Monday, August 26, 2013

"Their mere participation in G&T programs entitles them to good grades"

John Rosemond has a nationally syndicated parenting column. He's often got an edge, which is fun to read -- though oddly enough, Kentucky seems to be accusing him of practicing psychology without a license (at least a Kentucky license that is) because of his sharp advice. As someone who freely dispenses my advice all over the place, I think this is kind of an alarming development.

But anyway, the problem for our purposes is that he seems to have it in for gifted children. I'm not quite sure what Rosemond has experienced that's led him to have a negative view of the whole enterprise, but that certainly comes out in his columns.

This past week, he wrote about "Motivating a smart kid who is lazy." The gist of the advice -- that people don't change unless the consequences of their behavior affect them personally -- isn't wrong. But he gets at that with some broadsides against gifted education in his response to a parent worried that a gifted son isn't doing his homework.

As he writes, "The fact that the school has identified your son as 'gifted and talented' may be part of the problem. My finding is that a good number of children who've been so identified seem to feel that their mere participation in G&T programs entitles them to good grades no matter how much effort they put into their schoolwork. So they do just enough to get by and no more. The further problem is that schools will not, generally speaking, lower the boom on these kids. Teachers continue giving them decent report card grades even though they don't complete assignments or turn in work, do poorly on tests, and so on. And once a child's been promoted to G&T status, demotion is virtually out of the question. These kids are smart all right. They're smart enough to figure out that the only consequence of their lack of effort is that adults get upset."

Note the use of the word "finding." It implies that there's some research backing this statement up. There isn't.

There are, of course, gifted children who don't do homework. Some may feel entitled. Some may be lazy. And some may object to spending big chunks of their lives doing work they've mastered years ago. Perhaps parents should teach that we follow the rules...and sometimes, perhaps, they should try to find alternate educational arrangements that actually challenge the kid. I know that in my life, some of my biggest educational accommodations have happened when I spoke up about why I shouldn't do certain assignments or classes. Adults don't always know best.

The point is that these situations are often not black and white. Education and parenting both require a lot of understanding of complex reasons for things. Especially when we're dealing with children with special needs of any sort. But Rosemond has decided that gifted kids are con artists, looking to lord their smarts over the rest of us. I'm sure plenty of readers from this blog could share stories pointing otherwise -- stories of gifted kids doing poorly on tests, and getting poor grades, and parents' struggles to figure out how to solve those problems.

As for entitlement and lack of effort? I maintain that the best way to undercut any entitlement in gifted students is to truly challenge them so they have to work. Which is far more likely to happen in GT programs than in regular classes, whatever Rosemond may think.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spelling, punctuation, and the young writer

My 6-year-old son is an obsessive little writer. When we went to Cape May for a week this summer, and didn’t have a whole lot of paper or notebooks with us, he wrote stories on napkins. When he’d run through all our paper napkins, he moved on to the paper towels.

Mostly he’s been writing Magic Tree House fan fiction -- stories incorporating Jack and Annie as main characters, with some of the same conventions (they go to the tree house first every time, and it spins faster and faster, until “everything was still. Absolutely still.”)

It’s all very cute and fun, and I’ve mostly been like “that’s great, sweetie.” But on all of these books, he writes “Majic” Tree House. He’s seen dozens of the real books and has read this word many times, but still writes it as “majic.” So the question I’ve been pondering is whether it’s helpful or not helpful to bring up such matters as spelling, grammar, and punctuation with the young writer.

Part of me says no, I don’t want to in any way second guess his creativity. He’s having fun. He’s writing purely for the joy of it. Writing is play for him and I’m in no hurry for him to think otherwise.

But another part of me says that I’m bringing negative baggage to spelling and grammar and such that isn’t inherent in these things. I wish I’d had the finer points of grammar introduced to me far earlier. I also love the growth mindset inherent in writing a draft and then making it better. My son writes a story and then abandons it, rather than going back and doing it again and making it better and thinking about how he can improve it. That’s probably the part of writing I like best -- taking a rough draft and experiencing the joy of progress as I see myself making it better.

So, those are the two sides of this argument. What do you think? It occurs to me that I could let him type some of his stories and he'd see the indication in a Word document that something was spelled wrong.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Bedtime stories worth staying up for

Laura's note: This is cross-posted at my personal blog,

Like many parents, I try to read to my kids most nights before they go to bed. I find that I enjoy this ritual much more if the stories I’m reading are interesting -- with good art as a bonus -- than if they’re pedantic, as too many kids’ stories are.

Here are some books I’m really enjoying right now:

Bedtime Math. When I first heard of Laura Overdeck’s Bedtime Math daily email a little over a year ago, I knew it was a great idea. Too many people consider math this scary, difficult thing, as opposed to a neat way of making sense of the world. But what if math was presented to us in the same way bedtime stories are, with cuddles and introduced by a caregiver you love? Overdeck’s email blast has now evolved into a series of books, the first of which came out this summer. My 2 boys (ages 3 and 6) are loving this first installment. Each page has a silly little introduction to a subject (cooking spaghetti, the size of whales, etc), and then 3 levels of story problems: wee ones, little kids, big kids. My 3-year-old can do the wee ones problems counting on his and my fingers, and my 6-year-old does the little kids and (usually) the big kids ones. They’re finding this so fun that I have to tell them “Boys, we can only do 2 more math problems -- you have to go to bed!”

The Boy Who Loved Math. Artist LeUyen Pham was working on this book when I interviewed her for What the Most Successful People Do at Work. It’s a story about the life of Paul ErdÅ‘s, the legendarily prolific (if eccentric) mathematician. My boys love that as a kid, Paul used to calculate how many seconds someone had been alive. The illustrations, needless to say, are a stunning mix of pictures and numbers.

Night of the Moonjellies. There are lot of books about kids at the seashore, but this is one of my favorites. Little Mark, age 7, works 2 days a week at his grandma’s hot dog stand that serves the best lobster rolls in New England. This story tells of his busy day filling the ketchup jars and grabbing straws, and then at night taking a boat ride to where all the moonjellies live in the water. Mark Shasha (the author -- and the main character) does a wonderful job recreating the seashore not just as a place where people relax, but where people live and make a living, too.

One Morning in Maine. This classic is a bit lengthy for a bedtime story, but worth it if the kids have somehow finished up their baths 10 minutes early. A little girl named Sal lives on an island in Maine, and wakes up one morning with a loose tooth. While the plot is about losing the tooth, and misplacing it, but getting her wish anyway, Robert McCloskey’s tale is more memorable for how it paints a picture of rural Maine, with people who need to take a boat to buy groceries, and who go dig clams in the morning to eat for lunch. That's a sort of locavore eating that’s now hip but used to be life. For 50 pages, you’re transported to a completely different world.

The Magic Tree House series. My 6-year-old is utterly obsessed with the stories of Jack and Annie, siblings who discover a magic tree house in the woods near their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. The tree house belongs to Morgan le Fey, the librarian of King Arthur’s Court, and she sends the children on missions through time and space to solve riddles, save books, and the like. We’ve gone to visit pandas in China, to a Civil War battlefield, to the first Thanksgiving, to 15th century Florence, etc. Each 70-page story (a few special Merlin Missions go to about 110 pages) is fast-paced and the prose is simple enough to allow a new reader the thrill of making it through a chapter book, whether he does this alone or with a parent. I’ve probably read at least 20 of these books aloud now, and have found myself actually thinking I’d read -- of my own volition! -- through one of the installments my 6-year-old brought home from the library and finished without me. That’s saying a lot for early chapter books.

What’s on your list of bedtime story greatest hits?