Friday, February 20, 2009

Midyear Evaluations

This week was midyear parent-teacher conference week at AJ's school. The midyears are by request only, not required. AJ's teacher did not request a conference, but I did. I always do. I can't imagine not taking advantage of a chance to get a better picture of what's going on or to let the teacher know you're paying attention.

My agenda this time was minimal. I wanted to see how some of the organization/behavior issues were going. I wanted to find out what exactly was happening with the school reading groups -- AJ tells us very little and I haven't worked with the reading groups on my volunteer days in a while. But mostly, I wanted to find out what on earth was going on with math.

The news was mostly good -- very good. The behavior issues seem mostly about maturity and the fact that AJ will always take an opportunity to act silly/crazy if someone else is acting that way. This is mostly limited to one other person and they've been separated, so that is going better. We will probably always have organization issues -- AJ's just not a natural. But he's trying. We've been making fewer after school returns to school to find lost homework. He's reportedly keeping his classroom supplies in better order. He has good days and bad days, but there's progress. At home, I see him taking more responsibility for his work. I don't have to remind him quite as much. The things he does daily, he does well. He still struggles with the once-a-week things, since they aren't as securely fixed in his routine.

The reading news was great. I got to see the book he's been working on, one of the "Dear America" series. AJ loves it and it's challenging enough, especially when combined with a series of questions he has to answer at the end which require him to pull out information from the novel and analyze it after he's done reading. This week they'll be starting a Louis Sachar novel that I'm not familiar with called something like "Sideways Tales from the Wayside School." We also got to see a portfolio of his writing, which was wonderful. They are doing a lot more writing than I thought they were -- little comes home, so we didn't realize what they were doing. There were scads of essays, short stories, poems and other types of creative writing.

It turned out, though, that it was good for me to be concerned about math. AJ's teacher showed us a sheet of midyear evaluation scores. Everything was 100% or higher (spelling has extra credit options) except for addition -- that was about 50%. Why was this score so low? Part of it was because AJ didn't read the instructions. When he sees things he thinks are too easy for him, he doesn't bother to make sure he knows what to do. I see this on his homework all the time. But much of it was the opposite problem -- he did read the instructions, but didn't remember that the teacher had told him to do something different. AJ is supposed to multiply most addition worksheets because he doesn't really need the addition practice and he's working on other things. She has reminded him several times, but he doesn't remember. So his score dropped. Now I understand the teacher's point of view here. I know exactly how frustrating AJ can be when you are trying to get him to do something different from the way he's done it before. It take numerous reminders over a fairly long period of time for the behavior to change. This drives me crazy, as I'm sure it drives his teacher crazy. But in this case, I have a little more sympathy with AJ. On the one hand, he's being told to pay more attention to written instructions. On the other, he's hearing that he's not supposed to follow written instructions. I suggested that the multiplication substitution be put in writing, either taped to his desk or, better yet, written on each worksheet.

Meanwhile, we are working with AJ on deciphering word problems. He's got his multiplication and division down, but he doesn't always know how to translate a word problem into a math problem accurately. Yesterday he came home with an assignment to write his own word problems with which he is to try to stump the school principal, who will do one student-created worksheet a week. AJ is very excited about this and I am too. What kid doesn't want to try to be smarter than his teachers and principal? And what a great way to get inside the way word problems work -- instead of yet another work sheet, a creative project. The teacher gets a big gold star for that one.

AJ spent much of the week working on his science fair project with his two friends, which meant I got to spend some time with two of my favorite parents. All three of the kids are definitely performing above average. One of them in ways very similar to AJ. He's in another class. Talking to his mother, I realize how well things really are going this year. Her son is getting minimal reading challenge and only gets challenge spelling when the bring a list in from home, like we did last year. He's getting no extra math at all. The mother of the other boy, who has been in AJ's class for the past two years, agreed that while their teacher this year is not as remarkable as their teacher last year, that she's doing a pretty good job.

The best news I heard at the conference was that when his teacher asks, "Who wants a challenge," he's always the first one with his hand up, shouting, "Me! Me!" This is a big change from last year, where he was often embarrassed about doing something different from everyone else. The difference is that this teacher has integrated challenge assigments seamlessly into her curriculum. In some cases, she offers the challenge assignments to everyone who wants to try them. In part because of class reorganization, AJ gets to work with a partner or in a small group on a number of tasks. The teacher is also using the Everyday Math curriculum in exactly the way I'd hoped she could. Everyday math cycles through a series of topics every year. When they get to a section where AJ is not challenged, she is pulling the assignments from the same topic in the 3rd or 4th grade book. He's still doing the same thing, but at his own level. Consequently, I think AJ is feeling much more a part of the class. This is particularly crucial this year, because he's much more aware of same/different issues than he was last year.

So, there has been definite progress on most fronts since Fall. Good news indeed.


My Kids' Mom said...

Directions for Addition Math Worksheets:
1. cross out directions with a big X to remind him both not to follow them and also to multiply
2. do worksheet

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that things are improving. I also agree that it shouldn't be a big deal to modify the directions on his math practice sheets. And, because I just can't resist suggesting this, I wonder if his teacher or school is familiar with the book Comprehending Math. We've been doing some work with it to integrate our reading strategies into the study of math. It's a great help with word problems.

Anonymous said...

My kids -- N in particular -- loved Sideways tales. AJ might like it -- it's silly in a sort of sophisticated way.

Jeanne said...

I LOVE the teacher's approach ("who wants a challenge?"). Why not let other kids try it and see if they like it?

I once had the experience of teaching honors composition and remedial composition the same semester, and discovered that both groups came at things from a slant, so what worked for one group often worked for the other, too.

Harriet said...

Thanks for all your comments. I do agree that modifying the directions should not be hard. Hopefully it will happen. One of the things I've noticed is that because AJ's memory for facts/spelling/etc is frightfully good, when it fails him -- usually on organizational things -- teachers are usually surprised. One of the reasons I try to keep tabs on what's happening, is that I think I understand why and I can serve as a translator. So I think that's why there wasn't already a written modification on his assignments -- that and the fact that with a large class, anything not deemed essential is often not done. I think I made the case, though, that modifying the directions is essential. LSM, thanks so much for the link, which looks really interesting. I'm going to try to get a hold of the book. Readersguide, I took a look at the Sideways tales while I was shelving in the school library yesterday and they look totally up AJ's alley. I knew the minute I saw the table of contents printed in reverse order. And Jeanne, I totally agree. Even as an elementary school student, I wondered why a lot of the things we did in the gifted program weren't offered to everyone. Much of what we did was creative work or critical thinking and it would benefit everyone. I'm glad this teacher agrees. She also got bonus points in my book at last night's science fair where she was one of two teachers who showed up. I'm not sure, but I'd guess that she had more students with projects in the fair than any other teacher and I'm sure that's due to her enthusiasm for science and for her talking up the fair in class.

Anonymous said...

I'm revising my opinion of this teacher. (Just so you know.)