Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gray matter

We seem to be running into another problem of the well-meaning-teacher-doesn't-get-gifted-kid's-brain variety. AJ came home with a notebook marked "Reading Response Journal" on Friday, with a note inside stating that it would be due back each Monday. On the first page, a writing prompt had been pasted in: "If I were in this book I would..." and AJ had written a single sentence in response to a book called "Imogene's Antlers," which the class had read back in December. That was it. No other instructions. AJ said that in class she had asked for 2-3 sentences on each of 3 books each week, but he didn't know what he was supposed to write about. Was he supposed to do the same question for each book?

Now AJ is a daydreamer par excellence, so it is entirely possible that he missed the assignment given out in class, and that would be his fault. But since the teacher went through the trouble of printing out a piece of paper that had the deadlines on it, couldn't she have printed the assignment on it too? I have emailed her for further instructions which I'm sure she will provide and we'll have that part figured out.

But that's not the only problem here. There is also the issue of what books we're talking about. Imogene's Antlers is a good book, but not a good book for AJ. It is a good book for AJ four years ago. AJ could read three books like Imogene's Antlers in about five or ten minutes. The fact that he was reading it in school again this year ticks me off, but that is a problem for another day. The problem, for the moment, is the assignment: if this assignment is supposed to be based on for fun reading (which, since it seems to be taking the place of independent reading logs he's been doing since September, seems likely), then AJ's books will take a lot longer to read and three books a week would make this a huge assignment.

Common sense would dictate that he should write responses to what he's reading three times, whether it be three different books or not. But that is not what the admittedly vague assignment said, at least according to AJ. This worries him.

AJ has always been fixated on rules and following them to the letter of the law. It is, I think, a result of not fully understanding the world around him. If you are following the rules, you are doing the right thing. Gray areas are very confusing and unsettling to him. If anything, this trait has been increased this year by the way he and his teacher seem to misunderstand each other a lot of the time. He is worried about doing what he thinks is the right thing and then getting in trouble for it, which sometimes happens. To have an assignment this vague, particularly since it is made even more vague due to the difference of his reading from the rest of the class, causes him great anxiety.

AJ no longer accepts our suggestions for how to do vague assignments, so we are waiting to hear back from his teacher, which probably won't happen until tomorrow. In the mean time, we had him read a shorter book, one that offers him no challenge, but enables him to follow the letter of the law, as he understands it. And he followed the same prompt for Imogene's Antlers, because it was the only thing he had to go on and he was afraid of making a mistake.

I really do not like how AJ has become afraid of schoolwork, how much he balks at homework now. He used to love doing writing assignments. Now he dreads them. As for me, I'm dreading the upcoming parent-teacher conferences. Because there is a lot to talk about.


Claudia said...

Gray areas are upsetting to adults, too. At least to this one. And, yes we're having similar problems. Dusty's doing "fluency" read-out-loud assignments but the passages are so below her level that we're having to re-draw the chart because her words-per-minute are twice the ceiling number. I need to email the teacher about that. Dusty doesn't seem to mind it so much but the MLK paragraph sounded awfully familiar to me. I think she read it this time last year. On the one hand, I wonder whether this is something she should even bother doing. On the other, she might get something out of the exercise if she were reading more challenging passages. Her teacher is, like AJ's, well-meaning and willing to adapt the curriculum but I have to prod her for changes. She admitted in the fall she'd never had a student like Dusty and the full-time G&T teacher is almost 100% focused on math. So, the reading end of things gets pushed to the side.

Which, doesn't really answer your questions or pertain to your frustration. Clearly the answer, short term, is to talk to his teacher and explain the problem. Something that, unfortunately, you may be doomed to continue until June. There's obvious a disconnect.

Anonymous said...

The parents of the older charge are dealing with similar issues already - he gets "homework" assignments that he could have done two years ago...he is reading far ahead of his grade and while the teacher recognizes all of this, she doesn't seem to have any suggestions for how to challenge him. I've been trying to gently suggest to the parents that they need to get a little more proactive on his behalf because he is already saying how much he likes school because it's so "easy" and it's getting harder for me to give him challenging worksheets at home - he loses patience if he doesn't immediately get something right. It's frustrating to me as a relative outsider - if I was a parent, it would make me crazy.

My Kids' Mom said...

We just had an non-school work incident that I think has been caused by school work issues. Pook was invited to a roller skating birthday party. He'd never roller skated before and he isn't the most coordinated kid, but I figured he could learn and lots of children were trying it for the first time. I went out in shoes to hold him and he floundered so much I was laughing and barely able to support him. That was it. Two minutes and he was "never going to roller skate again". And he probably won't.

He has gotten used to immediate success at things he does, primarily at school, and he is already losing his ability to deal with challenges. I worry about this in all aspects of the G&T kids' lives.

As for AJ, I think Claudia is right. You cope til June and hope for better next year. But next year could be worse. Some teachers really resent children who challenge them- perhaps the teachers lost the ability to deal with challenge when they were kids....

Jeanne said...

Oh, and then there are the teachers who take the "challenge" part seriously and keep trying to raise the bar so that the kids have to do more. Unfortunately, it's usually more of the same. I've fought these battles every year for an entire decade, and I'm getting discouraged. Sometimes it seems like there are no good answers, just good teachers.

lemming said...

In fourth grade my brother wanted to do a book review of The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. This was shot down by his teacher as "too hard."

People wonder why I distrust the public school system.

Harriet said...

Claudia, we will definitely be talking to the teacher, but as we've talked about this issue before, we may, in fact, just have to keep on talking until June. Which is okay, I guess. But there are no guarantees for next year either. Although at least the formal gifted program starts then. I'm not sure if that will be better or worse, but it will, at least, be something else. Lass, I am constantly amazed at hearing stories like that, but from my conversations with other parents of gifted kids, few seem to have considered asking the teachers and schools for what they want and need. I'm sure two-income families have a harder time with that, and it can take a lot of time, but it doesn't necessarily have to. But a lot of people don't seem to know how to get started. And figuring out the chain of command at schools can be tricky. It's usually best to deal with the individual teacher first, but if you only deal with the teacher, then you will just be repeating the whole thing again every year. I feel very strongly about this stuff and I think I've found some methods that work. If the charge's parents ever need some advice, feel free to pass along my email. MKM, the situation you described with Pook happens ten times a week around here. Most recently, it surfaced in the process of trying to build a Pinewood Derby car. If it's hard and he can't seem to see how he's going to be able to make the end product the same as the ideal in his head, he bails. We were able to coax him through it, but it can be excruciating to all involved. Because AJ's been like this for a long time -- paralyzed by perfectionism -- I hadn't thought to equate it with things being too easy at school, but I think you're absolutely right. We need to figure out a way to help him discover that hard work is worth doing and it doesn't mean he's dumb. Jeanne, I totally agree about good teachers. They make a world of difference and I wish there were more of them. Lemming, that story is horrifying. Would it have killed the teacher to let the student try and possibly fail in order to see if it really was too hard? Maybe it was too hard for the teacher. And incidentally, I was told the same thing when I wanted to read James Michener's The Source for a book report in 6th grade.

FreshHell said...

I deal with the "too hard" and "too much trouble" issue too. I'm trying to convince Dusty to...not so much rewrite a story but edit it a bit so she can enter it in a contest. She moans and groans. She likes the story just the way it is and it's all TOO HARD to rewrite it. I talk to her about how this is what writers do - and they (me) moan and groan too because it's painful - but it's part of the writing process. She tends to just give up and not even try when something has the appearance of being too hard.

It could be for Aj's reader response journal, he be given more leading questions with some concrete examples (ahead of time) of what the teacher's expecting of him. Vagueness will never get anyone anywhere.