AJ is starting to struggle with the format of school. His teacher this year is much more structured than any he’s had before. I get the impression that he feels like he’s always doing the wrong thing, but I haven’t yet figured out why. His teacher, who is trying to do everything she can to help him, is truly frustrated and perplexed. His test scores are off the charts, but he is having trouble with a number of class activities.
We had trouble working on math over break, a subject that AJ has always dearly loved. But every time we’d sit down to try to look at it, AJ would burst into tears. I have been trying so hard not to let it come to this point. My own love of math was squashed by a clueless (and downright mean) teacher in the second grade. This is what I’ve been afraid of. But eventually, we were able to get past the tears and into the problems. And AJ started to have fun again.
This morning, I sat down and wrote a long email to Mrs. F.:
AJ and I went over the math packet over break and I tried to get a sense of what had made him star some pages. He also worked on a few pages on his own and we talked them through afterwards. After looking more carefully at the packets, AJ decided that it was all pretty easy for him but mostly not so incredibly easy as to be boring (except for the time pages, at which he rolled his eyes).
I think his stars say more about his difficulty understanding instructions, both those you gave him on starring things, and also the ones on the starred worksheets. He said they are easy now that he knows what they are, but that he didn't know what things like "expanded notation" meant at first. [AJ’s class curriculum is the somewhat controversial Everyday Math program; the packet is drawn from the much more standard Spectrum series; the presentation and some terminology is markedly different.]
He also isn't clear on what the "show your work boxes" are for [each problem has a space on the right margin marked “show your work” -- are they required or are they just there when he needs them? Because he does a lot of the work in his head, if he needs to show his work, someone might need to show him what that means. I did talk to him about how he will at least at some point, need to demonstrate how he figured things out (we talk about this a lot at home, so that shouldn't be a total surprise to him, but he's not used to writing it, and he may balk at it because it slows him down). You'll see how he tried to fill in the "show your work" columns on some of the pages and I think it will give you a good window into how his math brain works. For example, On Lesson 2.3 of the Spectrum Math grade 3 (page 22), the first question gives digits for the various places and he has to figure out what number it spells. The number is 600,903, which he got correctly. In the "show your work" section, he wrote out the number, and then wrote the numbers for each place squished in underneath each digit(100,000, 10,000, etc.). Below that, he wrote "3x3=9" with arrows connecting the 3 and 9 with their twins in 600,903. Then he wrote "3x2=6" and drew arrows between the 3s and 6s. He told me that he thought it was cool that you could make all the digits out of 3, so he decided to show that. Further down the page, where he had to write biggest and smallest numbers made with the digits, he ended up writing the (correct) answers in the "show your work" column and leaving the answer blanks blank. He was so worried about showing his work, that he forgot to write the answers where they were supposed to go.
But AJ also wasn't sure what "hard" meant -- from his perspective, it was too vague. He doesn't always deal well with grey areas. I explained it to him as "hard is something you don't know how to do by yourself and you need someone to show you how to do it." By that definition, the only stars that remained were on the "expanded notation" pages. And once he figured out what that meant, then those stars disappeared as well.
Based on this, I'd like to see him gaining more independence on worksheets like this, being able to carefully read and figure out the instructions for himself. But I also think he may need some spoken words about what to do before each one. It's not so much that he gets it wrong all the time, but that he doesn't trust himself to be getting it right. He seems to expect that he's going to do it incorrectly and wants reassurance.
The other thing it seems like he needs work on, is interpreting word problems. There weren't actually too many examples of that in the packet, but he doesn't trust himself to turn the word problems into equations a lot of the time. He wants constant reassurance. And when the word problems involve subtraction or division, he doesn't always get the order right.
And, perhaps most important, overall, defining things with almost comic precision helps him out a lot. If there is an exception of any kind, he will find it and be confused by it. He hasn't yet learned the psychology of figuring out what the question is asking by what makes sense, not just what is literally stated.
I think, although I’m not certain, that his teacher is turning him loose with extra work and is not willing or able to spend much time explaining things to him. And I know that AJ is not always willing or able to get up in the middle of class and go ask his teacher what he needs to know. His class is very large and, as generally happens, those who are struggling to work at grade level get more attention than those who are working too far above grade level. But all second graders need help and personal attention, no matter what level they’re at. None of them is independent yet. I didn’t want to come right out and say, “pay more attention to my kid,” because I know she’s doing what she can. But at the same time, she needs and wants to know how to help him. I hope I was diplomatic enough while also being clear.