Monday, February 23, 2015


My 7-year-old has a love-hate relationship with this online math program he’s been doing. It’s just extra practice -- drilling on arithmetic -- and he zoomed through addition and subtraction. Multiplication has been a bit more challenging. The goal is to help him memorize his times tables, and to do that, the program asks you to figure out each problem in less than 3 seconds. Unfortunately, this has been making him rather flustered. He’ll get one wrong, then that will set him off. He’ll hit wrong numbers on the keyboard which, on at least one occasion, led to a massive fit about “I’m so bad at this!”

I’ve been debating how to deal with this. One option is to encourage a bit of a break from the program while he figures out a different way of practicing. The program is supposed to help him memorize times tables, but he can memorize on his own and come back to it, particularly if part of the problem is trouble with the keyboard (more number keys are in play than in single digit addition and subtraction). Since I’m not that big a fan of giving in to fits, though, I’ve also tried to have conversations about how part of practicing is making -- and recovering from -- mistakes. Think about how many times he fell off various tracks in Mario Kart on the Wii, and now he wins most races!

What’s actually seemed to work best, though, was his own suggestion. He wanted me to log into the parent portal and tell him how far he’d gone in the multiplication section. For some reason, learning that his placement score was 24, and he’s now up in the 30s, made him happy. He’s making progress! He’s making mistakes, but that number is going up.

How do you deal with children hating to make mistakes?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When kids qualify for gifted programs, but don't sign up

Given how few districts prioritize gifted programs, one is always suspicious of certain stories. For instance, according to this article, the Moline-Coal Valley school district (in Illinois), plans to alter its set-up from self-contained gifted classes to one that would "mix high performing students with students of various classroom performance levels," according to the story. "The change would create a mix of students who play off of each other, said Matt DeBaene, assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability."

In other words, yet another story of a district setting up a system that may wind up cutting the program while not officially cutting it. Differentiation is very, very hard to do well, and when teachers get busy, it often doesn't happen.

However, the district does have a point that the gifted program was being under-utilized. In 2013-2014, of the 35 kindergartners offered admission to the program, 20 did not enroll. This year, only 17 (of 45 students ultimately offered admission) enrolled.

Why is that?

There are a few reasons families might choose not to participate in any given district's program. For instance, districts might centralize gifted programs at one school, which makes a lot of sense. But, of course, plenty of families prefer to have their children in neighborhood schools that are close by. You get a shorter bus ride, you know the neighborhood, and it might be more possible to drop by for events during the day (if parents work nearby, or are at home).

Another reason might be that a district makes the wise decision to screen everyone. In some districts, parents have to ask to have their kids screened for the gifted program, which means the parents want the kids to participate. If everyone is screened, not all parents might prioritize this. The district can encourage parents to sign up, but probably can't force this.

If your district has a gifted program, do most families that qualify enroll? If not, why not?