I walk the line June 24, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, high school, homeschooling, homework, older son, perfectionism
I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year. He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college. I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.
In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism. I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.
The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers. The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.
Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him. It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.
The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted. This was an eye-opening experience for me. It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.
After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:
1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.
2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.
3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.
I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does. We tried for years to forego medication. One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help. (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)
However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes. He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it. He worked very hard, but progress was slow. In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.
What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades. I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced. I couldn’t figure it out.
The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much. Far too much. While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic. They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.
The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him. He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.
A lot of perfectionists deal with this. I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him. If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist. If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help. He needs to learn to walk that line. To some extent, we all do.
A Rite (Triangle) of Passage May 13, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching, younger son.
Tags: homeschooling, learning, learning styles, math, pythagorean theorem, visual-spatial, younger son
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The younger son recently started his pre-algebra class. Somehow, this has made math a bit better. I think the fact that it has algebra in the title makes him feel very accomplished and that, in turn, has made him more enthusiastic about math.
The other day, he was doing some of his homework, and the lecture was confusing to him. I listened to the lecture and then said, “It makes more sense if you draw a picture.” He responded that, “Pictures always help me learn better. I guess the math program doesn’t realize that some of us are visual learners.” I was both amused and quite stunned. I think I’ve been discussing educational theory a bit too much at the dinner table. I can tell he’s listening to us.
Tonight, he hit a milestone. He called Mike over, and I followed, so he could ask us how to pronounce “pythagorean.” He was sure he’d heard us talking about it before (yeah, we discuss this stuff around the dinner table), and he wanted to be sure that was what it was.
“Oh, wow!” I said. “You’re doing the Pythagorean Theorem. That’s awesome!” Suddenly, there was an impromptu round of cheering and high-fiving. The older son even came over and gave his little brother a big hug, saying, “Woo hoo! The Pythagorean Theorem is awesome.”
As the lecture progressed, it reiterated the terminology, focusing on right triangle legs and hypotenuse. Given I’ve had ZZ Top in my head, I had to immediately sing, “She’s got legs! She has a hypotenuse!” I wasn’t able to come up with much more, though.
Yes, I have to admit that I realized how odd it was, in retrospect. We were having a celebration that younger son had made it to the Pythagorean Theorem, and we were all making a huge deal about it.
But younger son didn’t think so. He thought it was awesome and giggled continuously for the next few minutes. I guess he likes having a math cheer team.
The “dear teacher” letter November 11, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, math, teaching, younger son.
Tags: gifted, gifted education, math, teaching, younger son
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Last week was parent-teacher conferences at the younger son’s school.
If you don’t know, I dread these things. I had been feeling better after last year, but then I realized I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. In particular, two years ago, younger son’s teacher was having a fit because he wasn’t doing math with all the other kids. The thing we kept getting was, “He’s really not all that great at math.” Last year, we attempted to have the younger son do his math curriculum at school. We kept trying for a month. However, it was very clear that his teacher was unable to help him, so they sent him out into the main office area where there was a lot of traffic…and no one to help him. We said we would take care of it at home and didn’t hear another thing about it again.
At the beginning of this year, there was some noise that he would do the math at home in addition to the math at school. We quickly put a stop to that and said, “You’re punishing him for being smart.” Making him do two sets of math a day is no good.
The thing is, I really don’t understand this. He’s doing excellent by standardized testing standards. What more do they want? I sure hope they aren’t saying, “If Johnny worked just a bit harder, he would be at the 98th percentile instead of the 96th!” Or are they saying that if they worked harder, they could beat Suzie’s score in math? I seriously doubt it…and if they are, then I think they’re a little bit whacked. All I can think is that this is either a control issue or a conformity issue. It has absolutely nothing to do with his math ability.
Which, incidentally, isn’t all that good. “You know, he’s not the top student in the class as far as math testing goes.” That’s what we got. I suspect this is, “He’d be doing better if he was doing math with all the rest of his classmates,” as in I should feel guilty for making him miss out on the stuff his friends are doing.
Unfortunately for her, I really get irritated with things like guilt trips and appeals to social norms. I really don’t care if my kid is doing something different.
The other issue is that it has *everything* to do with his math ability. She’s taking math scores and comparing them to other kids. We already know that his processing speed may not be that great and that he’s not the kind of kid who likes to spend time memorizing things. Math at the elementary level is all about those things: computation and recall. However, his reasoning and visualization skills are really great. Like most elementary teachers, I think she doesn’t understand that math is more than multiplication tables. She recognized that he knows those things, but that maybe he needs time to figure it out rather than having it at the tip of his tongue. What she doesn’t realize is that he’s not the kind of kid who is going to tolerate endless drilling of memorization facts when his real strengths are in logic and reasoning. Would you like math if it was always doing the types of things you hate? This kid is stoked to get into algebra soon…why would I want to kill that and tell him he needs to practice flash cards more?
There are ‘optional’ tests on the MAPs in science and science reasoning. His scores in both those areas were the same for 10th graders and above, according to national norms. Why do they always want to hold kids back to their weakest skills, even when those skills are still obviously above average for their age mates? Even in his ‘weak’ area, he’s still near the top of his class…and they conveniently ignore his strengths and pretend like those have nothing to do with the issue at hand.
I have to write this teacher a letter with some follow-up information. However, there is a part of me that wants to ask why there is such a focus on holding younger son back when they should instead be focusing on allowing ALL of the children to perform at a level appropriate to their abilities.
You see, when she said he wasn’t at the top of the class in math, I didn’t feel guilty. I felt bad for those other kids because they were being held back and not having the opportunity to work on interesting and challenging work the way younger son is. Rather than being ashamed that my son is getting to do things he finds interesting and challenging (so that he’s also learning about having to work hard and deal with frustration), I wondered why the teacher and school aren’t ashamed of what they’re doing to those other students.
It’s official: younger son is smarter than I am. October 3, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, math, younger son.
Tags: EPGY, math, younger son
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Younger son isn’t one you’d pinpoint as being very gifted…at least I wouldn’t. I have had random people tell me that he’s quite bright, but that’s never what has come across to me. He’s very outgoing and socially conscious…VERY big on morals and ethics. Fun. Goofy. Just wants to get his homework done so he can play.
In other words, to me he seems like a perfectly normal little boy.
In math, he’s one of these kids who struggles with computation. Not as badly as some kids (*ahem* older brother *ahem*), but it is his computation that slows him down. He’s enrolled in Stanford’s EPGY program for math, which we do at home (even though the school still grumbles occasionally). I thought he’d get into the program, but I was honestly stunned at his ability to answer logic questions. I remember when he took the test, I was watching, trying to puzzle through some of the questions and he was already onto the next question. It made me realize that there’s obviously some ability there…but because of the computation issues, he struggles to express it.
When helping the younger son do some homework on percentages earlier this week, he made a very interesting comment:
When you divide an even number by an odd number, except five, you get a repeating decimal. When you divide an odd number by an even number, though, you just get a remainder.
Is that right? It sounded like it was plausible, but I’d never come across such a rule. I had to look it up.
According to Wolfram’s MathWorld, if the divisor is a multiple of two or five you get finite decimal expansion. If, however, the denominator contains a prime other than 2 or 5, you’ll get a periodic decimal expansion (i.e. repeating decimal).
So he was very close and might have been able to prove it by induction for very small n…if he knew how to do proof by induction.
It kind of stunned me, though, that he was trying to figure this out and neither Mike nor I had ever given it any thought.
Things I never thought I’d say to my kids September 10, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, teaching.
Tags: classes, english, languages, older son, teaching
There are a million things I never thought I’d say to my kids. Truth be told, I’ve avoided a lot of them. Today, however, I found myself telling the older son something I imagine would have made my 17-year-old self would cringe. Or even hurl.
The older son is taking some classes through correspondence this year, mostly English, to finish up the classes he needs for college admissions. We’ve managed to do most other things at home, but English was one thing I never bothered with because he’s an avid reader. And by avid, I mean he devours books like candy. He’s also done exceptionally well on any sort of standardized testing in this realm. I didn’t want to waste his time by pushing stuff on him when he was doing pretty well in his own right.
He got his first homework assignment back from one of the classes and was reading it over while we had some lunch. He gave me this look…the same one you get when someone tells you a joke that you can see the humor in but don’t particularly think it’s all that funny because it’s just weird. You know what look I mean.
The comments on a couple of the problems were simply horrible. As in, the teacher had rewritten his answers so that they were entirely dumbed down. It’s not that these answers were vague or wrong or anything; he chose words that made the point and his answers were succinct. The rewritten answers were long and meandering but weren’t any more clear. I called Mike and read the rewritten answers.
“You’re kidding me.”
So I found myself saying something that I know I would have never, ever believed in my own youth: “You just need to get through the class and pass it so you can go to college. College will be better.”
It makes me really sad that my son, who loves language and literature, is going to have to endure a class where he was hoping to be able to think about and discuss literary works on a really grown-up level. Sadly, it looks like he’s going to have to keep it light for his teacher. I could only reiterate that this is why I feel that high school is a waste of his time.
Making your mom proud (if she’s a physicist) August 19, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, physics, science.
Tags: homeschooling, older son, physics, science
One of the classes that the older boy is doing this year is physics. Rather than give him something very math intensive, I instead chose to have him study from Paul Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics text. It’s a book I came across after I’d already had a couple years of physics, and I regret not having had that book first. It does a wonderful job of explaining how physics works and what the concepts mean without drowning the reader in math.
When I picked up the older son after his study session the other day, he began talking about how imbalances in forces are what cause objects to accelerate. For instance, a car will move forward when the force created by the engine to move the car forward exceeds the forces of friction, gravity (if it’s on a hill), etc. After listening, I asked the question, “What happens then if the forces become balanced?”
I fully expected him to say that the object would stop moving. I really did. This is what the vast majority of students in my physics labs assumed when asked that question. Their assumption is that the forces must always be out of balance if the object is moving.
It would really depend on if the object were moving or still to begin with. If it was moving, it would continue to do so, and if it wasn’t moving, it would continue to stay still.
My response was to yell, “Yes!!!!!” at the top of my lungs and pump my fist. I’ve been proud of my son many times over the past few years, but few things make me beam as much as displaying a clear understanding of Newtonian mechanics.
A tale of two colleges April 2, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: college, education, gifted education, higher education, older son
I quickly came to the realization, after coming up with a list of potential colleges for the older boy, that we should try to visit some campuses now. I teach in the fall and taking time off during the week would only be possible around Thanksgiving, so this would be our last chance before applications are due. We hurriedly put together an itinerary and are doing part 1 of the college tour. (Part 2 will be in another, more distant state and will therefore have to occur during the summer sometime.)
The first college we visited was close to the top of the list. It’s a nice state school in a great town, and the older boy was very psyched about the visit. Everything sounded great on the tour, and the overview presentation only reaffirmed that it would be great. Then, however, we talked to an admissions counselor. We explained that older son has his GED, has done or will soon finish all the necessary testing, and that most of his curriculum was courses that he CLEPed.
The counselor informed us that we needed to do the whole transcript thing and affirm that he had taken four years of English, math, etc. I took a deep breath and then asked, “But, does he really have to have four years of English classes, for example, when he’s already demonstrated he can do college-level work in the area?”
“Yes, the tests show he has some knowledge, but we need to see that he’s done the work.”
My first reaction was to wonder who in the world could really pass these tests without doing the work, in some form or another. Second, I wondered why bother saying you accept a GED if this is what is required. Third, I got angry. Is education really about parking your butt in a seat for four years and not so much about learning anything? Is that what will be expected of him at this college?
The worst reaction was when I looked at the older son and saw his face fall. “Oh no,” I thought. “I’ve totally screwed this kid over. How will he get into college? Did I just mess up his life because of insistence that he become prisoner to my educational values while ignoring pragmatism?” Of course, that’s utterly ridiculous. When you’re dealing with a kid who is gifted and learning disabled, the best way to ruin his or her life is to leave them in a situation where they are obviously miserable and non-functioning, which then destroys their self-confidence and motivation. No, I got him into a situation where he was learning and was able to demonstrate that using objective criteria.
Still, after that meeting, the older boy and I were both awfully bummed. After hearing a similar but slightly less uptight message at another school, I started wondering if maybe we needed to worry less about other criteria and find some places that were more friendly to homeschoolers. I’ve realized that we really need to talk to admissions counselors at each of these schools and see if there’s even any point in him applying if they’re going to be extremely skeptical of his accomplishments.
Today, we may have hit the jackpot, however. After getting an overview of this school’s very flexible and creative approach to education, we talked with someone about the older boy’s background and what we’d been doing for schooling. Rather than the reaction we had been getting, they said it sounded like he was rather accomplished. They were fine with his GED, saying that gave them a very good normative comparison, and were impressed with his accomplishments thus far with his CLEPs. That college is, as of right now, at the top of older son’s list. He’s really happy to have found a place that doesn’t view getting a degree as simply a matter of checking off items on a list of requirements.
All of this made me curious. I never knew why he had issues in high school, but it was obvious that once he took his GED and started studying for his CLEPs that he was suddenly excited about learning. I decided to ask him. His response was that he hated how you had to do everything together in high school. The stuff that was easy, they would drag out forever. When they got to stuff that he wanted to look at more carefully or had trouble understanding, he said they’d rush through it.
“College is a lot different, though,” he said. “You’re expected to do a lot of work on your own, so I’ll be able to spend a lot more time when I feel like I need to and, if the class is going slow, I can spend my study time working ahead.”
Apparently something sunk in as he knows he can take responsibility for his own learning. That, in my mind, is very much the point. Education shouldn’t be just a process that happens to you.
Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, homeschooling, research
A very long time ago, I was asked to teach a workshop for the Homeschool Association of California annual conference. It had to do with computers, though I don’t remember what. What I do remember, however, was expecting that I’d be dealing with a bunch of antisocial technophobes.
I couldn’t have been more off the mark than I was. I only had a handful of kids, but they were definitely not technophobes. Admittedly this is probably a self-selecting group because, after all, no one was forcing them to go to the workshop. But what surprised me even more was that they were very sociable. Unlike other high school kids I’d worked with, they didn’t seem intimidated by me or afraid to ask questions. I remember coming out of that workshop and feeling like I’d been slapped upside the head.
The thing I realized from that is my assumption that children schooled at home were anti-social was due strictly to my lack of imagination. I had assumed that if you didn’t spend all day in a room with other kids that you wouldn’t learn to interact at all. It’s not that I’d ever met many homeschoolers. In fact, it was probably my lack of exposure to the culture that made me construct my own version of how they must behave.
Interestingly enough, I find that it’s the one thing that most non-homeschoolers key on: in order to be ‘properly’ socialized, you have to go to school. After spending time around homeschoolers, and recounting my own school experience, I have always been extremely skeptical of that argument. It didn’t help when my older son spent a year going to middle school full time only to come out of it incredibly angry because of the horrid bullying, by students and teachers alike, that he’d encountered.
It’s interesting to me that this question also brought up in response to doing anything different for gifted children in normal schools. That is, there is the argument that grouping children by ability or accelerating their academic curriculum means that kids won’t learn to appreciate diversity and get along with other people. Most people assume that putting gifted kids in different groups or classrooms is bad for everyone.
I hate assumptions, though. I have, over time, come across studies here and there saying that, in general, these assumptions were wrong. I can only think of one study that said ability grouping had negative consequences, and one study on homeschooling that showed a neutral outcome on homeschooling. The topic came up in a discussion with someone, and I thought it was high time for me to make sure I wasn’t blowing smoke.
Unfortunately, the research on both groups is relatively sparse. I suppose it’s not a compelling interest for the majority of the population, so not a lot of resources are put toward it. I am kind of a fan of summary papers, mostly because they save a lot of time by summarizing the results from several different studies while noting the drawbacks of each. In that vein, I managed to come across one for each group, although both are rather ‘old’ by my standards. The paper on gifted socialization was from 1993, while the one on homeschooling was from 2000. (Social science progresses far too slowly for my tastes.)
For the gifted group, Karen Rogers wrote a synopsis of a paper which talks about several different forms of grouping and acceleration. The paper looks at 13 different studies on gifted accelerations methods. She found that academically, almost all methods had positive effects. If you look the psychological and social effects, the were probably neutral. Some forms of acceleration resulted in positive outcomes, some in negative. Her conclusion was:
What seems evident about the spotty research on socialization and psychological effects when grouping by ability is that no pattern of improvement or decline can be established. It is likely that there are many personal, environmental, family, and other extraneous variables that affect self-esteem and socialization more directly than the practice of grouping itself.
The studies that discussed homeschooling were covered in a paper by Medlin. Surprisingly, there were a lot more studies covered in this paper than on gifted education. Medlin broke down the studies into three groups, each addressing a different question. First, do homeschool children participate in the daily activities in the communities? The results indicated that they encountered just as many people as public schooled children, often of a more diverse background, and were more active in extra-curriculars than their public school counterparts. The second question was whether homeschooled children acquired the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they needed. (I keep feeling like there’s a comma missing in that…) While detractors may be pretty upset at this, the conclusion was that, in most cases, homeschool children actually fared better in these studies. Admittedly, though, the studies were hardly taking large numbers of students into consideration. There was speculation on this set of results:
Smedley speculated that the family “more accurately mirrors the outside society” than does the traditional school environment, with its “unnatural” age segregation.
This particular view stands out because it’s a view I see reflected a lot in analysis of gifted education, too: age grouping is unnatural and ability grouping is more likely to occur in real life.
Finally, Medlin asks whether homeschooled students end up doing okay as adults. There are very few studies in this section, but the conclusion from those studies was that they not only do fine, but tend to take on a lot of leadership roles. (I do know there was a study commissioned by the HSLDA a few years ago that came to similar conclusions, but I find a bit of conflict of interest in that one given who paid for it.)
If there’s anything people should be taking out of these studies, it’s that our adherence to age-based grouping of random kids really doesn’t provide the beneficial socialization we think it does and may, in fact, have some pretty negative impacts. In fact, I recently came across and article called, “Why you truly never leave high school,” that talks about those negative effects and how they may actually be carried with us into our adult lives. (Yes, I do realize some of the conclusions make the title a stretch, but it’s food for thought.) Given the presence of issues like bullying that have gotten more air play over the past few years, I’m very surprised people haven’t realized that it could, in fact, be detrimental.