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World’s Worst Officemate November 23, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, research, science, younger son.
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I have been working at home, trying to finish up this PhD thing once and for all.  Earlier this year, the place I worked was shut down and so I figured that if I had any desire to stay in academia (which I do), the PhD thing is kind of a necessary evil.

Because of the job situation, however, I also ended up with a new officemate: my younger son.  It was actually a combination of factors: private school is expensive, middle school is a cesspool of derision and contempt (and therefore not the best place to develop social skills), and, finally, the younger son really wanted to take high school biology and no one would let him.  Except me, being the overindulgent parent I am.

I have to admit that he’s been a bit easier to deal with than his older sibling.  It’s amazing how much easier this education thing is when you’re not dealing with ADHD.  The younger son is amazingly self-sufficient and does a good job of keeping a schedule.

I have, however, discovered one major flaw in this plan.  I had no idea how much middle schoolers talked.  Mostly, he gets excited about the things he’s learning in his class, which really tickles me.  However, he wants to share everything with me.  Every. Thing.  I have learned more about genes and cell processes and reproduction in the past two months than I probably did during my own high school biology class.  I have learned about social and mental and physical health.  I am beginning to speak Spanish with a level of proficiency that has not been present since my teens.  And mostly, I see him being happy and excited about learning again.

Unfortunately, he’s not quite so receptive when I begin to talk about coding and arrays and debugging and compiler issues and, especially, writing.  I have begun, as of late, to tell him that while I’m glad he’s learning, I really need him to let me focus on my work, too.  Someday, if he has to share an office with someone, this will be good real life practice for not making them insane.  At least he’s not asking to go out every ten minutes, like the dogs.

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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.

 

Too easy… August 15, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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The older son began his schoolwork for the year.  We looked at what classes he needed to finish in order to get into college next fall, and we decided that he should probably take some high school classes via correspondence. (That’s the old-fashioned term…I guess they’re now all ‘online’ courses.)  This afternoon, he sat down to get started on one of his social studies classes.  After an hour, he had finished reading the first of 8 units and had done one of the three or four assignments for that unit.

“It just seems too easy,” he said.

“That,” I responded, “is what high school classes are like.”  I hadn’t realized it before he said something, but except for math, all of the classes he’s done the past couple years have been college-level.  I guess realizing that made me understand why it was such a jolt.

I imagine that it’s also a bit frustrating to have to go back and do work that seems overly simplistic, but he understands that this isn’t so much about him learning something as it is about jumping through the hoops in order to get into college.  Given the classes he’s already completed, he knows he’s capable of doing college-level work, but the admissions counselors seemed doubtful.

Maybe I need to get him one of these to take the edge off:

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.

When in doubt, pull them out June 15, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
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I came across this article about Brandon Elizares this morning.  I feel horrible for his family and for him because of what he went through.  I’ve been meaning to write a post on bullying for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because it’s somewhat personal.  After reading about Brandon, I determined that I should just come out and say it: if your kid is being bullied, do what you have to get them out of that environment.  Whatever it takes.

When the older boy was supposed to start middle school, I took the stance that he needed to start learning how to function in a normal school environment.  Heck…this is something I’m worried about today as we’re looking at college.  But as far as making him go to school in sixth grade, I can honestly say that’s one of the worst things I ever did.

For those who say that kids need to go to school to learn socialization, I call utter and complete bullshit.  Do you know what socialization is in middle school?  Exactly the kinds of things that happened to Brandon.  They were the kinds of things that were happening to my son, as well.  In his case, it wasn’t because he was gay but just because he’s different.  He was being sexually harrassed so badly by one person that I went up to the school and demanded they do something.  They did, and the teasing died down from this kid, but it never stopped.  He just found more creative ways of doing it.  Older son started to refuse to ride the bus home because of the teasing.  He started walking and instead found another group of kids who thought it was cool to beat him up on the way home from school.  Kids would harass him in school while teachers’ backs were turned, and then stop just as he was about to retaliate, thereby leaving him to get in trouble.  He was suspended from school several times, and the one who provoked the attack never received any sort of punishment.

He started shutting down in his classes and didn’t care about the work.  The only class he was succeeding in was his advanced math class…and that’s saying something because he hated math.  However, it was the only class where his teachers were advocates for him.  The rest of his teachers started  treating him like he was an idiot, and when he was evaluated at the end of the year because of his ‘dysfunction’ in the school environment, his English teacher, who’d originally raved about how bright he was, said he wasn’t gifted and there was obviously something wrong with him.

I saw more and more anger bubbling up in him.  As a parent, it terrified me because I was worried that one day he was going to flip and either hurt himself or someone else.  (Yes, I had images of Columbine burning in my head.)  And I’d pretty much decided that the year of school had done more damage than good.  He would not be going back.

The following year was when he was accepted into the gifted school.  About a month after he started, a local television crew visited the program, and I remember a video clip of the director talking about how they got two kinds of kids: the ones that were obviously far above their peers or the ones who were troublemakers and likely to drop out or get kicked out of school.  It was particularly ironic because that statement was made on a day when the older boy was home from school, on a temporary suspension because he’d shoved his PE teacher.  My fears about how this bullying was affecting my kid were obviously not unfounded.  The school said their normal policy was to permanently kick out students who assaulted teachers…but they wanted to give him another chance.

His first year at the gifted school was very hard because he was paranoid and angry.  He thought everyone was out to get him because of the incessant bullying (both from other students as well as from teachers) he’d had to deal with the year before.  The teachers at the gifted school were very patient and understanding of him, and slowly he began to lay aside some of the anger and started making friends.  By the end of the year, things were going better, but then he did something to another kid and was told that if anything else happened, he would be out.  Fortunately, summer came, he had time off, he spent a lot of time thinking about it, and when he went back the following year, he was like a different kid.  That year went very smoothly because he finally felt like people understood him and even liked him.  There were only minor problems, and by the end of the year, the teachers were suggesting that some of the support he’d had during that school year would be unnecessary for the future.

So basically, one year of damaging bullying took about two years and some very special people to make it go away.  I honestly don’t think things would have changed as much had he not been in a place with other kids like himself, or with teachers who understood what he’d been going through.  However, I can say for certain that leaving him in the middle school would have guaranteed that something very wrong would have happened.

I can only plead with parents who are dealing with this sort of bullying to please get your kids out of that environment as quickly as possible.  It will not get better, only worse.  It doesn’t build character: it makes them terrified and angry, and they will find terrible ways to deal with those feelings.  And no matter how willing the school is to police the behavior, other kids find ways around it.  Their drive to harass others who are different is unbelievable.  (I still don’t understand it.)  Getting kids out of school and either into a school where they’re more comfortable or even homeschooling, where they’ll have the opportunity to get involved in things that interest them and gives them a reason to learn, is far better than leaving them in that vulnerable position.

There is no reason any kid should have to go through that, and parents really need to understand that doing nothing is worse than taking some risks to get them out of there.

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.

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