Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back to School

AJ finished his first week of school and is still enthusiastic about it, which is a definite step up from last year and a huge step up from his attitude over the summer. This is a great relief to all of us, especially AJ. There was no homework last week, so we haven't seen enough to know how the work is going to be, but we did hear that the first book the class will be reading together is Patricia MacLachlan's wonderful novel Sarah Plain and Tall, which they are using to supplement their social studies and science study of the prairie and prairie cultures. Sarah Plain and Tall is a HUGE step up from the regular classroom reading they did in second grade (AJ didn't do the regular reading, but I worked with kids in the classroom who did). It's a book I read and enjoyed as an adult. I also love the way the curriculum integrates the various disciplines in a multi-faceted approach to a topic. AJ really responds to such an approach.

We think, although we're not sure, that the Challenge Program (which is what the school calls its program for gifted students) starts this week too, possibly tomorrow. I'm very curious to see how exactly this is going to work. The challenge program is both an in-class modification program and a pull-out program. A letter that came home this week suggests (although it is not totally clear) that the math part of the program will be initiated in the pull out program but will also replace classroom work with work at the appropriate level, generally at least one grade level ahead. The reading program, however, is more like a book group. The pull-out reading group will read and discuss novels together in addition to the classroom reading. The gifted teacher has not overly impressed me, although I also really don't know her that well. And the things that have given me pause are all about social skills, not about interaction with children, so I think it is something that is likely to improve. She wrote a very good letter about why she does what she does and about how her own experience as a gifted child has affected her approach toward gifted learners.

So in general, I am feeling very optimistic for the new year. Even so, I'm already thinking about what words I should put on a spelling list for AJ if the first list, which should come home tomorrow, is too easy. AJ says spelling is his favorite subject, which I think is because it is the only subject in which he was consistently challenged last year. Here's hoping for a better balance in the weeks to come.

What's going on with your kids? How are you and they handling the first weeks of school?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Summer is winding down around here. AJ starts school a week from today. Tomorrow the class lists and teachers will be posted, like Luther's theses, on the front door of the church school.

Last year at this time, we were preparing to meet with AJ's teacher. We'd arranged a meeting for the morning after the class posting by going through our school principal who set it up without telling us with whom we were meeting. The district gifted coordinator came too. And while I think AJ's class was not ideal for him, I think that meeting made what could have been a dreadful year into a passable one.

This year, we did not request a meeting. Why, when we felt that last year's meeting was so important, did we skip this step? There are several reasons. One is that we have a much bigger paper trail on AJ now than we did then, including detailed IQ scores that clearly place him upwards of the 99th percentile. Numbers speak louder than words in getting action in public institutions. The second reason, though, is that we're venturing into new territory: a formal gifted program.

I did check in with the gifted coordinator last week to make sure we didn't need to be meeting this time and she agreed that the best approach this time was to let AJ and his teacher (whoever it turns out to be) get to know each other first. She also told me that AJ will be pulled out of class, most likely on Monday afternoons, for 2-3 hours, half for reading, half for math.

I'm still trying to get a sense of how the gifted program works. It is curricular, meaning that it's replacing classroom work, not adding to it. My sense is that the reading part is not all that different from previous years, but that AJ's reading group will be overseen by the gifted teacher rather than the classroom teacher. Math is the area with which I've been most frustrated. I feel AJ lost ground last year because of a lack of systematization with his substitute work. I hope this new system will be better.

AJ's greatest interest is who will be in class with him. After last spring's testing fiasco, we know that only one kid tested into the program in the normal way and, because this kid happens to be one of AJ's best friends, we know who that is and that he will be in class with AJ. What we don't know is whether there are other kids who, like AJ, got in some other way. I think this friend of AJ's will be a good companion for him in class. He is less of an outside-the-box thinker than AJ, but he is more mature and disciplined and academically driven, something for which AJ could use a model. I suspect their strengths will play nicely off each other in class.

Also on the table for fall is the new possibility of taking classes through the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. When we had AJ tested for their programs in first grade, we ended up deciding we couldn't handle the commute. But this year, they've added a new location for some of their programs, one that is only a half hour from here. Their classes are expensive and I'm not sure we'll qualify for financial aid, but they also sound awesome. You can read about their offerings here.

How are you getting ready for school?