Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day of Challenge Program

The challenge program began yesterday and AJ seems to have had a good time, although it all seemed kind of vague to him. There is one other 3rd grader in the program -- his friend C, who also sits next to him in class and is in his Cub Scout den AND on his baseball team. It's lucky C and AJ are friends, because they're sure going to see a lot of each other the next few months. Like AJ, C qualified in both reading and math, so the two of them work with the gifted coordinator for both subjects every Monday afternoon from 1:30-3:15, when school gets out.

AJ was unclear on what he'd be doing. He said they played a bunch of reading and math games yesterday, but was vague about what exactly they did. My guess is that the coordinator was trying to get to know them and get a read on how they worked. She told them that they'd get a book to work on next week. AJ thinks there may be homework that will be assigned through his regular classroom.

I'm interested in how this is all going to pan out. This is very different from the kind of pull-out programs I was involved with in several different school systems in the 1970s and 80s. Back then the focus was on critical and creative thinking, not on curriculum. The stuff we did in G&T was completely separate and in addition to classroom work. I loved it. It was fun. And we rarely had much homework. But it always seemed kind of unfair to me, because a lot of the things we did (e.g. interview Anne Morrow Lindbergh on her writing habits, write stories using a wacky collection of required elements) seemed like they could have worked for most people I knew and they probably could have got something out of it. In reality, that may or may not have been true. But this sense of gifted programs as extra-curricular has been problematic, because it makes them easier for school districts to cut if they don't look necessary.

At AJ's school, there is a concerted effort to both integrate the gifted work with the regular classroom work and also, when possible, to have it substitute for regular classroom work, instead of being extra. This keeps the kids from feeling punished by having an extra class and also, at least theoretically, provides more continuity for the kids as they move through the grades.

In addition, AJ came home with his first set of homework of the year. The math homework was laughable, but AJ enjoyed it. There are many things I love about the Everyday Mathematics curriculum, but the assignments where children have to find numbers around the house are not my favorites. AJ likes getting up from his table, and that's fine, but he had nearly identical assignments when he was in preschool. By third grade, shouldn't they be doing something more with the numbers they find? Apparently not.

The at-home reading program is a little different this year. Instead of assigning an amount of time to read each day (last year it was 15 minutes) and reporting on the books, which aggravated AJ to no end, there is a total number of minutes for the month (400, or 20 minutes a day 5 days a week). The kids log their minutes and book titles and that's it. This will work much better for AJ. It allows for adjustments from day to day depending on activities. Reporting once a month instead of once a week will take the pressure off. And it's exactly the same system the public library reading programs use, so he's used to it.

In addition, there is a new reading assignment. Every Monday there is a page of reading sent home along with a worksheet. AJ is supposed to read it out loud to a parent and then answer questions about what he read. The reading that came home this week was not difficult, but AJ is not always great at gleaning information from what he reads in any kind of organized fashion, so I think these assignments may help him with that.

We've been spending a lot of time talking about organization which for AJ, as for many gifted kids, is a huge challenge. He has trouble getting his chores done on time because he gets distracted by his books and magazines as he's putting them away or wanders off into play before he finishes getting dressed. He gets lost in thought while eating meals and has trouble finishing them. And he regularly forgets his homework.

This year, I decided to make organization a priority for us. I let AJ pick out a school planner (he chose this one) and showed him how to set it up and write things in it. He is responsible for taking it to school each day and bringing it home each night. If he forgets, there is a set of consequences. For the first couple of weeks, I'm going to show him how to track his work. After that, he'll be on his own. My goal is to make him more independent with his homework. I expect there to be a bit of a learning curve, but I'm hoping letting him make choices of how to write things down and giving him stickers to decorate his calendar pages when he does things well will keep him on track. I'll let you know how it goes.


My Kids' Mom said...

I must say, I'm very pleased with the agenda planners our school uses for grades 2+. All homework for the week is copied off the board on Monday, he puts checks by work he's completed, and I'm to initial it daily-ish. Any correspondence between me and Teacher can be written in it too.

I started Pook out with a new Organized System this year. I walked him through it for a couple days and am still giving reminders some. He comes home, takes off shoes and germs, :) empties backpack by putting lunchbox and snack bowl on counter and taking the backpack to his desk in our den. There, he puts the homework folder on the desk and the agenda next to him on a chair. Looseleaf paper, pencils and a sharpener are all right there. When he finishes the work, he puts it all inside, adds a snack for t'mo, and hangs the backpack up by the door. No dinner until it is hung up and done. No snack if he doesn't remember it himself. So far, I think the effort to teach organization is paying off.

My next goal, and you can tell me what you think of this, is to have him look critically at the homework. What does the teacher want him to learn from it? Is she grading for punctuation? spelling? use of vocabulary words? getting the main idea? Then, I want him to relax about the items she is NOT concerned with and focus on what matters. He gets worked up about getting it all perfect when the whole thing is going to earn a quick glance and a check mark at the top at best. I feel like there are assignments that warrant creativity and others that should just be completed as quickly and simply as possible. I want him to realize what is "make-work" and what is there for real practice and learning.

Jeanne said...

I've always done that meta-homework exercise with my kids, and think it helps them sort out what's important to the teacher AND what could be important to them. Because I hate it when students spend too much of their time trying to guess "what the teacher wants."

Anonymous said...

do they use the famous "executive function" terminology. Poor!Executive!Function! It sounds so ominous, but all my previous bosses have had P!E!F!