Friday, October 5, 2007

Separate but not necessarily equal

In her post yesterday, Freshhell discussed her daughter's first forays into her school system's Gifted and Talented program. Freshhell's daughter Dusty is the same age as AJ, but their schools are handling their giftedness in markedly different ways. I'm hoping that our posts here will offer the chance to compare and contrast different public school approaches to educating gifted kids (and if there's anyone else reading who'd like to add another point of view, we'd love to see it. Email me for details at harri3tspyATgmailDOTcom).

As Freshhell pointed out, one of the advantages to having your kid labelled as something outside of the norm by the public school system is that you tend to get more information about what your kid is doing. My six-year-old is just as reticent about describing his day as Dusty can be. AJ can never seem to remember what he does in class by the time he gets home, but his teacher emails me to talk about our choices for his independent reading, something that I know does not happen with kids performing in the standard range of first grade readers.

But what AJ does not have, that Dusty is getting, is peers. In fact, our school has pretty much told us that he doesn't have any, at least not at his level. So he's quite literally in a class by himself. AJ's teacher is working really hard to both challenge him and also keep him excited about his work. I wrote earlier this week about how AJ had come home with a book about Sue Hendrickson and an assignment to outline it and write a summary about it. I had him turn this assignment around in one night, as we were told at the beginning of the year that all homework assignments, unless otherwise noted, were to be turned in the next day. As I was helping him with it, though, it was clear that this assignment was taking a while, not quite enough to make it impossible to complete, but enough that AJ was getting very tired and grumpy. He is, after all, still six. The next day after school, AJ's teacher found AJ and I on the playground. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for you to do that all in one night," she said to AJ. She turned to me. "I was shocked when he brought it in today." "I'm sorry" I apologized. "That was my fault. I thought it was due today." She apologized again for the mixup. "I don't want him doing too much." She turned to AJ again. "I want you to just LOVE it, okay?" And AJ nodded, but he did not smile.

That's the crux of the matter, though. Mrs. M. wants AJ to love it and I want AJ to love it, but right now, I think that AJ feels a little like he's being punished. He has more homework than his classmates because he's at a level where he needs more time to get into his assignments. It's not a lot more, but enough more. His classmates are not doing written assignments like he is. And I think it's making him feel a little persecuted.

So here is the question: if there is no peer group, how do you keep him working at his level without making him feel like he's being singled out? How do you help him love what he does? AJ is lucky in that he's getting work tailored just for him, but the very process that's giving him what he needs is making him feel different in a way that he does not especially appreciate.


FreshHell said...

Dusty has exactly ONE peer in her class. Nathan is the "other smart kid" and they are paired together for many lesson, esp G&T stuff. But, one is better than none. Dusty also hates to do homework. I think maybe it's just the time of day and she just doesn't want every minute to be about school. I'm not exactly sure what the deal is but I also don't want to push her too hard. I posted a comment in badmotherbloggers today and got to thinking that one thing that might be going on is that he's still adjusting to a long school day. He's no longer at home in the mornings (he did the pm class, right?) and he's just really tired. Maybe slacking off a bit, finding assignments that he helps decide on, giving it a bit more time, might help? I don't know. I struggle with this as well. So much of this is just groping in the dark. It's frustrating.

FreshHell said...

Reading over that - I didn't mean for the "slacking off a bit" to sound chastising. That wasn't my intention. I just think we, as parents, need to give ourselves and our kids a break sometimes. We can make ourselves crazy over this stuff. Maybe doing some math problems with jelly beans and eating the results might lift his spirits (and his blood sugar)?

harriet said...

I do think the adjustment is part of it. I also think that 6-year-olds are not designed to sit at a desk for 7 hours a day. Hell, most adults I know aren't designed for that either. After giving the situation more thought, I've realized that part of it is the nature of the reading assignments. AJ is probably more talented at reading (or at least further ahead), but he what he loves right now is math. I was thinking that it's because he's not getting advanced work in math yet, but he's complained that it's too easy. What I think he has problems with, at least in part, is the open-ended assignments he's getting in reading. There are not right or wrong assignments. But he has to figure things out and I think he may not feel like he has control over the material yet. Nor does anyone expect him too -- he's never written outlines or summaries of things before. But I don't think he's feeling a sense of satisfaction with his work because I don't think he understands why he's doing it. This weekend, we're going to try to give him a systematic approach, maybe a checklist, to help him know he's on the right track. I'm hoping that will help. But still, I'm thinking that first grade looks pretty tough, even when the assignments are "too easy."

FreshHell said...

Yes, he does have a very scientific/mathematic mindset. Concrete answers, right and wrong, no middle, no gray, seems to be his comfort zone. I wonder if his teacher might have ways of combining the two things - reading and math - so that there can be more of a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe that's asking too much. I think he's learning that some things are always going to be easy for him and some things are going to be hard. Math is always going to present problems for Dusty, I can tell. Reading, art, writing, will always be a piece of cake. But, she's also getting some of those summarizing, outlining lessons, also comprehension homework that is proving more difficult than she'd like to admit. She doesn't even want to try things that seem hard.