Saturday, October 13, 2007

Educating the Kidlets

So y'all have heard the various stories about trying to get Saul a decent education, one that doesn't involve high drama, phone calls to the police, or aggressive/violent outbursts. There's good news on that front. I'll write another post on that later. But let's spend some time on Neo, shall we?

At the beginning of the year, Neo said that she wasn't going back to Middle School. Too much bullying, too boring, and there really was no point. She's a GATE student, meaning that the school district gets grant money to level-up her education and provide for her "gifted" status. (I have to put gifted in quotes, because there's a huge controversy brewing right now over the way we identify these kids in our district. One multiple choice test in third grade. No teacher recommendations, no class grades, etc. Ummm. Surely we are missing out on a raft of kids whose parents, like us, did not even know to TAKE her to the test in third grade. She was identified, through testing, at the start of her fifth grade year. She's now in seventh grade. So far, her GATE education has consisted on one field trip in fifth grade, and one trip to a paint-your-own-pottery studio in sixth grade. Wonder why she's bored in class. Hmm. Can't imagine.) OK, so forget about GATE for a sec, let's just focus on the fact that she as an individual doesn't want to be in school.

Just before school started, Neo and I met with the VP, and he immediately switched all of her classes so that she would be in sections with her friends. He also took the names of the kids who were bullying her last year and promised to, as much as he could, keep them away from her and her friends. During the second week of school the VP called together a meeting with all of her teachers and me to discuss Neo, what made her tick, and what each teacher could do to keep her engaged and interested.

Her math teacher suggested moving her from seventh period to third, as her kids in third were quieter and more focused, so Neo wouldn't stand out in the crowd as much. Her second period "applied industrial arts" teacher commented that since his class was based on hands-on learning, she was going to be pretty busy during the class as it was, but that he would keep an eye out for her.

Her Science, English, and History teachers all, independently of each other, brought up that they could assign special projects for her to do, either in school or at home, which would be linked to the curriculum. We spent a fair amount of time during the rest of the meeting brainstorming what those projects might be.

Science: The teacher needs an updated list of useful websites for her students. Neo could research her current list, write up reviews of the websites (see if they are still active) , search out new ones, and write up reviews of those as well. Since Neo is also an artist, perhaps some exploration of vertebrate anatomy and drawing of bones and muscles could be done too.

History: Neo is very interested in Asian art and culture. Perhaps Neo could do more research in the school library on the culture of Medieval Japan, comparing aspects to European culture of the same time period. Since she's an artist, perhaps she could research some of the clothing and costuming of Medieval Korea, China, and Japan and prepare a report for the class, with drawings.

English: Neo needs more practice in all forms of writing across the seventh grade curriculum. Short essays she can do in class while the rest of the class is doing grammar worksheets. Essays relative to the research she is doing in other classes. Further reading in whatever genre the class is currently focusing on. Start her on literary critique -- looking for symbols, themes, archetypes, and plot devices.

Excellent. Great to have you all on board. Sounds like a great plan.

Neo received her first progress report the other day, so a quarter of the year has passed. I asked her, as I was complimenting her on her grades (all A's, mostly ranking in the top ten to fifteen percent of her classes), "What sorts of special projects have you done so far? I haven't seen any."

"None."

"Wait.... None?"

"Nope."

"You're supposed to be doing extra stuff in class, especially after class tests. What do you do in class?"

"Math homework. Homework for the other classes. Read."

"Has anyone ever sent you to the library to research a topic while the rest of the class was working on worksheets?"

"No. And they're STILL doing that stupid reading aloud thing. I hate listening to the rest of the class read out loud. I'm not supposed to read ahead either, but I've already read the entire History textbook, most of the Science text book, and I'm always reading ahead in English."

"Has your English teacher given you extra things to read?"

"No."

"You SURE?"

"Yes!"

"OK, then."

Called the VP.

"Hey, Bill. You know that meeting we had at the beginning of the year?"

"Yeah! How's that going?"

"Ummm. Neo says that she's never been assigned extra work. I've never seen any, but I'm not always sure what's standard and what's extra."

"But they said they would!"

"I know."

"OK. I'm going to call them together again. I'm not going to tell them I spoke to you, but I'm just going to say that I want to get an update as to how Neo's doing and what sort of response they've gotten from her as to the projects they've done. And I'll call you back as soon as I can."

"OK. You handle it how you think it's best. Maybe they have. Maybe Neo's just being snarky, I don't know. Maybe the extra work they've assigned wasn't challenging enough, and they need to bump it up another level, but I'll tell you that she's still complaining of being bored. When she does that, she separates herself from the rest of the class, because she starts calling them, 'those idiots.' It's not a great pattern to get into."

"I appreciate that. I'll remember to bring that up too, that maybe she needs to go even more in depth. This is also really important too. You know, for GATE, not just for Neo."

"That's a whole other kettle of fish. Let's get this one part settled first and then we can get into GATE."

VP called me yesterday evening, sounding more dour than I have ever heard him before. He apologized at least five times before he ever got into the meat of the matter.

None, as in not one, teacher has given her an extra assignment. The Math teacher says, and I think she's correct, that Neo seems engaged, interested, and challenged by the level of work in front of her, so she hasn't prepared anything extra. That's fine, I'm OK with that, and I told the VP to let her know that that approach was OK.

But this is where the VP got upset. The English teacher said that she didn't know how to present more complex ideas or extra work to Neo. The History teacher said that there wasn't anything else that she could have Neo working on, other than the text that the rest of the class works on. Quoting the VP, "I'm just so disappointed in my staff, Suisan. They came in this room and talked about all the great things they were going to do for this kid, and now they think it's OK to let her flounder. How can they NOT KNOW how to do this?"

"Look Bill, it may very well be that they don't know, but then they should have said that up front. And, I'm sorry, if a History teacher doesn't know anything other than what is in the text, than she doesn't know the curriculum well at all. As for the English teacher, no excuse. If she can't figure this out, then she needs to get a High School English teacher on the phone and get this kid some High School level materials and instruction. Now."

There's all sorts of trainings districtwide to get teachers certified in GATE instruction. If you're certified, then you can apply for an extra stipend, considering all the extra time and energy you'll be putting into these GATE projects. Want to know something extra super funny?

Neo was put in this schedule with this group of teachers because she's identified as GATE and every single one of these teachers has expressed interest in having the GATE cluster in their class. I didn't know this until yesterday. These are the teachers who want to be working with these kids. Only one of them has taken any GATE training. One class out four. One teacher out of six has taken one class out of four. (I'm not sure that PE really counts as GATE differentiated instruction, so let's make that one teacher out of five has taken one class out of four.)

Lest y'all think this instruction is new, we've been offering GATE-cluster sections for at least seven years. This is the first year that we've offered classes towards additional certification. Holding an additional certification allows the teacher to apply for a stipend on their yearly paycheck, which is the carrot for getting them to attend classes.

And, since I now know that Neo was placed in a GATE cluster, I also now know, looking at the staffing ratios, that in at least three out of her five classes, there are three to four more students who are as bored as she is.

Ye gods, what sort of a system is this?

The VP is meeting with the Director of Curriculum and Instruction on Monday to address the teachers' claims that they don't know how to teach the curriculum in any greater depth. Then he's meeting back with the teachers, along with the Director of C&I later in the week. If necessary, we'll need to set up a Section 504 plan for Neo which would allow her to learn on Independent Study until such time as ALL her teachers have ALL their classes under their belts.

And I have a lengthy IEP meeting for Saul on Wednesday to prepare for.

And then there's always laundry. And dishes.

8 comments:

Neo said...

WTF?!?!?!?! Doesn't know how? Wha? Why am I in Middle School again?

Suisan said...

Chill, kid. We're on it.

VP and I are equally amazed, and he's focused on getting you what you need.

If things don't substantially change before end of term, we'll reassess where/how you need to be educated.

In the meantime, your teachers don't know that I have a blog or that you read it, so be cool. OK?

Kate R said...

Damn, school doesn't care? let her do it on her own.

Send her to Japan--I got relatives there btw. OHhhh I have a niece who speaks Japanese. Write to her even if her ancient Japanese knowledge is minimum. Aya is ayaroo @gmail.com . She's an artist, sorta. http://ayaroo.googlepages.com/home

And no one should have to do middle school, ever.

Kristie (J) said...

All this stuff you go through with the education of the kids sure bites the big one doesn't it. But at least you have the VP on your side. Not much of a consolation - but it's better than nothing.

CindyS said...

Up here (Canada) we actually seperate the gifted children out - much like Zachary who has learning problems he is in a program based on communications because his brain interprets things differently.

The gifted child I'm talking about has behavioural issue and acts out inappropriately. He can take a sentence I say to him and have it twisted quite logically into something else. He's very smart but his mother says his social skills are nil (and they are).

Once they realized he was bored in his classes they had him identified and realized he was gifted. Now maybe there are only 30 gifted kids in all of the city - those kids are provided transportation to and from the school the program is offered. So he is with his peers so to speak and is challenged by his work.

The GATE program sounds more complicated in that the child is not surrounded by people like themselves and thus, the social aspect is not taken care of. Also, just having to leave the class to do extra work draws attention to the child.

I don't know if your school system would have such programs but the parents who have enrolled their children have had nothing but good things to say about it. Also, it appears the children have a better time in class. Zachary is still adjusting as he is the only gr. 6 in his Communications program while the rest of the class are 7 and 8.

Much luck!!

CindyS

Suisan said...

In terms of separating the kids out, the state of California is trying to get away from Tracking. The law really isn't clear about how much separation the district is allowed to do.

It's the flip side of "inclusion" in the Special Ed programs. Just because they need extra accommodations doesn't mean that congress will tolerate segregation.

And, there's the other problem which is that I'm not at all convinced that Neo is "gifted". She is extraordinarily talented in the arts, no question, but I've never seen her display supernatural powers of observation, inference, or analysis. Yes, she gets A's, but I'm not convinced that if she went to a school for gifted kids that she would perform at their level.

So, as a rule, I want the ENTIRE class to have an elevated level of instruction, and to allow room for her to have a deeper level of focus within that elevated level.

Obviously, my focus isn't always on all the kids in the District, it's on what will work for my own kid, but I have to admit to thinking about these issues from a districtwide perspective about 80% of the time.

Anonymous said...

My sister has children in the California school system, and I really feel sorry for her. Her oldest is in elementary school. Just started 4th grade. He is extremely gifted in math and is reading years above his grade level. She has been on kind of a personal crusade to get as many kids into the GATE program at her school so that the teachers and administrators actually are forced to do something.

Right now, the GATE activities are only AFTER SCHOOL and not incorporated into the classroom at all. I'm not sure how the school can legally do this. Aren't they required to provide GATE activities or learning opportunities DURING school hours?? Isn't it supposed to be part of the educational day for a child...not additional hours beyond the norm?

I am *so* glad I live across the country where they handle these things differently. G&T (gifted & talented) activities in my state are built into the day (children are pulled from class for advanced reading or math activities). And this year the G&T coordinator for our county gave teachers instruction on how to incorporate G&T learning right in the classroom by providing a lot of similar opportunities that you mentioned these teachers 'promising' you and your child.

What makes me most angry is that a child with a disability gets way more attention and school $$ than the G&T kids. In my way of looking at things, the G&T kids are 'punished' for being smart. Because they tend to get very good grades and not cause a lot of problems (although bored students can be problems, depending on the age), teachers will just be glad it is one more kid they don't have to worry about. That they are achieving the grade standard and that is 'good enough.'

I think we *should* create a classroom environment for the G&T kids so that they can benefit from accelerated learning. Or give the teachers instruction/help on how to keep the G&T kids learning and interested all day long in the regular classroom.

I feel for you, Suisan.

Kate R said...

I've read her blog. She's gifted. But you're right, the whole world should get this.

I still say there must be a way to bypass middle school, where creativity and joy in learning are shoved into a bag for a couple of years and everyone goes into basic survival mode. OR at least that's what I've seen around here.