Thursday, September 9, 2010

Afterschooling update

With bigger classes, no gifted and a shorter school day, AJ and I decided to do some after school homeschooling. While some of it involves enhancing his daily lessons especially in math, most of our time is spent on learning a new language.

The language AJ picked was Latin. I’m not sure why he decided Latin was a good one but I was happy about it because a) I had Latin in school and b) I’ve been wanting to relearn the grammar, which I seem to have largely forgotten.

I have to admit, I did not do a whole lot of research into curriculum. The homeschool pages recommending Latin curricula were almost entirely including Latin for religious reasons. And that’s just not us.

Instead, I picked the Cambridge Latin Course. I used the course in high school Latin myself and I already owned the first two books of the series, which saves us some big bucks. Plus their website has some helpful tools on it, including games and self-quizzes for every chapter. A warning, though, to those who use Chrome as their browser of choice: some of the components are not compatible. We switch to Firefox before heading to the site.

We’ve also located some online flashcards for the series, which let AJ study vocabulary on his own.

I’ve already written a little about what I like about Cambridge Latin. I was a little nervous about using it with a 9-year-old, but it seems to be working out well. He likes the humor of the stories – yesterday he learned how to say “dirty poem” (versus scurrilis!). I like the way the stories keep circling back on vocabulary so it’s easy to learn. And we both like reading the culture sections.

I wasn’t sure how the grammar issue was going to go. AJ’s had some Spanish in an after school program, but it was strictly conversational and largely aural/oral. They didn’t discuss things like conjugation or even much about masculine/feminine/neuter. But the book explains grammar so logically, with one main point per chapter (or “Stage” as they call it), that AJ is all over it.

The book is very translation oriented like many Latin books. But to keep AJ interested, we’ve been reading out loud and doing some of the translations orally, others written. I agonized for a while about pronunciation. In school, I studied classical Latin. But I’ve spent much more time as a singer working with church Latin so in the end, that’s what I decided to teach. I’m more familiar with it and less likely to make mistakes. And really, it doesn’t matter. I’m more concerned with giving him a connection to the language than about what it really sounds like.

Every chapter ends with an exercise that includes a list of English words with roots based on the chapter’s Latin vocabulary. You have to match the English words with their definitions. We’ve been using these exercises as a springboard to talk about English vocabulary, which has been fun. I’m not sure where I’m going with it. AJ’s been really interested in the Scripp’s Spelling bee, so maybe we’ll work on some vocabulary/spelling games as well.

So, so far,so good. I’m liking our afterschooling routine. Even with football practices every night, it seems to be working.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Executive Function

Normally at this time of year, I post about our back to school experiences with gifted at AJ’s school. But this year, there’s not a whole lot to tell, at least not yet. They’ve been in school for two weeks now, but there is still not a lot coming home and they are about to launch into round one of standardized testing (STAR and MAP) for the year.

But while I can’t talk much about academics, there is one thing I am definitely happy with about school, and that’s about the way his teacher is teaching study skills.

Like many gifted kids, AJ has some problems with what psychologists like to call “executive function.” To say he is not good at organizing himself is an understatement. He has classic absent-minded-professor syndrome. He forgets things. He loses things. He starts on one task and gets distracted by some shiner more exciting thing in the middle and forgets what he was doing. We have tried and tried to help him with routines and lists but nothing has worked. But this year, things are better, at least as far as schoolwork goes.

There are two reasons that AJ himself has identified for the improvement. One is actually a result of the overcrowded classes: no desks. Because they sit at tables instead of desks, AJ can’t shove stuff in there never to be seen again. Instead of desks, they keep their important stuff in fabric pockets that go over the backs of their chairs. These pockets are small and you can see everything in them, so there’s nowhere for things to hide. Most supplies are shared by the tables, so they are stored in a shared space and don’t get lost either.

The second tool, though, is something that is actually part of the curriculum: The Binder. The binder organizes all their school work. The teacher talks to them about it, let them decorate the cover, and showed them how to put it together. It’s an awesome tool. But mostly I just love that the teacher is backing up what we try to do at home. In the past, we’ve given AJ a calendar and a folder system to help him remember his homework, but without the teacher helping him with it at school, it failed.

The front pocket is for parent-teacher communication only. Inside the 3 rings, there is a zip pocket for money – both the real money that goes back and forth to school and the fake money that AJ’s teacher uses for certain types of rewards. We’re not quite sure what happens with the fake money yet, but AJ is already loaded. After the pocket are several pages of sheet protectors containing the monthly lunch menu, the weekly spelling list, and any other lists of terms to be studied. Next is an assignment book with a page for every week. Each day, the students write in their homework in each subject and other due dates and tests. Each time they finish an assignment, they check it off. Parents sign off on it weekly. After the assignment is a red Velcro pocket folder. This is where the daily assignments travel home to get completed and put back in the folder for the return trip. After this are several divided sections, each with its own stash of lined paper. So far these haven’t been much used, except for the daily journal section, which includes a story the class is writing one sentence at a time each day and a sheet protector with a list and explanation of the parts of speech on one side and a list of proofreading marks on the other.

Thanks to this binder, AJ always knows where his homework is and we always know what he’s supposed to do. It’s not up to his memory. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful now, and it will be even more wonderful when he heads to middle school next year and has more responsibilities.

How about you, parents/teachers: do your children struggle with organization? What are some of the tools in your box?