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Mom, could you homeschool me? December 15, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, younger son.
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I knew we had to do something when, early in the school year, the younger son asked me to homeschool him.  When I asked him why, there was the range of answers that included he’s not looking forward to losing recess when he gets to middle school, he’d like to spend more time with me (obviously we’re nowhere being a teenager right now), and even wanting to finish college at 14 or 15.

All I could think was, “Aren’t you supposed to be the easy one?!”

He is.  Honestly, homeschooling him would be emotionally easy, but I’m not so ready to quit everything and become a full-time mom again.  Or maybe ever.  Not sure, and hope to never find out.  The fact of matter is that he’s involved in so many activities that homeschooling him would involve me becoming a full-time chauffeur, and I know it would make me crazy.

On the other hand, he’s said he’s not sure he wants to leave school because he likes it and would miss his friends.  After several discussions, he told me:

I think I need to write a pro and con list.

In the meantime, I’ve done a list in my head.  First and foremost, he likes school.  To me, that is the prime reason to keep him there.  If he’s got a good thing going, don’t mess with it.

Beyond this, however, we’re discussing some academic acceleration for a couple subjects at school.  I honestly do think that he’s better off staying where he is, but it’s also clear that the standard curriculum is not going to cut it.  At a couple points, I contemplated whole grade acceleration, but I’m now opposed to this idea.  I spent a lot of time reading through the Iowa Acceleration Scale material, and he has a couple things going against him: he’s already one of the youngest in his class, he’s small, and he’s athletic.  Participation in sports is a major no-no if you’re going to bump kids up entire grades because this can have very real implications for the physical development and ability later on.  I’m now certain that this would be a bad idea for him, and so subject acceleration in a couple areas seems to be the best solution.  Fortunately, the school is, so far, open to discussion.

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s really no hurry in getting through school.  Is it really any better to go to college early and find a job early and lose that much time from your childhood?  I realize that, for some kids, this is the only way to deal with the gap between mental ability and typical school pacing.  Or maybe they are really that driven.  I am fortunate in the fact that my kid doesn’t seem to require that level of acceleration, and I’d like to give him as much time as possible to explore his options.

I think, most of all, I want him to understand that there’s no reason to hurry up and get there, despite the fact that a lot of people think that’s somehow a sign of competence. I guess I’m starting to realize that no one really will care if he finishes high school in two years or four…just that he get there and finished.  If he finishes in four, though, there’s the opportunity to explore more interests and do other things without the stress and expectations of adulthood weighing him down.  Given the opportunity, there are a lot of other things I wish I could’ve done in my teens that aren’t an option now.  I therefore hope he understands the value of taking his time: maybe he can learn to enjoy the journey.

I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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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.

The “dear teacher” letter November 11, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, 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.


A tale of two colleges April 2, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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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.

The socialization question, homeschooled and gifted children March 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, papers, research, teaching.
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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.

Not working… October 4, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, math, younger son.
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Last spring, we came to an agreement with the younger son’s school that he’d be doing his online math course at school.

We didn’t even make it a month, and he’s back to doing it at home.  I’m not sure what happened, but it sounds like he couldn’t work in the classroom.  Instead, he was supposed to work out at the main desk.  I’m sure that wasn’t at all distracting.  He had some people there he could ask for help, but I get the feeling that didn’t work so well and they also weren’t going to let him contact his teacher through the program.  He basically stopped working.

After a few days of this, I started doing some of it at home with him after school.  Finally, it was apparent he wasn’t getting anything done at all at school, so we sent a note to his teacher and the principal that he would be doing math at home again.  His teacher said ok, and the principal never responded.

I’m not sure what to make of it given how adamant they were about him doing his math at school last spring.  I also guess I’m a bit disappointed that I have to take this over again.  However, it seems like he’s moving again, so we’ll just go with it.

Why parenting sucks… May 25, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, math, teaching, younger son.
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Now that the school year is over, I can finally discuss one thing that’s been driving me nuts for the past couple weeks.

Most of you know that I’ve been volunteering to work with a group in my son’s class that’s slightly ahead in math.  The teacher was doing some grouping to help the kids who were struggling and more or less leaving the other ones to do “enrichment activities” for an additional twenty minutes outside of normal math time every day.  I was going in once a week to help with the advanced group, although that evolved into reading math stories to the whole class every other week.

One day was very odd.  As I sat down to work with the ‘advanced’ group, the younger son started talking.  He started explaining addition and multiplicative identities to the other kids, but it was obvious they didn’t know what he was talking about.  At first, I tried to get back to what I’d planned on discussing, but I also didn’t want to make him feel like he was being shushed.  So when the other kids started this eye-roll, “here he goes again” type of body language,  I tried to augment what he was saying.  I wondered how often this type of thing was happening.  I felt bad about the whole thing because the kids seemed interested when I was talking about it.  However, here’s the younger son, feeling like he can talk to these other kids about some of the math he was doing at home, and they don’t understand and are blowing him off.

Unfortunately, I know how he feels because this happens to me as an adult, almost always when I’m talking to my kids’ teachers.  I have always gotten the feeling that they think I don’t understand children or how they work.  I obviously am just one of those parents that’s overestimating my child’s intelligence and pushing him beyond  his ability.  If my children really were ‘gifted’ (always said with a sneer, if the dreaded word is even spoken at all), then they wouldn’t behave the way they do.  (I think this means they expect my kids to sit still and be compliant.)  And I’m most definitely not competent enough to handle educating my own child.

In fact, it happened again very recently.  The younger son’s end of year test scores came back, and all of the focus was on one subtest where he’s “right in with his peers”.  That is, a full year ahead of national norms.  They’re very concerned about his progress because of that subtest and wanted him to spend next year in the normal classroom to ‘get him back on track’.  (Because working a year behind his current achievement level helps him how????)  Very conveniently, they ignore the subtest where he’s four years ahead…and the other two or three where he’s still very far ahead of his classmates, as well.  They use that one subtest as evidence that I’m doing a lousy job teaching him math at home.

The good news is that they’re going to let him continue to use his current math curriculum, only he will be doing it at school in the fall.  I have a few reservations (mostly that he won’t get the help he needs), but I have hopes that just maybe they’ll start believing me.  I know it’s hard to believe a kid can go from getting teary-eyed about getting subtraction problems wrong to gleefully manipulating fractions and decimals in a single year.  On the other hand, I am pretty sure he’s said things that would make them realize he knows some of this stuff…but I suspect they just blew it off or attributed it to his “overactive imagination”.

Fed up with standardized tests May 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, teaching, Uncategorized.
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When I was a kid, I remember taking Iowa Basics tests every couple years.  I remember this because I was both stunned and disappointed.  I was usually impressed because my grade equivalencies placed me at least three grades ahead of then current placement with the gap widening as time went on.  The disappointment was because nothing ever came of it.  I sort of assumed that everyone I was going to school with must have similar scores because I was kept with the same people, in the same grade, without even so much an acknowledgement.

Well, okay, there was an acknowledgement – there were usually comments about how my math computation scores were so much lower than everything else.  (This is what led me to believe, for many years, that I was bad at math.)

My kids haven’t used Iowa Basics, and I find this very disappointing.  In a move that I can only assume is a result of No Child Left Behind (or, as I affectionately like to refer to it, the “Lake Wobegon Law” because everyone must be above average), there has been a shift away from tests like Stanford Achievement or Iowa Basics to NWEA Map testing.

The only way I can describe this is useless info that’s providing a moving target.  The test provides percentiles and approximate ranges for competencies in various subfields.  It is frequently renormed.  In many respects, it’s the same as any other standardized test.

My beef is that, as far as I can tell, the only purpose of the test is to see how your student(s) compare with the rest of your district or nationally.  On the other hand, I will say that it’s not the only one that does this.  However, it seems like there are a lot of schools moving this way, and I see it as a huge detriment.  The reason is that I don’t think you can make decisions about a child based strictly on their performance compared to a norm.  However, that’s exactly what teachers want to do.  They see an area of relative weakness in a child and want to hold them to that level for all of their abilities.  I am left to ponder why it is they never want the child to be working at the level where they are capable and make an attempt to bring the weak areas up to par with the strong areas.  Of course, if you have nothing to determine where they’re actually achieving, it’s hard to implement that type of education.

This leads me to wonder: how does a child working at age level help them to develop skills above age level?  If you’re teaching a child stuff s/he already knows, aren’t you just holding them back?

The complaints I received about my ‘lousy’ math computation scores are one example of this.  I have several tests showing this problem which constantly elicited comments from teachers about how I was poor at math.  I get the impression that they looked for personal weaknesses but never really made the connection that my average was different than most of the other kids.  Their solution, therefore, was to have me work on more computation at grade level.

Scores that only consist of a percentage relative to norms tell you is that one’s performance relative to everyone else may be an area of weakness.  It doesn’t tell you, however, where you’re really achieving.  It’s a bit different if you have a grade equivalency sitting next to the norms.  It turns out that my ‘lousy’ math computation scores implied that my computation was equivalent to the average child two grades ahead of me.  And it should be fairly obvious that if they wanted to me to be achieving more strongly in computation, they would have been giving me more computation at 2-3 years ahead of grade level.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and most often, it’s still not.  It’s a lot harder to dismiss a child’s achievements when you have a solid basis of comparison (a kid two or three years older) than some vague percentile.  Those percentiles don’t give teachers a true picture of achievement; how many teachers have frequency tables for a normal distribution sitting nearby? My impression is that it leaves them only feeling that when a child is at a very high level, the child is learning and thriving in their current environment.  They have the mistaken impression that the child is having their needs met, when in reality, the child could be seriously underperforming relative to their potential.  Likewise, they may get the impression that a child is struggling but fail to realize that it’s because they lack basics from prior years.

I therefore would like tests to go back to giving grade equivalencies.  I think this illuminates the level of child achievement and gives teachers a better idea of what they are actually dealing with.  There is a good amount of research showing that teachers are actually some of the worst identifiers of children’s intellectual gifts, and taking away the frame of reference that grade equivalencies provide is going to make it worse for the child and parents or other advocates.

It’s not easy being…gifted. April 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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I was surprised at how many people misunderstood my post on Asperger’s.  However, I suppose it’s bound to happen when people go on a rant in print.  What I’d like you to do, if you felt I was being offensive to Aspies, is go back and read the post, substituting “gifted” for “Aspie”.  Or you could use the word ‘green’. I still feel pretty much the same way.  The point I was trying to make was that labels suck.

Nicoleandmaggie left a comment in yesterday’s post that said:

I agree with the above folks that diagnosis of syndromes is important for treating the negative aspects of those syndromes, and that’s as true for giftedness as it is for Aspergers as it is for PCOS.

I’m not convinced this is true.  I can homeschool a child who is gifted without ever having a clue they’re gifted while being able to keep them adequately challenged.  Likewise, I could probably do the same with an Aspie child (since people used to keep giving the older son that ‘armchair diagnosis’).  The problem is not the mental state of the child as much as the fact that we expect all children to sit in classrooms with other kids their age and function exactly the same way.  With both Asperger’s and giftedness, it’s amazing how those labels suddenly don’t become as important when in a workplace setting.

If you’ve ever hung out with physicists or engineers, the ones that stick out are NOT the socially clueless, nerdy, fixated types: it’s the ones who make decisions emotionally and adhere to societal norms.  Really, the place we need these labels is when we have such an artificially constructed environment that necessitates ‘normality’ and conformity.  Further, the teachers of these classrooms (especially in elementary) tend to be of the personality type that values social conformity over rationality or innovative thinking.  Giftedness is viewed as a threat to the social fabric, and I would guess that Aspies, with their nonconformity to societal values, are in the same boat as the gifted (and it’s twice as bad for those who are both).  All this, despite the fact that the ‘teacher lecturing to kids sitting quiescently in their desks’ method of teaching has been shown to be one of the least effective methods of communicating information.

In my own life as a student and as a parent, I’ve had a fair number of teachers who think that gifted kids don’t need to be challenged, they need to be brought down a notch.  And, as a parent, the looks I get from teachers when the subject of giftedness comes up is far worse than having to say there’s an IEP for educational autism in place.  (And what good are labels like exceptionally gifted when no one has a clue what they mean anyway?!)  Yet, as an adult, I have never had to even address most of the differences my kids display in unstructured environments.  When not in school, people learn to deal with those who are different or to try to avoid those who are so different that they can’t deal with them.  I am thoroughly convinced that the reason we need labels is not to help the kids but to help the teachers deal with kids they don’t understand or don’t like.  Which makes me wonder why we keep using this model where we stick kids in these situations that almost always result in a negative impact on their self-esteem.

I think there are two solutions to the problem, best when used together.  First, I think the role of teachers is all messed up.  Second, I think the whole classroom organization scheme is messed up, too.  The older boy attended a gifted school for two years where the premise was that each kid could work at an individual level toward their own specific educational goals.  The teachers in this scenario became facilitators.  It’s actually a lot like homeschooling, except there are more kids and some of the learning comes from interacting with those kids.  In this scenario, the teachers need to be educated about differences, keep an eye out for problems a kid may have, but they also have to understand the material they are teaching very well.  (Given elementary education training is more about classroom control than ensuring a very thorough understanding of the material, this changes the nature of how teachers would have to be educated.)  In this scenario, kids who had different needs were able to have those needs addressed without drawing undue attention to their differences.  It significantly reduced the amount of peer issues and, especially, bullying.  The interactions were organic, not forced.

A lot of the education was done through self-paced computer programs.  This meant one kid would get through five years of math in one year while another might struggle getting through a single year during that time.  But it didn’t matter…they could excel where they were able and allowed to take it more slowly when necessary.  And there was no judgement attached.

Creating this sort of classroom environment is probably somewhat more expensive than a regular classroom, but I’m not sure.  (How does the cost of textbooks and workbooks compare with computers and easily updated software?)  We’re so used to the notion that education means suffering, both through too fast or too slow academics as well as through social stigma for all our differences.  I don’t think people really are making an effort to correct these issues, which are often linked, because they are too stuck on the idea of doing things the way they always have been done.

This means we continue to need labels.  And I still think labels are stupid.

Terrified of homeschooling (again) March 27, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, younger son.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Last night, the younger son was working on his math homework while I sat next to him and played sudoku.  I’ve found that this is the best way to oversee his homework because I don’t really pay attention to what he’s doing unless he asks for help, but I’m close by in case he starts getting frustrated.  And really, I can’t concentrate on anything important when I’m interrupted every ten minutes for an explanation.

The younger son has started running into problems with a concept now and again.  After he gets so many wrong, the program will switch gears and have him work on something else for a while.  Then it goes back and tries the subject again.  This happened for the first time a few days ago.  He complained, saying it was repeating questions.  I told him the program thought he needed more practice.  Last night, it happened again.

“Mom, the program thinks I need more practice.  But I don’t. I know this stuff.”

“Well, you’ll have to prove it to the computer.”  And he answered every question correctly.  The fact that he got peeved about repeating questions is a huge improvement from the kid who would avoid doing pretty much anything for fear of getting it wrong…and if he did try and get it wrong, there would be a major emotional blowout to follow.  That kid is a distant memory…but was around as recently as six months ago.  This, in my mind, is why you need to present challenges to perfectionists.

I’m now anxious for another reason.  I really thought the younger boy would slow down in his math progress.  Yes, I did up the amount of time he spends from 20 to 40 minutes per day, my reasons for which are elaborated in another post.  And he no longer gets everything right.  In fact, on his daily practice, he’s usually hitting somewhere between 80 and 90 percent correct answers.  But he’s still not really slowing down.

At the end of the year, he’s going to be three years ahead in math.  We didn’t expect this, and this puts us past the ‘drop dead’ point where the school can do anything.  His school only goes up to 5th grade at his campus.  The other campus starts at 6th and goes through the end of high school. Realistically, he’s not ready for that with his reading and writing.  So now we’re obligated to keep going with his current math program for the next three years.  Because of the structure of the courses, he will have to slow down signficantly.  However, we’re still looking at a realistic possibility of him being through algebra 2 before he starts middle school.  At that point, we are going to have to see if the school is willing to let him join a bunch of high school students for geometry or precalc…when he’s 12.

I’m nervous about this because of what is going on in his classroom.  He’s not participating in the regular math class, but he does work on addition and subtraction drills.  His teacher is putting on his report card that he’s ‘beginner level’ in math based on these drills.  I really am not worried how he’s doing on this because of the fact that I know he can add two and three digit numbers in his head, even though he still writes some numbers backwards when writing the answers.  I am guessing the pressure of timed quizzes, the act of writing, or perhaps lack of interest are causing his poor performance.  (Incidentally, while he may not do every problem, all the problems he does are correct.)

I am concerned that teachers in the future are going to look at this and believe he doesn’t know math rather than looking at what he’s accomplished through the online math program.  And I’m worried this will have a negative impact on our ability to accelerate him when the time is appropriate.  But, mostly, I’m frustrated that so much of the assessment of his abilities rests on judgements of things like basic arithmetic or handwriting when it’s become so obvious to me that he’s got some serious abstract thinking abilities.  No teacher is ever going to see that unless they give him some challenging material.  (I have to admit that I had no idea until we started down this path with the math program.)  Likely, they won’t because they’re so stuck on what I consider to be somewhat superficial things.

Based on my experience with the older son, I guess this is starting to leave me terrified that the younger boy will eventually need to be pulled out of school.  I have that thought every time I get a note about some problem at school.  Admittedly, most of them are small things that I don’t have to worry about.  The thought is sitting just under the surface, though, and pokes an eye out every time something seems amiss.

For now, we’ve decided to just keep him moving through regular school while supplementing math during the school year and language arts during the summer.  I imagine that in about 3 years, however, we’re going to hit a pretty serious fork in the road.  I’m a person who doesn’t take well to waiting, however, so even now it’s still on my mind a lot.

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