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A reason to celebrate March 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son.
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A couple months ago, I mentioned that the older boy had been kicked out of school.  Today, however, we’re celebrating because he took and passed his GED last week, and we got his scores this morning.

I was rather nervous that he might not pass one or two of the sections, but I ended up being very wrong.  He was in the 98th or 99th percentile (and aced the science exam) on all but one section: writing.  I’m actually surprised he did that well given he’s really never had any high school classes in any of this stuff.  He’d done a lot of stuff in math online, and he had taken the US History CLEP exams last year.  On the other hand, I’m not surprised that writing was his poorest test.  It’s not that he’s a poor writer, because he’s not.  However, he has significant difficulty with the physical act of writing, which really slows him down.  Also, they asked him to write on sports, of all things.  Poor kid.

However, he did pass the exam, and now he’s said he wants to go to college.  I told him that he’s got about a year and a half before getting his apps in, so he needs to figure out where he wants to go and what he wants to do when he gets there.  I’m curious to see what he decides.  In the short term, however, he’s studying for another CLEP.  After that, he gets to join the adult world for real: it’s time to start looking for a job.

My little professor February 28, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, meta, teaching, younger son.
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The younger son is really blowing me away in math.  He started 5th grade math yesterday, and we expect him to be through it by the end of the year.  If you’re wondering why this is surprising, keep in mind that he’s only 7.  (My husband and I both shake our heads and keep wondering what we would’ve accomplished had we been able to accelerate in school.)

I will admit that the program recommends students do at least 20 minutes of math per day, and he does 40. I found that he needed some time to ‘warm up’.  It seems like when he starts, he’s not crazy about the idea of doing homework.  He would much rather go play with his Legos (and I can’t say I blame him).  So he spends the first few minutes sighing and agonizing about having to do homework.  Then, after 5-10 minutes, something clicks, and he decides he likes what he’s doing and starts focusing.  So maybe half of the time is productive.  I then have him do another 20 minute session (and by this point, he’s enjoying himself, so I almost never have to remind him), where he seems focused for about 10 minutes or so, and the last 10 minutes, he starts getting distractable.

When we did 20 minutes, he would have to quit just as he was getting into his stride.  I also found that it took him longer to get through things because it had been a longer amount of time since he’d last seen it.  He would forget things that he’d already learned.

It also took me a while to realize that while he may be wiggling and looking around at everything else, he apparently has to move to think.  (If I wiggled around half as much as he did, I’d fall out of my chair.  And my productivity would take a serious dive.)  I keep wondering if he wiggles this much at school, although his teacher has never mentioned it.  Also, I supposed part of it comes from sitting in a desk most of the day.

I really like to sit with him while he’s doing his math.  I don’t usually say much, or I’ll be reading something on my iPhone.  If he gets stuck, though, he likes to talk through the problem, and I am amused at how he sounds like a little math professor.  (Heck, I think he explains things better than some of my elementary school teachers did.)  Last night, however, I noticed that he was supposed to be comparing two sets of equations with numbers regrouped in different ways.  The lesson was on the associative property of multiplication.  The problems involved solving one multiplication expression and then the same expression again with the numbers grouped differently.  It looked something like this:



The idea is to prove that you can regroup the numbers and end up with the same answer, verifying that multiplication is associative.  The younger son would solve the first equation and then just type the same answer into the second one.

I said, “Don’t you think you ought to solve that second one just to make sure it’s the same?”

He responded, in my best little exasperated professor voice, “No. Multiplication is associative, so I don’t need to.”

I couldn’t help but giggle.

If he already thinks he knows more than me now, I dread what he will be like as a teenager.

Stupid mistakes January 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, physics, research, societal commentary.
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I used to be one of those people who beat myself up whenever I found a mistake I’d made.

Okay…who am I kidding?  I still do that.

In fact, I just did it.  I’ve been sitting here for about 2 days, trying to figure out why something I was programming wasn’t scaling correctly.  I was trying to add a little bump to something big…but my bump was a lot bigger than the stuff I was adding it to.  When I finally found the problem, it turned out that my scaling factor had been multiplied by the big thing, not the bump.


First and foremost, this is why I can’t code at 11 p.m. when I’m about ready to pass out.  These things happen a lot more often.

However, the bigger issue is that my automatic reaction to these things is that I must be really stupid to make a mistake to begin with.  I’m trying to train myself out of that particular thought process.  I try to think instead that I’m obviously not stupid or I would have taken what I did and run with it.  Instead I did notice there was a problem and I fixed it.

This is particularly important when you’re doing simulation work.  I found this out working on my master’s thesis: if you see a problem with your results, dig into it immediately.  Look at everything and make sure that no numbers are off.  This is where the notion comes from that you should have a good idea what sort of results you expect before you get them.  Now, that won’t always happen.  And, in fact, getting results that are ‘off’ is sometimes good as it can lead to new areas of research.  However, more often than not, it can also be a result of bad input.

I’m not sure where  this comes from, although I have some rather perfectionistic tendencies.  I also believe some of it comes from the fact that, as a kid, I was often ahead intellectually of where I was placed academically.  I was able to get everything right, so I always assumed that being smart meant getting things right all the time.  If I got things wrong, I never was told that maybe I just needed to be more careful or slow down or spend more time on something.  I’d been told that I got things right because I was smart…leading me to believe that when I got things wrong, I must be stupid.

Now, however, I try to remember that it’s not as important to get it right the first time as it is to be able to find my mistakes and correct them.  Therefore, I need to check over my work thoroughly, and when I’m done with that, I should have someone else check it over.  (I’ve often found, though, I’m more likely to find my own mistakes than others because I know what I’m looking at.)  What would be stupid is to not correct the mistake or to not identify it when it’s glaringly obvious.  Still, I find the impulse is there to berate myself for making a mistake to begin with, especially when I’m short on time (which is always).

Lexile ranges December 19, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, science fiction, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The younger boy’s school sent home a bunch of information on lexile range.  I’d never heard of this before, but it’s a way to rate books so that kids are reading at an appropriate level.  On the surface, it seems like a good idea: it’s very hard, as a parent, to provide reading material for your kids that’s appropriate.  Aside from the basic issues of whether they’ll understand the language and sentence structures of a book, there are the themes and situations: are they too complex or adult-oriented for a child to read?

A lot of this, of course, depends not only on cognitive ability but emotional maturity, as well.  I remember how my older boy started reading Harry Potter very early.  Sometime in third grade, he read the fifth book.  I began to wonder about him reading the fourth and fifth books at such a young age because of the adult themes.  We were fortunate, however.  Reading books about such emotional and adult themes started giving him words to explain a lot of his thoughts and feelings with minimal emotional fallout.

After receiving these results, I dutifully trucked my troops down to the library (no complaints from said troops) where they had a program to help us find books in the appropriate range.  However, I forgot the letter with the lexile range and so had to guess where he was at.  The younger boy had already been reading Magic Tree House books, so I figured some of the Dragon Slayer Academy books might be up his alley.  We got those and some Bionicle books and headed home.  He really seemed to like the Dragon Slayer Academy books and has been reading bits at a time.  Language-wise, they seemed perfect, although their length is a bit intimidating for him.

It turned out, I had remembered the incorrect values.  The books we picked were near the top of his range.  And yet, I was confused.  If these were supposed to be too difficult, why was he having no difficulty reading them?

Mike, unbeknownst to me, had also started looking at lexile information on specific books.  He was curious where he would’ve been placed when he was in various stages of school.  After we returned from the library, he started telling me about this and that he didn’t buy the results.  He’d been comparing some of his favorite sci-fi books, and he was puzzled at the results.  I threw out some books I read as a kid and made some comparisons.  Books that I thought were very difficult showed up as supposedly easier to read than ones I’d zipped through.

We looked up the criteria for determining lexile range:

A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile measure is a good starting point in your book-selection process, but you should always consider these other factors when making a decision about which book to choose.

Both Mike and I read this and shook our heads.  We both had different takes on it.  I found that one thing that made a book challenging for me was dealing with vocabulary.  It’s not clear to me whether or not this is reflected in the “word frequency” measure.  (Do they mean word frequency in the book or relative to the English language?)  Mike felt he struggled most with books that had very adult themes, something not reflected in the range.

Our take on this is that this is only a very rough guideline, and probably not a good one to use.  We both felt that interest in a book or topic was probably going to be a far better predictor of readability than using the lexile range.  I suppose that’s what they’re saying about considering other factors.

My concern in this is that some schools go a bit overboard with these things.  When the older boy was in fifth grade, he was going to public school part time.  I got a couple calls from the school librarian because he wanted to check out books that were designated for 7th-9th graders.  I felt this was silly because he’d been reading at above that level already, and probably had come across themes in his reading that were more adult than what was in those books.  I told her it alright for him to check the books out, but she seemed to be very opposed to it.  I finally gave up and told older son that he should just probably check most of his books out from the public library.

I’m hoping I don’t see something similar happen with the younger son, i.e., that he not be allowed to check books out from the library if they’re outside of his lexile range.  On the other hand, I’m glad that they seem to be promoting reading at the upper end of the scale so that kids will stretch their mental muscles a bit as well as that they make the point that within any grade level, you’ll have a wide variety of reading levels.  In other words, it seems like they’re trying to get rid of the fantasy that kids all read at the same level and thus require the same reading level.  Therefore, while I may disagree with assessments of individual books, I think they’re definitely taking a huge step in the right direction.

Completely stunned August 24, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, math, younger son.
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We were anticipating some issues with the younger boy starting school this year.  Primarily, we have a problem: he’s already 2 years ahead in math.  He’s been working through Stanford’s EPGY math program, somewhat irregularly over the summer, and he’s managed to move that far ahead.  This has been kind of a surprise because he initially didn’t seem to be that gifted in math.

We decided to sit down with the principal and his new teacher and talk to them about alternatives.  At first, it was fairly obvious they wanted him to be doing math with the other kids but then to add enrichment or even to go to another class.  The problem is that he’s doing well with the EPGY program, so we’re very reluctant to end that.  He also seems to be going at a much faster pace than we expected.  Even now that he’s nearly two years ahead, he’s still only spent about 3 months to do about a year’s worth of math.  Putting him in an advanced classroom that still moves at a slower pace is probably not going to be good for him.

We went in, hoping that they’d be okay with us giving him other things to do during math time.  They didn’t seem real keen on the idea, and we were really reluctant to try to have him do two sets of math each day…one at a lower level or slower pace and then an additional one that’s right for him.

When it was obvious they didn’t like the ideas we suggested, I just sat there and waited for them to come up with something.  Finally, the principal said he’d be willing to help supervise him in doing some sort of independent study project of his choosing during math time.

I just about keeled over.

We went from them not wanting to pull him of math to do something else to them being willing to let him do his own independent study project?!

The principal apparently used to supervise kids where they did this type of project-based learning, and I get the feeling he misses it.  And I think this would be something the younger boy would love to do.

So, despite the fact that I was feeling very uneasy about what was going to happen, I think we hit the jackpot.

First grade, all over again May 27, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, math, younger son.
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Some of you know that we ended up switching the younger boy to a new school mid-year.  We weren’t sure how the new arrangement would work out, so we also decided to enroll him in EPGY’s math program.  I really like program, and one reason is that they introduce basic algebra very early on.  He is already comfortable with using variables, and understands some basic concepts, like substitution.  He was doing great until a couple days ago.  Then we encountered sum and difference equations.



Actually, this particular example was fairly easy for him.  You know that if the difference is zero, the values of a and b have to be the same.  The problem is when you end up with a difference equation that looks like this:


That seemed to lose him fairly quickly.  After struggling with it for a while, I decided it was time to use some manipulatives.

(Note to self: Do not use chocolate chips as manipulatives.  If it’s hot, they’ll melt.  And regardless of the temperature, the kid will be more interested in eating them than doing math with them.)

I explained that a-b=4 is the same as saying that a has 4 more chocolate chips than b.  First we have to take away the extra four chocolate chips, and then a and b will share the remaining chocolate chips equally.  So, in this case, they will share six chocolate chips equally, meaning a will end up with 7 and b will have 3.

He seemed to understand.  He was able to solve several examples using the chocolate chips, but when we went back to doing the problems on the computer, he seemed lost.  He couldn’t do them, and then pretty soon, he wouldn’t do them.  I was flummoxed because he obviously understood how to do it a few moments before.

My first reaction was to get frustrated, and soon I was almost angry.  He wasn’t even trying!

It was at that point I realized exactly what had been going on at his old school.  The kid is a serious perfectionist, and being a perfectionist, his instinct is to avoid things he can’t do very easily.  He’s afraid that if he can’t do them easily, he will get them wrong.  And getting things wrong is not an option to a perfectionist. (Before you say what a horrible parent I am for turning my child into a perfectionist, please note that he’s been like this since he was capable of doing *anything* and that it’s extremely common in gifted children because they are not used to things being challenging.)

I realized I needed to change my tactics quickly.  I immediately told him that I knew it was hard to do these problems, but that if he tried, I was sure he’d do a good job at them.  I went from frustrated to empathetic in the drop of the hat.  He asked if I would help him if he got stuck, and I promised I would.

And then, suddenly, he could do the problems with no help at all.

In education, this sort of practice is called “emotional scaffolding”: the idea that influencing emotions is as much a part of learning as acquiring knowledge, and for students to learn well, they may need emotional support from their teachers as well as instruction.  When I had tried to talk to the teacher at younger boy’s old school about using emotional scaffolding in the classroom, her response was that she was “not a special ed teacher”.  I was surprised because, to me, addressing the emotional component of learning is just as important as the content.  If you have a kid who is easily intimidated by learning, then it only makes sense they may need more pep talks than the average kid.  Making a kid comfortable with learning is most definitely not something confined to special ed teachers – or at least it shouldn’t be.

On the flip side, if you don’t understand the root of the behavior, it is probably very easy to assume that the child doesn’t understand the material.  Addressing the emotional component of learning means you need to have a good handle on what makes a child tick – something nearly impossible when you’re dealing with 25 or 30 kids.

I think part of the reason that the younger boy is doing so well in his new classroom is that 1) we have identified the emotional issues causing the problem and 2) he had a teacher who was very willing and able to work with him and provide that emotional scaffolding.  As a result, he went from having completely shut down to now working at advanced levels in all of his curriculum.

One issue in dealing with perfectionism, however, is making sure that the child is continually challenged enough to frustrate them a little, but not so much that they are bound to fail.  They need to learn that working or getting help is a better way to deal with challenges than simply shutting down.  And in order to be willing to confront those challenges, teachers need to be willing to both mentally challenge a child while at the same time providing emotional support.

What I saw the past few days confirmed what I thought had happened – the teacher at the old school was willing to provide the challenge, but not willing to provide any emotional support.  The teacher at the new school was able to do both.  For that, he will forever have my gratitude.

It is also a reminder to me that teaching material alone is not enough: the best teachers also work to keep their students motivated and interested.

WSJ’s “Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid” April 4, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, Fargo, gifted, homeschooling, older son, younger son.
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I came across the article The Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid last week, and two thoughts crossed my mind.  One was, “Absolutely!” The second, a bit more complicated, was how I, like some of the commenters, get frustrated that so many of these stories always focus on prodigies.

But first things first.

Right now, I’m personally frustrated with the whole time/financial burden that seems to come with my kids’ being ahead of the curve.  To show why this is frustrating, I’ll look at each kid individually.  First, the older one is in a school where they simply don’t believe in acceleration.  He’s not allowed to take AP classes until he’s a junior, period.  While he’s taking some classes at the local public school, these are more related to the arts.  There’s no way he’ll stay interested in the classes he would take at the school, and if he’s not interested, he won’t learn. (And he certainly won’t remember to turn in homework!)  Our solution is a combination of classes through homeschooling and other resources.  The materials that seem to work the best for him usually run on the order of $100-$200/class.  Granted, this is cheaper than a college class, but it’s not exactly cheap.  Some of his classes are done on the computer, which run about twice this.  And he’s planning to take some classes at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – running between $800 and $1300 each. And he probably will start college either junior or senior year of high school…so that’ll be even worse.

The younger one isn’t much better.  He’s in private school ($$$!) and he’s taking classes through Stanford’s EPGY program  – running around $500 every 3 mos. per class.

None of this includes the ‘normal’ kid expenses – various clubs and activities and lessons that they are also involved in, like scouts or swimming lessons.

I realize that this is a whining rant, but it frustrates me that there is a simple, inexpensive option that the public schools won’t provide: acceleration.  I guess it’s even more frustrating to realize that if I were willing to move back to the Minneapolis area, we would have several options not only for acceleration but for specialized programs for the kids…at no cost to us.  The two years that I lived down there were admittedly stressful, but I think that’s the only time that I’ve not had to worry about my kids’ education because I knew it was being taken care of. It involved a ‘normal’ commitment of time and finances. (Which is good when you’re on a grad student salary!)

I guess, in reality, this is a trade-off based on where I live.  I like living here, but the schools are only great if you have normal kids.

This brings up the problem I had with the article: gifted kids are really prodigies.  

But inside the private lives of families of truly gifted kids – the less-than-1% whose extraordinary talents are so obvious that parents themselves are surprised — the juggle can get pretty crazy, as I report in today’s “Work & Family” column.

I realize that was not the intent, but it’s frustrating as the parent of gifted kids who are not prodigies to deal with this stereotyped notion of giftedness.  Realistically, a lot of people have come to believe that ‘gifted’ either means a child is some sort of super-driven, highly successful and accomplished adolescents…or you’re just some parent who is really pushing an average-to-bright kid to do more than they are able. (Of course, even if you point out that they are already achieving at a very high level, this just means you’re uppity.)

While I have no desire to try to keep up with a profoundly gifted kid (the ones who are prodigies usually fall into that range), keeping up with my two is already a struggle because of the lack of educational support.  Really, I’m having to do it myself or shell out lots of money to someone else, prodigy or not. If my kids were prodigies, I feel like at least it’d be easier for someone to recognize that you can’t just put them in a normal classroom and expect them to suffer through the boredom. Even being in the top 1% doesn’t mean that their gifts and needs are obvious, especially to classroom teachers.

Overall, however, I think the article was good at making the point that it is not the parents pushing this: the parents are doing what they can to provide for the kids needs. But some of us are incredibly frustrated in the meantime.

Misunderstanding learning disabilities March 21, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, grad school, older son, science, teaching.
Tags: , , , twice exceptional

I was extremely interested when I saw that FSP wrote a post about learning disabilities.  I was equally disappointed when I saw her perspective:

Would knowing that ‘they can’t help it’ help us — the advisor-editors — be more understanding when we encounter this frustrating problem? Would it make us — especially those of us who (like to think that we) don’t have this problem — more likely to be patient when we have to point out (and fix) the same problem again and again?

In my case, probably not. It was interesting to hear this idea, but I am reluctant to embrace the ‘they can’t help it’ explanation.

This sentiment was echoed in several of the comments.

I personally find it frustrating that teachers at all levels will make the assumption that someone who makes these repeated errors is lazy and/or stupid rather than suffering from a learning disability.  As the parent of a child who has a couple, I’ve had to spend a lot of time learning about them in order to make sure my son received an adequate education.  I don’t think this is bad as it has given me a very different perspective on how to approach teaching.  In fact, there have been times I’ve had to explain to teachers how to work with my son because they simply have no training in these areas.  (And 90% of the time, they think they can somehow push things off onto a special ed teacher, not realizing that a child with average or exceptional functioning, even one with a learning disability, very often cannot qualify for special ed.)  What’s worse is that, at the college level, most people don’t even have a background in education let alone have any clue how learning disabilities can impact a typical college student.  They seldom think about how their teaching or interactions can place students with LDs at a serious disadvantage.

I realize it’s a futile effort to educate everyone, but there are a couple very important things to realize about learning disabilities, especially when dealing with college students.

1 – Learning disabilities exist on a continuum, just like any other brain function.  Usually, only the very worst cases of learning disabilities will be recognized and diagnosed.  This means there really are a lot of people in the population that have learning disabilities of lesser degree.  And these lesser, undiagnosed learning disabilities can and do have negative impacts on a student’s learning and ability to express their knowledge.  This has been why there is such a push to recognize and teach to different learning styles.  It helps teachers to make their subject accessible to people of all abilities.

2 – The more intelligent a person is, the easier it is for them to have an undiagnosed learning disability.  Intelligent people can and do compensate for their weaknesses by using their strengths.  This became abundantly clear to me when I found out that my older son (the scary-smart one) was diagnosed as having an auditory processing disorder.  I had no idea that his behavior was indicative of a learning disability…because I’d been doing the same thing for years!  So chances are, I have the same thing…but I never realized it until someone who had expertise in dealing with the issues point these things out to me, and I was in my late 20s and in grad school at that point.  Learning that my son had these issues and analyzing my own approach to learning has been a huge boon.  Still, how do I deal with a teacher who has a very auditory/sequential approach to teaching?  While I had a very accommodating math professor who was more than willing to draw plots or graphs to demonstrate various concepts, not all professors have been so willing.  Further, there are a number of professors who simply can’t think of ways to graphically illustrate a concept.  So am I the one with the limitation, or are they?  Either way, the situation is terribly frustrating as a student.

My frustration with all of this is that there is a lot of ignorance of 2e (twice exceptional) students.  College students, and especially grad students, may have learned to compensate for any learning disabilities that they have.  This makes it hard to tell when someone is LD or not.  However, a good place to start is making the assumption that they really can’t help it.  If someone has made it as far as college, and especially if they are in grad school, chances are that they would have realized and corrected the mistake long ago if they could.  I am not sure why people who work so hard to be scientists would turn around and be negligent about the presentation, knowing that people will make assumptions that they are lazy.

ETA: If you doubt my view of this, please look at this article, describing many of the things I have brought up along with references to studies.  Specifically:

Many more students may be learning disabled and gifted than anyone realizes. In spite of their high intellectual ability, such students remain unchallenged, suffer silently, and do not achieve their potential because their educational needs are not recognized and addressed. Unlike the situation in which a learning disability is accompanied by another “handicap,” students with LD who are gifted present a paradoxical picture of

exceptional strengths coexisting with specific deficits. Curiously, this condition carries with it both a blessing and a burden. On the one hand, gifted students with learning disabilities can draw on their gifts and talents to compensate for their disability. With support, understanding, and some instructional intervention, many are able to overcome their academic difficulties and go on to productive, satisfying careers and lives. On the other hand, because they are able to draw on their strengths, for many students the disability is masked while the “drag” on their academic performance prevents them from consistently achieving at high levels. Thus, they are often not identified and continue to be a severely misunderstood and underserved population. When gifted students fail to achieve their potential, whatever the cause, our nation loses a great deal of talent.

He’s not as smart as his brother… March 4, 2011

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

I’ve been living with an illusion for the past six years that was pretty much shattered recently.  Having an illusion or misconception shatter is both good and terrifying.

Older boy and younger boy are, in terms of personality, like night and day.  The older boy likes to say he broke the mold.  The younger boy once was very puzzled by this, responding, “There’s no mold inside MY body!”

The older boy is the quiet, isolated, brilliant, and frustrated type.  I think he’s an artist at heart, and though we try, there’s so much depth, I doubt I’ll ever understand entirely how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking.  The younger boy is the social, loving, empathetic, athletic type.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, and usually that heart is joyful.

Both were IQ tested.  The older boy showed up at a level I call “scary smart”, but at least he wasn’t “terrifyingly smart”.  These terms are not supposed to mean the kids are scary, but that parenting a kid like this can be scary.  And it’s worse when you throw learning disabilities into the mix.

Given the huge number of difficulties we had with the older boy even before school, I was so relieved to get the younger boy’s IQ test back.  One of my first thoughts was, “Thank goodness he’s not as smart as his brother.”

It was pretty naive of me to think this.  But there were other differences.  He had never really had serious problems getting along with other kids.  His daycare and preschool providers always talked about him as a sweet, sensitive boy.  This was a huge contrast to what his brother went through, so I kept thinking that he was going to be my “easy kid”.

Maybe even normal.

And he is my easy kid, but even easy kids have problems.  I shouldn’t have been so complacent: starting elementary school caused all of the difficulties to start coming to the surface.  How many stories have I read about gifted children starting school, and *BAM!*  the formerly pleasant, bright child turns into a puddle of tears?

To be fair, I was aware it was happening.  When you wake up a child in the morning, and the first thing he does is cry because he has to go to school, you know there’s a problem.  Or when he says his teachers don’t like him.  Or that school is too hard.

I kept trying to discuss the issue with the school principal and the oft unavailable teacher.  When my husband hit his breaking point, she finally told us that he had shut down and was pretty much refusing to talk with her.

I’m sitting here, puzzled why she didn’t tell us this when it first started.  I got comments like, “He’s wandering around the room, not working.”  I was never told that he was flat out refusing.  And I can’t figure out why she would wait weeks or months until teacher conferences to tell us that.

The breaking point was the comment: “Your son probably needs special ed or to be diagnosed with something.”  There is nothing that will make a parent see red faster than that statement, especially when they know their kid inside and out, when one of them is an educator, when they’ve dealt with a whole slew of doctors and diagnoses because of a previous child.  And when they are absolutely certain that the one and only thing that is wrong is the child’s very low self-concept.

It has been obvious that the younger child was a perfectionist from day one.  We have tried very hard to reassure him that we really just want him to try.  At four years old, he would fly into howling fits because he couldn’t manipulate Legos the same way his significantly older brother could.  He sometimes dreads going to his favorite athletic activity because there is one single exercise he couldn’t do well.  He refused to read books to anyone but me because, in his words, “I can’t read.”

It’s typical for a kid who suffers from asynchronous development.  A kid whose mind is, even at this young age, a few years ahead of his body is going to be easily frustrated because of his awareness of what he can’t do.  The fact that he is very capable for his age isn’t even on his radar.  It’s even worse that he idolizes his brother, who is nearly a decade older than him.  He thinks he should be able to do everything as well as his brother, which is completely unrealistic but which he’s too young to really understand.

A child like this needs encouragement to just try, to be recognized for effort, not for achievement.  Unfortunately, his teacher apparently didn’t understand that.  She would complain about half-finished work, wouldn’t accept anything unless it was done, would seldom give him positive comments unless it was…you guessed it…perfect.

Putting him with that teacher was like water on an electrical fire.

So I’m facing that fact that my “easy kid” may still be easy relative to his brother at this age, but that he’s still different enough to have problems that the average or even average gifted kid will not.  He’s going to be a handful for a teacher who is not used to dealing with his issues.  I think that he will still be easier than his brother because the biggest issue will be finding a teacher who has the right kind of nurturing personality.  But, like his brother, he broke the mold.

The presumed snobbery of gifted education February 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

I was having a conversation with my older boy the other day (it does still happen…despite the fact that he’s a teenager, I haven’t become dumb as bricks yet), and we were talking about people we know who are what I’d call “gifted education snobs”.

I’m sure you’ve met these people: they’re the ones who talk about how their kids will eventually get into Harvard while they can’t even tie their own shoes at 16. Although, if their kid is like Albert Einstein, it might be forgivable. But seriously, these are the people who are pushing kids who are probably reasonably bright beyond their limits or into doing things that make them depressed and frustrated.

The reason they bug me is not because they have kids who may or may not be intellectually superior to my own. Let’s face it: I’ve run into a lot of people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than myself. It’s not even the attitude that they are superior (although I have to admit that can get annoying, too).

What gets me is the notion that their kids are so bright that everything will come easy to them and they’ll never have to work at anything. Because that’s what it means to be smart, right? This attitude is obviously not working for the kid, and it’s giving everyone else a bad impression of what giftedness is or is not, as well as what the parents of ‘gifted kids’ are like.

This attitude is what hurts the rest of us who are advocating for our gifted kids. I imagine from the outside, it all looks the same to someone who doesn’t anticipate their kid will ever get to be in a gifted program. We all just look like we’re trying to give our kids a special advantage over everyone else.

So let me clarify: that’s not at all what I have been trying to do with my kids. There are some things gifted education should do that has nothing to do with a special advantages:

1) I want my kid to learn to work hard. No matter how smart you are, there will always be things that are challenging in life. There will be some point where you hit a brick wall. It’s best if you learn early on how to manage your time, be responsible, and deal with learning new things (which can sometimes be intimidating). Probably two-thirds of most students can get that out of a regular classroom. For half of the other third (or one sixth), it will be too much – and there is a significant amount of funding and infrastructure in place to help these kids (which they very much deserve). However, the other sixth is left to float, in most cases. They’re smart, and for some reason it’s more acceptable to let these kids coast and fight boredom through school than to give them the same appropriately challenging education that most other kids receive.

My older son is learning that there’s a significant difference in effort between his high school and homeschool courses. At most, he spends about two hours outside of school per week doing his high school work. His homeschool work, where he’s learning everything himself, is a lot harder. He’s even gotten extremely frustrated. But that’s what I wanted: he needs to learn to deal with that frustration (that he can learn things that are hard if he keeps trying or gets some help). I want him to know how to deal with this before he gets to college and flames out because he’s never had to those other skills established and honed.

2) Gifted kids, like all other kids, want to feel secure and have friends. They don’t want to be the constant target of bullies. Again, I think this is because most people may not understand how badly gifted kids can stick out. I got tons of complaints about my older son “talking like a professor” in middle school. I never thought he talked oddly because this is the way we talk to each other at home. But in a group of mixed-ability, this sort of behavior sticks out, and the other kids use it as an excuse to bully and ostracize. There has been a lot of research (some of which is listed here) showing that gifted kids are more likely to be bullied than others, even by teachers, because of their differences. The only place many of these kids feel secure and can make friends are when they are with other kids like themselves, i.e. where they won’t stick out like sore thumbs. This sort of arrangement also tends to make them less likely to become overly confident in their abilities because they go from being smarter than everyone else in a regular classroom to the average person. (The fact that they are in a gifted classroom often doesn’t play into their perceptions; they are more affected by their interactions with the people around them than labels.)

So when I complain about my kid not being able to take advanced coursework, it’s not because I think he’s better than everyone else: it’s because I know he’s being deprived of the opportunity to learn the intangible skills that go with being appropriately challenged. It also deprives him of the chance to feel like a normal kid. Both of those things are very important to how he will function as an adult, and far more important to me than having him look like he’s smarter than other kids.


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