students, both girls, came from Gordon School this year.

Jane started school at Cape Cod Academy in Kindergarten, before coming to Hamilton for two years of first grade.

Focusing questions

How can I support Jane's resilience in the face of challenging tasks?

How can I help bring out more of Jane, finding avenues to make school meaningful and productive for her?

How can I empower Jane to take responsibility for finding and using the tools that will scaffold her learning?

1. Physical Presence and Gesture:

· Characteristic gestures and expressions: How are these visible in the child's face, hands, and body attitudes? How do these vary and in response to what circumstances (e.g. inside or outside)

I feel comfortable saying, since I do too, that Jane has gangly frame. She’s slender with long arms, legs and torso-one of the tallest students, if not the tallest, in the class.

Jane has blue eyes, light skin tone, freckles and blonde hair. She has a great smile, but she doesn’t give smileys willy-nilly.

She has an eclectic clothing style, often wearing opposing patterns or a mix of horizontal and vertical stripes. She often wears bold blue Ugg boots to school with long underwear type pants and shirts. She dresses comfortably.

She’s the only student in the class that uses a side bag instead of a backpack to transport her belongings.

She usually moves herself with a slow walk, but sometimes intersperses skipping/hopping.

During “boot camp,” a daily morning run and brain activation exercise, she usually walks her laps, and when she does run has a sort of waddling-ish run with arms flapping.

Jane sometimes uses her hands and arms when she’s speaking to get a point across.

She usually has a calm, almost meditative expression on during lessons, as well as when she’s at recess, often hanging out quietly and without motion somewhere comfortable, like under a tree.

When she’s noticeably deeply concentrating on writing, her brow furrows and you can sense her arm is putting more force on her pencil.

When waiting for a direction, she’s upright in her chair, back straight, with her hands on her desk or in her lap. Sometimes she is slouching in her chair with her arms hanging down.

Especially in the mornings, she may have her head in her palm with her elbow resting on her desk.

· Characteristic level of energy: How would you describe the child's rhythm and pace? How does it vary?

Especially in the mornings, Jane can have a sort of blank facial expression, possibly due to her medication or simply a need for caffeine (her mom gives her a Coke after school).

She often moves slowly.

Her pacing, across the board, is slow in comparison to her peers.

Both in lessons and in transitions, she’ll often need a reminder to pick-up the pace.

Her teachers, including her art teacher, have commented on her slow pace, as well as her attention to detail.

· How would you describe the child's voice (rhythm, expressiveness, and inflection)?

Jane will often answer questions in class with a questioning tone. She can also answer questions in a very matter of fact, sort of “that’s pretty obvious” tone-the most expression and inflection in her voice comes at those times.

Her voice is usually calm and her audibility rarely changes.


2. Disposition:

· How would you describe the child's characteristic temperament and its range (e.g., intense, even, lots of ups and downs)? How are feelings expressed? Fully? Rarely? How do you "read" the child's feelings? Where and how are they visible? What is the child's emotional tone or "color" (e.g., vivid, bright, serene)?

Jane is even-tempered. Even when a student attempted to get her in trouble, she reacted casually. This speaks to her ability to get along with all students.

In a few instances, such as showing Jane a new iPad app to help her with writing, she has gotten quite excited, in her way.

Two times in class this year, she’s become frustrated and started crying. Both times she was working on a writing task.

Jane is able to have open conversations about what helps her and what is challenging to her.

I would say that Jane is difficult to read by her expressions and disposition. She often has me wondering: What does she think of this assignment? What does she noticeably like or have an interest in learning?

3. Relationships with Children and Adults:

· Does the child have friends? How would you characterize these attachments? Are they consistent? Changeable? Is the child recognized within the group? How is that expressed by others? Is the child comfortable in the group? How would you describe the child's casual, day-to-day contact with others? How does that vary? When there are tensions, how do they get resolved? How would you describe the child's relationship to you? To other adults?

Jane is friends with both boys and girls in the class. She also is social with third graders in the Wheeler school classes.

I’ve noticed her being most social with Sam, a boy in the class, and that’s when I see her joking, being imaginative and probably most open. I believe she spends time with this boy outside of school.

At recess, she’ll play games with the girls in the class. Often though, she spends recess in solitude.

Overall, she is cordial with all, but does not have strong attachments to individual peer or peer groups.

Her peers will recognize when Jane is not present, when she may be frustrated or dealing with emotions.

Jane’s overall interactions could be described as somewhat passive.

Jane has worked with a Wheeler upper school female student as a tutor and enjoyed that time and relationship.

Jane can sometimes shutdown when working with adults - for the most part she is receptive to working with adults, but by no means overly open, enthusiastic or excitable.

4. Activities and Interests:

· What are the child's preferred activities? Do these reflect underlying interests that are visible to you? For example, does drawing or story writing center on recurrent and related motifs such as superhuman figures, danger and rescue, volcanoes, and other large-scale events?

Art and artistic creation is huge for Jane.

Her artistic work is mostly realistic.

She’s completed a self-portrait, playground design piece for Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Jane seems to enjoy and is skilled at field hockey.

· How would you describe the range of the child's interests? Which interests are intense, passionate?

Difficult to get a sense for Jane’s interests and passions.

Art is definitely a source of interest and where her passion is directed.

She enjoys reading, although it’s a challenge to find developmentally appropriate literature.

· How would you characterize the child's engagement with projects (e.g., quick, methodical, slapdash, thorough)? Is the product important to the child? What is the response to mishaps, frustrations?

Jane is thorough with her work.

She works at a methodical pace.

Her attention to detail comes out when she’s writing and when she’s working on a piece of art.

In regards to her frustration with writing, she can react spontaneously with crying.

At home, she’s had at least one angry, frustrated outburst in regards to not being “able to read.”

· Are there media that have a strong appeal for the child (e.g., paint, manipulatives, books, computer)?

Visuals are important for Jane - they help her with comprehension and have a natural appeal to her learning style.

She seems to enjoy artistic creation with a variety of media - crayon, pencil, colored pencil, water-based paint…

Technology appeals to her, she created a quite advanced portrait of her mother using just the Paint program. Her mother is interested in her developing graphic design skills.

5. Formal Learning:

· What is the characteristic approach to a new subject or process or direction? In learning what does the child rely on (e.g., observation, memory, trial and error, steps and sequence, getting the whole picture, context)? How does that learning approach vary from subject to subject?

Jane requires clear steps in learning new concepts or material.

She benefits greatly from visuals accompanying new concepts or material.

She benefits from audio, such as audio books, to receive material.

She needs a review of past concepts and material introduced as a warm up.

Across subject areas, she needs time to process and do the work.

· What is the child’s characteristic attitude toward learning?

Jane is generally open and eager towards learning.

She is sometimes more enthusiastic about certain activities and tasks, usually art or using iPads in class, and is sometimes obstinate or disinterested towards learning that is technical, often writing.

· How would you characterize the child as a thinker? What ideas and content have appeal? Is there a speculative streak? A problem-solving one? A gift for analogy and metaphor? For image? For reason and logic? For insight? For intuition? For the imaginative leap? For fantasy?

Jane is an intuitive thinker, able to make appropriate observations and inferences.

She can be imaginative, but more often deals in reality.

She takes her time in developing ideas.

· What are the child's preferred subjects? What conventions and skills come easily? Which are hard?

ART! Design comes easily to Jane.

She is technology savvy and is proficient with computers and iPads.

She seems to enjoy PE and specials, especially art.

Activities and tasks involving reading and writing are challenging for Jane.

Content areas such as mathematics that involve multiple steps are difficult.

6. Summing Up: The presenter characterizes the child's strengths and vulnerabilities.

Jane is intelligent in a variety of ways. She is detail-oriented and can be intensely focused, especially when working independently. Artistic creation is a natural strength for Jane. This extends to writing--Maura Rogers, her teacher, will sometimes have to ask Jane not to “draw” her letters. She has a complex vocabulary well beyond many of her peers in the class. She is often able to make sophisticated inferences about what’s happening in a book or about things happening in our classroom environment (Jane often presents her inferences in a matter of fact, confident way). Jane is collegial to all of her classmates and has a calming effect on other students. She works well with all students in the class, even those that can sometimes be less than kind to others. She goes with the “flow” when other students have trouble doing so, and is often a model for demonstrating attention and readiness. Notably, she is a talented field hockey player.

I would love to see what Jane could make and do if she was allowed the processing and creating the time she needs. Jane has a very unique brain that presents great strengths, as well as challenges in learning to read and write, in decoding words, and with other languages- and process-involved content. For instance, although she has a strong sense for numbers, the language of mathematics and the set time allotted to make it seem that Jane doesn’t understand. While she has a strong desire to learn, to read, to write, the proven strategies used at Hamilton haven’t yet been demonstrated effective for Jane. This is proving to be a vulnerability for Jane, as the pacing of school increases and concepts and skills build on each other. Importantly, Jane wants to read developmentally appropriate literature, but connecting her with those books at her “just right” reading level has been a challenge. This has caused deep frustration for Jane, as writing has, bringing her to tears at home and having to take her out of the classroom at school, and there’s the possibility this struggle will turn her off from reading at a time when school, and inquisitive human nature, is encouraging students to read to learn. School, as it’s culturally constructed, presents serious challenges to Jane and she needs resilience to begin to manage and hopefully overcome these challenges.


Our CFG group conversation centered around differentiation and accommodation. A word related to this that I mentioned in my question and that was a focus of the conversation: empowerment. The group had some suggestions about activities and technology that could help the child feel more confident in her abilities while doing meaningful work. Educreations was a specific app that was discussed and has potential for this student. Another intriguing suggestion was to help this child help herself by creating a digital toolkit, through something like Pinterest or Google's Blogger, that the child could use to store tools and strategies and access when she hit a road bump. I think in general the group was supportive of technology as an avenue towards making school meaning, learning do-able, and building resilience.

Through this project, I gained a much clearer picture of the range of learners in the classroom. I thought deeply about what is meaningful work in school, and how learning can look different between individual students. About myself I learned I tend to gravitate towards technology when I think it can be beneficial to students, but last that I am challenged by students who learning doesn't come easily - or, better said, students who learn differently.

With time, I would certainly implement Educreations for this child and others in the classroom - it seems like a powerful tool. I would also look at long-term projects this particular student could be doing that would demonstrate knowledge, skills, and mastery in unique ways. The CFG supported utilizing this child's interest in art to build confidence and to attain academic success, and I would be very interested in exploring how to make that happen.

I think it's challenging to present a Descriptive Review of a Child through the observations of one person. While I attempted to give the most accurate and nuanced picture of this child, I am confident other characteristics and insights would have come forward if more individuals were presenting a Descriptive Review of the same child, as in Jenny's Story. I also found a limited amount of time to present on the child challenging. Certainly, this CFG made me a more observant and empathic teacher. By using nonjudgmental language to describe the student, it made me consider this particular child's strengths, and able to generalize that all students in the class have strengths, and how to build on them. As always, I felt comfortable delving into this intense and vulnerable process with the MAT cohort. I wonder how this process would change in a professional setting? Would there be more pressure on the teacher's practices and less about the student?

DMU Timestamp: May 11, 2020 21:16

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