Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Shape of Things To Come

An amazing thing happened recently. Dusty, my first grader, read out loud. To the class. This might not seem like such a big deal to you but it is a milestone reached. A year ago, Dusty started kindergarten. We knew she was smart. She’d taught herself to read by age four. She had already begun to read chapter books to herself the summer before kindergarten and had proven herself to be quite a talented artist as well.

At the beginning of that first school year, I approached her teacher and emailed the gifted and talented teacher. I explained that Dusty was smart, that I wanted her monitored and assessed as soon as possible. I know, to them, I probably sounded like a typical parent: convinced MY child was smarter than all the others. MY child was special. Please pay close attention to her! But I am not a hoverer. I just wanted to make sure that her needs are met. I didn’t want her to get lost in the shuffle like I was.

I was told that testing for the gifted and talented program happened in January. We’d have to wait. So we did. But we kept a close eye on things. Dusty’s teacher could tell she was smart but not to what degree. Why? One of the main ways of assessing her reading level was by listening to her read. Out loud. Something Dusty would not do. Not to her teacher, not to the reading specialist, not to the principal or her parents or her classmates. Occasionally she’d read out loud to the trash can but her teacher had to be paying attention at just the right moment. Blink and you’d miss it.

We hit a wall. Dusty started to complain about all the “baby work” they were doing in class, how she was bored. The math was “too easy”, the reading….don’t even go there!

At our parent/teacher conferences, we were assured that Dusty was fine. She seemed happy (and she was and still is) and was a full participant in the classroom. But. They were having a hard time figuring out where she really stood because she wouldn’t play the game by their rules. Not that I blame her but it was frustrating all the same.

Then January rolled around. Dusty was tested. She became more comfortable in the classroom. She opened up more (though still occasionally complaining about boredom and how easy the work was) and was given more challenging work.

Dusty was accepted into the G&T program for first grade. The first assessment of the year showed her to be reading at a fifth-grade level.

When the school year began, we met the G&T teachers and I have to say I was very impressed. I’d gone to a public school that had been full of long-term, burned out teachers with too many students. And, while these women not only job-shared but school-shared, they were full of enthusiasm and great ideas. They seemed really happy. They loved what they did. That in itself goes a long way to engendering a love of learning and an enthusiasm for school in children. Their upbeat attitude is clearly infectious.

And Dusty has really blossomed this year. The G&T teachers (one’s in her classroom on Tuesdays and the other on Wednesdays) co-teach with the classroom teacher and then break the class up into groups. The regular teacher works with one group and the G&T teacher works with the other group. The group that just happens to have Dusty and her intellectual counterpart, Nathan, in it. I get weekly emails from the teachers summarizing the lessons.

They take the regular classroom lesson and go as far as they can with it. The teacher challenges them to think in different ways. Here’s a recent lesson:

Language Arts Collab: Brave Stories ~This lesson provided a literature based creative writing experience in conjunction with on on-line Internet experience. After reading the story Brave Irene, by William Steig, the students discussed how brave Irene must have been to battle the harsh wind, snow, cold and darkness to deliver a gown to the duchess. They also viewed stories on the Internet written by children about times in their own lives when they had to be brave: http://comsewogue.k12.ny.us/~csinger/projects/braveirene/braveirene.htm. Students then brainstormed about times that they thought they displayed brave characteristics and what it meant to show courage. Students have started writing their own brave stories and will also be illustrating them on the computer.

Not only that, but I get periodic notices of classes in which Dusty can enroll. This past Saturday, she attended a Science with Toys class, with her dad, through the city’s Math & Science Center. Dusty came home with a battery powered motor and a bag full of cool stuff.

Last week was also the school’s Read-a-Thon. We documented everything Dusty read and everything we read to her every night on a chart. We pledged five cents per minute read (the proceeds go to pay for a mural in the school’s new library – opening in the spring). We logged 595 minutes!

The first day of the Read-a-Thon was a Read-In. Students were encouraged to bring in two books to share with their class. Dusty brought her two favorite Sock Monkey books. And it was one of those that she read to her class. Dusty! Reading out loud to her classmates! Amazing.

So, Dusty’s experience in school has been a good one. She will never have quite the disconnect that AJ does between intelligence/capability and emotional/chronological age but she will most likely always be a bit beyond her schoolmates. We do not have the dilemma that faces Harriet. She will remain where she is, in a well-funded public school with top-notch teachers (how we got so lucky, I do not know.). She’ll continue to carry the G&T label throughout her school career in the county in which we live. Whether her “gifts” will get sorted out later, I can only guess. She is strong in all subjects right now, but I have a feeling that reading, writing, and drawing will continue to be strengths, while math may get “hard” in a few years if we aren’t paying close attention to things. Not that “hard” is a bad thing. If she’s taught correctly, she may never have the issues I did with the subject.

And I haven’t heard Dusty use the word “bored” much this year. But this week the math unit will cover shapes.

To quote Dusty, “Shapes? I already know shapes.” Yes, and even though this is really shapes as pre-geometry I have to agree with Dusty. We already know this. So, no matter how great things are right now, we will have to stay ever-vigilant.

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