By: Cari Flores
I tried to warn them, to help them get prepared for my son to come to Kindergarten. They did not believe me. To them, I was a proud pushy mom. I know parents that do homework for their children and then fight tooth and nail over their grade. I am not this kind of mom. I have never pushed my son to be anything but kind. I really feel like I am being dragged around by the ear in the dark when it comes to my son and his abilities and interests. I try to be prepared for the next developmental step and he leap frogs right over me and into the deep dark woods. I obligingly put aside my fears to follow and support in any way I can.
I try to be prepared for the next developmental step and he leap frogs right over me and into the deep dark woods. I obligingly put aside my fears to follow and support in any way I can.
He began reading a few words when he was 2 years and 2 months old. Not favorite memorized books, but brand new books I had never read to him, from the library. Where he got his math skills was even more of a mystery, he began adding pennies of all things, holding groups of pennies in his hands and adding them. Two days later he began multiplying them. He did not use the word times or multiply. He would call out the groups. 3 3s’ is 9, 4 5s’ is 20. Again he had just turned 2. I was trying to help the administration…. They thought I was a crazy tiger mom.
I called the Special Education department for our county to see if there was anything they could do to help support him in school as they do in the state we moved here from. No, there is no requirement for funding in our state and no we are not going to fund any gifted education. I called the Secretary of the Department of Education, the highest office for education in the state. She advised me to call the Special Education office in my district because she had no idea what support was available for a student like mine.
I decided to make the best of it and see how it would play out. My son was so excited to go to big school and finally ride on the big yellow bus. Being my first day back to teaching, I watched him depart, tearfully. At the end of the day he said: “we did not do any science experiments.” I chuckled and asked him to be patient; the students must learn all the rules. I waited and held my breath. After also holding my tongue for six weeks, I asked for a meeting. It seemed the teachers thought we should meet too! They had noticed. “He seems to know about everything we are doing, he is patient and attentive.” Seems he is bright. I was on the edge of my seat. Could this be so easy? Finally, they believed me!
I was to be sadly disappointed, however. This was not the beginning of my struggles and it was not the end. They did not know how bright he was as they had only given him material the rest of the class was learning. We hashed out some good ideas for differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher plans a lesson for a class with different ability learners in mind. She may give an easier worksheet to lower ability learners, a regular worksheet to the average students and then a more indepth, more challenging worksheet to the high ability learners. One way teachers differentiate is by assigning group work in which there is one gifted student with lower and average ability learners. The purpose of this is to put the gifted student in a leadership or teacher role to reinforce material as well as help teach the lower ability learns. There are as many ways to differentiate as there are to teach a lesson. I have had some success and some failure with differentiation in my own classroom.
Differentiation has always held a very dear spot in my heart due to my own experiences as a student in school and I am constantly thinking about how to implement it, and implement it more effectively in my classroom and keep the bright kids engaged and challenged. I also know how hard this is to do. It is hard to come up with so many different lesson plans for one class and teach the bright students when there are so many struggling to learn the basic material. As a teacher, how do you justify spending time with a student that knows the material versus all the students that are struggling. It is a challenge to say the least. The teacher across from me looked ready to take on the challenge. So again, I held my breath. I really wanted public school to work out, at this point I had no back-up plan. I love teaching AND the second income. It was wonderful to be back at work using my education, moving-on from being a full-time Mom, and starting the next chapter of my career.
The teacher tried differentiation over the next six weeks. It was not anywhere close to enough and my little guy was getting restless. The kids in his class were immature (as kindergartners usually are) and he was beginning to try on some of their behaviors. He was unhappy. In his class, he observed other children throwing fits and crying to get what they wanted. He saw that it worked. So he tried this behavior on at home. This behavior did not work at home. Some kids were kicking and hitting to get their way. While he never hit, or kicked back, it deeply hurt his feeling that they would treat him this way as he understood hitting, kicking, pushing to be things people do as a last resort to protect themselves or when they don’t respect you. I tried to explain that they did not have the language skills to express themselves in other ways and that his behavior is what they are working towards. We had to have this conversation several times.
We met with the teachers and principal again 6 weeks later and the teacher explained that he was beyond the level of differentiation she could provide. The principal wanted to try a few more things, not willing to believe that her teacher could not do it. I knew better. I knew I was already asking too much of this teacher, yet still hoping that she would do more. I held my tongue and did not say anything more. I had lots of thoughts I would have liked to mention to the teacher and some questions too. I never said anything because I always felt guilty taking her time and did not want to be that parent, that I knew I already was. I did not want to run into her in public and have her run the other way. So, I kept everything to our meetings and just let her contact me.
Finally, after the Winter break, they tested him with the KTEA II, the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Fourth Edition, the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale Second edition, the Woodcock Johnson IV, and Star reading and math tests. The psychologist said it would be ok to grade skip him. The principal had other ideas and I had reservations of my own. The principal wanted to move sloooooowly. She decided to put him in the next grade up for his lowest subject, grammar. We would just ignore math and reading right now. In first grade the grammar and reading are together so at least he would be with other readers. She promised more action after we evaluated how he was doing. He did fine, it was his favorite part of the day as he was actually learning things like parts of speech, punctuation, story perspective, plot, setting, summarizing etc….
He wanted to grade skip for math, but he would have to go to 3rd grade to be at the right level. The principal was worried about the damage it might cause him socially, she was also worried about how the 3rd graders would feel when a 5-year-old was doing math faster. I worried about how long it would last. He might be at the 3rd grade level right now, but it is not about how much he knows, it is about how fast he learns. He can go through a year’s worth of grade level material in several months and be just as proficient. I thought, when does the grade skipping end? It is not a solution to the problem, 3rd grade will still move too slowly for him. We would do math at home, extending his school day.
The next year he began 1st grade with the same teacher he was with and liked from the year before. He would go to 2nd grade for Grammar and reading. I wanted them to try to incorporate his math in school so that he would not be spending after school hours on school material. Our after-school activities became overwhelming because of my teacher advisory duties, non-stop fundraisers, and continuing education readings and meeting. He also had piano lessons, gymnastics to get him active during our brutal winters, and tae-kwon-do. I wanted him to be able to use his day more efficiently. I would have liked for an Aide to be assigned to him to keep him on track and answer any questions he may have. No aide would be given, they cost money and there is no money for things like this, he would go to the library by himself. I worried because, he was only six. I was not happy about this, but HAD to give it a shot because nothing else was working. Finally, he got into some trouble as a curious boy will do on the ipad when left on his own. He somehow got through the firewall. No more ipad. Now this posed a problem with math as well as with his goal of becoming the youngest million-word reader in the school. (Our school keeps track of words read through the AR system).
About this same time, he took the NWEA test, the principal thought he should take it. I thought it was the first progressive move she had made this whole time. The results came back and they were awesome! He was promptly moved to second grade full time. However, this was not nearly the grade level he was functioning at for anything other than writing. He did not have anything in common with the students. Some of the students began reading Harry Potter, for a while they could talk about that. The other students soon gave up on the Harry Potter books as too difficult and he was left with nothing in common again. It is not that he did not get along, he would choose to be by himself. This is when I made my decision to home-school my child. Despite the school’s best effort, they could not meet the needs of my son.
He is curious and loves learning, I do not want school to “kill” that part of him.
He is curious and loves learning, I do not want school to “kill” that part of him. If that curiosity is suppressed long enough, it will go away. It may even be something the student becomes embarrassed about. When his interests are peaked by something, I would like for him to be able to take the learning further and follow his interest. Our school system is not set up for this, once a class, as a whole, has mastered something, it is on the next. No room for personal inquiry. The teacher has no time to help a student with further inquiry with question support or resources such as special equipment, computer time, writing assignments, etc….If one student is doing something different in the classroom, it is a distraction to others still trying to learn the material. No one can be building something at their desk or at the back of the room, or on the computer or ipad, no one can be walking to the sink to wash off paintbrushes, it would harm the other students. If a teacher feels that a student has mastered the 5 day lesson in one day, that student still needs to do the work for the rest of the days because the teachers grades are based on those assignments. This has the unintended consequence of teaching gifted kids to do sloppy work, they no longer care, and can become resentful at having to do more boring worksheets or assignments that are too easy when they want to be learning more. This is one of the reasons that contribute to a characteristic lack of respect for authority so often found in gifted children.
The other reason that contributes to a lack of respect for authority is that the authority, as in teachers, and administration, do not meet the needs of the gifted child. Teacher after teacher lose their trust as they fail to meet the student’s needs. Year after year the student listens less and respects less. Soon, they have missed crucial information, foundational information and begin struggling in school. However, instead of working to gain traction again, they are lost. The student has not built any study skills and needs help doing so, but there is this trust issue. In addition, they do not really understand why they are in over their heads so deep because they are so used to being good at everything. If they must work at it, it must be because they are just not good at it.
Good parenting at home is important to help your gifted child cope with issues like lack of respect for authority. There are some success stories of students that make it through the school system and do great. There are also those kids that do not make it out of the school system, their stories end in a tragic way. You must know your child and know the limitations of the school. Even those schools with gifted programs, do not do enough. It is usually a pull-out program that happens for a short time every day or every week. It does not solve the problem. In addition, the level of giftedness your child is, will matter. For highly or profoundly gifted students, school will be a totally different experience as their needs are much greater. It was explained to me once that a student with an IQ of 160 is as different from a student will an IQ of 130 as a normal student with an IQ of 100 is from a student with an IQ of 70. At an IQ of 70, students are considered mentally challenged and have trouble learning anything at all. The needs of these student are vastly different. Such is the case with a gifted and a highly gifted student. Their needs are very different and the further outside of the norm on the bell curve, the more special needs they become. At 60 points off the norm, would you expect a teacher to be able to handle a student with an IQ of 40? Why do we expect our teachers to be able to handle a student with an IQ of 160 or higher?
Now, I do not hold fast to the claims of the IQ system. Does it measure what we think it measures? What is “smart”? I do not think it means anyone is more valuable than anyone else. However, it is useful to help understand what the student’s needs might be. In the case of highly or profoundly gifted students, it is my opinion that the school system, as it is today, does not have the knowledge or resources to support these students. Every parent may deal with this shortcoming in different ways. It is clear that these students are high need students and will need parents to seek support outside of the school system even if they choose to stay with the school system. For some this may mean lots of one-on-one time with parents who answer lots of questions and take the time to experience many different things with their kids, it might mean seeking other endeavors such as boy/girl scouts, 4-H, specialty groups or classes and other gifted student groups. Parent of gifted students need support themselves to understand the complexity of their kid’s needs, even if the parents are gifted as well. For my family, we have chosen to homeschool. I know not every family can do this and I feel very lucky to have this ability. For my family, it will mean making financial sacrifices to make it happen, but we believe it is worth it. Our children are the future of our country and the world. I hope you find a system that is a good fit for your own family.