Monday, September 20, 2010

school daze

When I was in third grade, I had Mrs. Talbot for reading (and spelling, but that is a different long, long story). We had individual work books we all had to proceed through. I think you'd work on your workbook, then once finished have Mrs Talbot look it over and then hand you the next one. That you had to work through. By yourself. Ad Naseum.

I trudged my way through the workbooks, but I really disliked them. There were 25 in the whole series. My friend Amy L was, I think, the first to finish all of them. And a bunch of other kids finished theirs, too. I was still trudging along at around book 20 or 21.

And then one day Mrs Talbot came over to me, took me by the hand, and said, "here, dear, come over to the reading group." "But what about my workbook," I asked. "Just leave it, dear."

And over on the other side of the room, the kids who had finished all 25 of the boring tedious workbooks were reading. Real, actual stories. And discussing them! Out loud! With each other! And then reading another, real story! It was interesting! And fun! And I did not give those hated workbooks a second thought. Except I think Amy L raised the point I hadn't finished all my work, but Mrs. Talbot quickly shushed her (which cheesed her off, but nyah nyah nyah).

In third grade, I didn't really think about who were smart kids and who weren't quite as smart. But by 4th grade, it was apparent I was one of the best of the best readers in the grade, a title I never relinquished from that day forward.

I type this story for a couple of reasons. First, I never learned what the schwa is. That was covered in book 23 or 24, and I just never got that lesson. Still have no real idea, but I seem to have survived my academic career without that crucial piece of knowledge so that's ok.

But most importantly, THANK YOU Mrs Talbot, for recognizing I was dying a little death with each page of the workbook and I was just ready to read. I did not need to be doing endless workbooks, I needed to be reading. And discussing. And learning.

But, at the same time, that third grade me? Is so me. Give me a tedious task to do and I will procrastinate and procrastinate. I am not one to grit my teeth and get through tedious tasks. (Amy L just whipped through those workbooks without a care.) I am one, over and over again, who is still waiting for Mrs Talbot to recognize my innate talent and rescue me from tedium. (and, often enough, I did get rescued from tedium.)

So, sometimes I wonder. Should Mrs. Talbot have had me work through the rest of the workbooks? Would that have been a good lesson for me to learn? Should she have worked through them with me, to get me over the hurdle of tedium? How did she know? How did she know to move me into the top reading group? And, scariest thought of all, what if she hadn't known? What if I trudged along through those damn workbooks, dreading doing them, slacking off and doodling or daydreaming or reading my own things under the desk? Would someone else another year have asked, why isn't this girl is reading group 1?

Elizabeth is having a tough time in K. And we're all struggling. The teacher wants her to write. At home, with us, she writes all the time, letters that she says spells out words that we can't quite make out. But at school when it's time for writer's workshop, the tears flow. In the mornings, getting ready for school she whimpers she can't write sentence [sic] and why does she have to go to school. The teacher doesn't want the kids to draw pictures of hearts and flowers - she wants them to draw real things, things from their lives, and then label the pictures with arrows and sight words, like "me."

I don't want her, in K, to sit at her desk and clutch her fat pencil and copy sentences off the front board. I want her to love learning, and reading, and trying new things. She comes home excited about "tally marks" or questions marks or the plot of the chapter story they read every day. She sits at her little table and happily draws picture after picture, with arrows and letters surrounding the people and objects. At home, she eagerly and quickly completes the homework - a worksheet about a specific letter, tracing then writing Rs or Ms or Ss or Ts, or a worksheet counting and coloring objects, or a worksheet asking her to circle things that begin with the letter T. She is eager to learn, and she is learning. But if you ask her about class, her eyes fill with tears and she says she can't write.

Is the teacher - who says many of the kids will be writing sentences by October - pushing too hard? The teacher says Elizabeth is clearly smart, and is right on the cusp, and one day she will get it and it will flow. But, now, the teacher will ask her to write something specfic in class and Elizabeth loses it. She needs help, she can't do it, she doesn't understand. The teacher says to her to just try. To try and maybe fail and try again and she will eventually get it. And Elizabeth says no. She raises her hand, and goes to the bathroom (in the class) and sits against the wall for the entire writing period (30 minutes).

Elizabeth is bright. And in a lot of ways, I don't care if she's writing words in K. I know it will come. I don't think she needs to be pushed past her uncomfortableness. Or, does she? Is this just a hurdle that will be quickly overcome, and we'll never look back? Or is this setting up a struggle that will last throughout her school years? If she doesn't pick up writing now, in K, will she be behind and in third grade working on the workbooks (that I really hope they don't use anymore) while other kids are reading stories? The standards of learning for K doesn't say ANYTHING about reading or writing. K students should recognize most letters. Period. So why this push to write? Why not take it slower, especially in the first six weeks of school? But then again, the teacher reports there are kids in the class who are ready and eager for more challenging work. So she pushes everyone. Don't we want Elizabeth to be in that top group?

Why is this so hard? How do you know if it's just a mental block that once broken, will be quickly forgotten? How do you know when a kid needs a push to fly, versus a little extra time to be comfortable? Do we just wait it out, since her behavior and demeanor at home is still positive?

We've had one meeting with the teacher, and I've talked off line to the principal, who has told me one on one that she's working with the teacher to set her expectations in line with the reality of K students. And we'll meet one on one with the teacher again, we hope next week. Stay tuned......


Elaine said...

Wow, Susan. This is heartbreaking. Nobody wants to see their kid cry about school. Hope things click soon.

Herself said...

Elizabeth is one of the smartest kids I know but sometimes kids just hate making mistakes and they're hard on themselves. It's good you're already talking to the school about it.

Thrift Store Mama said...

No answers to your questions, I'm afraid. Just lots of hope that it gets better, whatever that may be.

Jen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen said...

You need to use the term "differentiated classroom". That basically means everyone works at their own pace, and assignments are tailored to students based on their needs. Its tougher for teachers, but necessary for kids... "one-size fits all" is not the case for education anymore.