Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Parents Are Told to Read to Their Kids

From Why Johnny Still Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch:  the beginning of Chapter 13, "It's the Parents' Fault":

Once upon a time — around 1908 when Edmund Burke Huey wrote his famous book The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading — there lived a little boy in or around Boston, Massachusetts.  His parents were well-to-do, kept a staff of servants, and had plenty of leisure time on their hands.  The house was large and comfortable and contained a cozy library, with a plentiful collection of favorite children's books on some lower shelves.

One day Dr. Huey came for a visit.  The boy was four years old at the time.
He had never tried to read, but had a new pictured storybook which contained lines from Old Mother Hubbard.  He knew the story already, but had me read it aloud over and over again, following my finger over the lines and also keeping the place by the pictures.  He would then "read" by turns with me, and actually came to keep his fingers "on the place" throughout, at the first sitting.  All that is needed is books of good old jingles and rhymes and folk stories and fairy tales, with illustrative pictures, and a mother or father or friend who cares enough for children to play this way and read aloud to them.  The child will keep it up by the hour and the week and the month, and his natural learning to read is only a question of time.
Huey's recipe for teaching reading is almost exactly what is being followed to this day in most of our schools.  They expect the child to be taught by this miraculous method at home and are sorely disappointed if the parents leave them in the lurch.

... To judge from the look-and-say teacher's manuals of the 1980s, it's perfectly clear that the schools still rely on home teaching just as much as Huey did.  Word-by-word-taught reading is impossible to teach in the few snatches of time the normal modern school gives to the individual child.  There has to be enough time for one-person tutoring, and that person, by necessity, is the mother rather than the schoolteacher with her full classroom and innumerable other chores.

And so the schools assume that the parents play an enormous part in teaching the small child to read, and they're consciously or unconsciously fiercely resentful when parents fall down on that unspoken contract.

... And so the responsibility for Johnny's reading trouble is neatly placed on his parents' shoulders.  There isn't a single piece of advice to parents from the look-and-say people that doesn't recommend lots and lots of time reading aloud to the child, letting him or her see the words on the page.  This will make the child memorize the words and sooner or later the Huey-type miracle is going to happen.

There's no lack of advice on exactly how the mother is supposed to proceed ... 

Here's the advice of Professor James E.  Flood in the May 1977 Reading Teacher ...
1.)  Start the reading with some warmup questions.
2.)  Interrupt the reading often with questions to see whether the child is following the story.
3.)  Interrupt the reading often to repeat what the book says.
4.)  Go over the story again when you're through. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pointless Homework of the Week

OK, this one is from Older Daughter's expensive private school, Friends Omphalos.

Journal due Tuesday

Write an open topic journal. Introduce yourself. Talk about goals for the year. What has interested you so far about social studies.

Here is what journals should be about.
1.) Your thoughts and reactions to things learned about in class or in doing homework.
2.) Your reactions to the class itself. How is the group working ... etc ...
3.) Anything that relates somehow to social studies. This is broad. Many, many things are related to social studies. Perhaps virtually everything is.

What your journal should not be is a diary. For instance, I do not need to know what are
[sic] for breakfast, whether or not you walked your dog this morning etc...

To add insult to injury, this assignment will be graded! What could possibly be the standards for grading this thing?

Here's our e-mail exchange so far: the first is from Yours Truly:

Mr. Pointless -- we have been trying to help Older Daughter with her Social Studies homework but we are completely baffled by the Journal assignment. Older Daughter can't think of anything to write because she can't figure out what the purpose is, and we can't figure it out either. What is she supposed to learn from this assignment?

Thank you.

Sincerely, FedUpMom.

And the reply, from the Obscure Desk of Mr. Pointless:

Hi FedUpMom,

I wish Older Daughter would come to me with her concern.

That said, the purpose is for kids to write for fluency and to consider items discussed in class, read or seen for homework, or to talk about items related to social studies. For instance, and I said this when explaining it in class, any current events issue or event relates to social studies. It is supposed to be wide ranging. It is how I get a sense of what kids are thinking about and their reactions to the class.

I would suggest Older Daughter
1) share her goals for the year.
2) Consider things talked about in social studies thus far... for instance would she like to live in 1900? Why or why not?
3) How does she feel about school, class, etc... For instance, she can clearly let me know that this assignment has troubled her. This would be a perfectly appropriate use of a journal.
4) Is there an issue or event in the world that she is worried about, happy about, interested in?

I will assign these journals regularly. I get to know what my students are thinking about.
I hope this is helpful.

Argh! These people drive me crazy! I hardly know where to start.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Comprehension" is a Boondoggle

The issue of "comprehension" is a boondoggle that educators use to make what they do look much more complicated than it actually is, and to justify bad curricula that don't teach comprehension or rote learning or anything at all.

For instance, confronted with a 6th-grader who can't add two fractions with large denominators (because she can't conveniently draw the pie chart), educators say "that's OK, the important thing is that she has deep conceptual understanding." (And how is the pie chart any deeper than the standard algorithm for adding fractions?)

Similarly, confronted with a 7-year-old who can't read because she thinks she should be able to guess everything from context, educators say, "that's OK, the important thing is that she WANTS to read, and she understands a great deal when you read out loud." (That's pretty much what Younger Daughter's first-grade teacher told us at Natural Friends!)

In both reading and math, educators (often, unfortunately, those who train the next generation of teachers) use the issue of "comprehension" to distract attention from the point that their methods don't work; then they promote false dichotomies in an effort to sound "progressive".

In math, the false dichotomy is between "rote learning" and "conceptual understanding"; in reading, the false dichotomy is between "word-calling" and "comprehension".

Now, it might happen that a child could have technical skills without deep comprehension. For instance, she might be able to perform long division without understanding why it works, or she might be able to read a word off a page without understanding its meaning or context ("Mom, what's a carriage return?")

But the opposite doesn't hold. You can't have deep understanding without technical skills. If a kid can't read a word off the page, or add two fractions, that doesn't magically prove that she has deep understanding instead.

Ideally, skills and comprehension should march together hand in hand. Kids should acquire skills and also understand how and why they work. This might be a gradual process; comprehension can deepen over time. Often, comprehension is the result of continued practice of technical skills (one more reason to teach the skills first.)

Word-Calling vs. Comprehension

From Why Johnny Still Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch:  he's quoting from Teaching to Read, by Mitford Mathews:

On page 159 of his delightful book Teaching to Read, Mitford Mathews tells the following story:

A group of educators visited a Chicago parochial school where the Leonard Bloomfield phonic system was taught.
They were taken into a classroom of perhaps 40 first grade children.  On the teacher's desk were elementary books from various grades.  The visitors were invited to select a book and ask any of the children to read from it.  The readiness with which the children read was unusual.  One of the guests happened to pick up a sixth-grade science book and asked one of the boys to read a passage from it.  In doing so the child encountered and read the word "satellite".  Father Stoga (the superintendent) asked him what the word meant and the child said it meant a big object in the sky.  Dean Gray, the man who gave us Dick and Jane, found the answer unsatisfactory, showing that the child was reading, that is pronouncing, quite beyond the vocabulary appropriate to his age, and not getting the sense of what he read.  He explained to the other visitors that what the children were doing was in no sense remarkable.  He said that reading experts had long known that children could rather quickly be taught to pronounce words with remarkable glibness but that real understanding of what was read was another matter entirely.  He pointed out that these children were mere word-callers, that they were pronouncing well beyond their mental ages, and that they were heading straight for serious trouble later in their reading development.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sad, Sad, Sad

Another teenager committed suicide in response to homophobic bullying. The boy had previously made an "It Gets Better" video. See the NYTimes article, "Suicide Draws Attention to Gay Bullying."

Our schools should be safe for all of our children.

Spelling Word Extension Activities

Sent home in second-grade Younger Daughter's backpack, stapled to the front cover of one of the composition books we bought her (from the list of school supplies -- when I was a kid the public schools weren't allowed to require parents to spend money! -- don't get me started.)

Spelling Word Extension Activities

Directions:  Each school night, Monday — Thursday, choose an activity and complete it on a new page of your spelling journal.  Start by writing the date at the top of the next new page.  For each activity, you must use all of your spelling words.


First, write each word in pencil.  Then trace over each word THREE times each, using a different colored pencil or crayon.  Trace neatly and you will see a rainbow.


Write silly sentences using at least one spelling word in each sentence.  Underline your spelling words.


Illustrate your spelling words.  Be sure to LABEL your pictures with your spelling words OR draw your favorite character saying your words.


Write your spelling words two times.  First write them in regular, NEAT letters.  Then write them in squiggly letters or bubble letters.


Write a story or message to someone using your spelling words.  Underline your spelling words in the story or message.


Find the letters of your words in a newspaper or Magazine.  Cut out the letters and spell your words OR stamp them if you have letter stamps.

7.  TYPE 'EM

Type your words two times each on the computer.  Make sure each word is in a different font and color.


First write your spelling words the way you normally do.  Then try writing the list with your other hand!


Write each spelling word, then try to find at least two words that can be made from the same letters inside the word.  Ex. Earth; the; hat; rat; rate; her


Write your words going down the page instead of across.  Write them TWO times each.

Next up:  my e-mail to the teacher explaining why we won't be doing this.  I think I'll simplify my life and just say we don't have time, which is true.  However, for my blog I will also say that this is a huge time-waster and typical of the madness that ensues when teachers try to make homework "fun".

I should explain that YD was given 12 spelling words, plus 2 challenge words, which, if I understand the labyrinthine directions correctly, she's also supposed to practice.  Think how much time a resistant 8-year-old would take to actually do any of the above activities!  Just choosing one out of the 10 methods could take any child skilled at procrastinating (either of my kids, for a start) at least a half-hour.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brainstorm to Opt Out

Recently, KSP sent the following comment to StopHomework. With her permission, I'm reposting it here. I hope some of my regular readers will have some useful ideas. Please chime in!

KSP says:

Hi, it’s me again after a year of silence.

So I found a group of like-minded mothers this summer after negotiating to opt out for a year individually.

We went to meet with the principal before school, and our concerns around stress from homework were communicated to the teachers.

There seems to be less homework this year and the homework seems to be more meaningful.

On Back to School night, the teachers send messages like, “let’s not make homework stressful.” “let’s make it fun.”

Great progress.

But, here is what I am not happy about.

Today I received a new and updated school homework policy, which added kindergarten.

Please look at the time assigned for each grade:
K: 15-20 minutes.
1: 20-25 minutes
2: 25-30 minutes
3: 30-35 minutes

Reading is assigned in addition. It’s much more than the 10 min. per grade rule especially in the lower grade.

Also, in the policy, there is still a consequence to not doing homework.
I tried opting out last year and my son’s report card’s homework section was marked down. I thought the teacher and I had agreement it was more of my choice to opt out.

There are other parents who don’t come to meetings, but voiced that they will support us. There is a teacher or two and a board member who support us too. At the same time, there is the other end of extreme who wants more homework and more rigorous curriculum.

My group wants to make “opt-out without consequence” a formal policy. How realistic is that in this education climate of high pressure and top-down approach? How can we make this happen?

Please help me think this through.

@KSP, I wish you all the success in the world. "Opt out without consequence" is a great idea.

And it really gets my goat that homework in kindergarten is now considered normal. AARGH! I saw a comment on another blog where a mother described her child's school as child-friendly because "there's no homework before first grade." Sigh.

No Quality Control in Teaching Reading

From Straight Talk About Reading, by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats, Ed. D.:

The unanswered, obvious question for most parents is "Where is the quality control?"  A mother of a child who was having trouble learning to read contacted me for information beginning in January of her daughter's first-grade school year.  She was concerned that her child was having so much trouble learning to read and was falling behind.  She decided that the first step was to have her daughter tested to determine if she had any learning disability ... By March she had completed an educational diagnostic evaluation which determined that her child did not have a learning disability. The psychologist who tested her daughter recommended a private tutor who uses a systematic phonics approach to teach reading.

Within three months of tutoring, her daughter was completely caught up in reading.  We met in late June after the school year was over.  This mother proudly showed me the reading, writing, and phonics material her daughter had completed in tutoring over the spring and early summer.  After looking at papers that demonstrated a sequential and systematic approach to phonics instruction, I brought out my file with all my daughter's language arts papers from her first-grade class -- a different first-grade class in the same school -- and we spread them out on the dining room table.  This mother was outraged that she was paying private tutoring fees for her daughter to get essentially the same instruction that my daughter received during first grade, while her daughter sat in another classroom not getting what she needed.  I shared this mother's anger because my older child had had her daughter's first-grade teacher two years earlier, and we had to hire a private tutor for him as well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Follow the Blogs!

Two fellow bloggers have been smokin' hot recently. 

NorthTOmom has written a fascinating and well-researched piece about the perils of teaching reading "comprehension" here:

Summertime, and the Reading is Easy

I'm still thinking about my response to this post, which will likely become a post of its own!

And Chris shares his observations about the behavior-rewards system PBIS here:

Scenes From the First Week of School

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Find 3 Things Wrong With This Picture, Part 3

From "My Second Grade Reading Records", sent home with Younger Daughter:

1.)  I consider myself a good reader, and I don't do any of these things, certainly not consciously.

2.)  Spelling out all these steps makes reading seem like a dreary chore.

3.)  Sometimes I don't want to make a personal connection.

Find 3 Things Wrong With This Picture, Part 2

From "My Second Grade Reading Records", sent home with Younger Daughter.

I've got more than 3 this time.  As the parent of a child who was taught these kinds of strategies more than phonics, and as a result tries to guess and fake her way through reading, this one really winds me up.

 1.)  What's missing?  The one strategy that actually works -- look at all the letters and SOUND THEM OUT!

2.) What does "get your mouth ready" even mean?  And why should you "get your mouth ready" in preparation for looking at the pictures?

3.)  Kids should not be encouraged to "look at the pictures" before they start reading the words.  This is how we train kids to be word-guessers instead of readers.

4.)  Kids should not be encouraged to first scan the words and find ones they already know.   They need to learn to read the words IN ORDER, by reading the word's letters IN ORDER.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Find 3 Things Wrong With This Picture, Part 1

From "My Second Grade Reading Records", sent home with Younger Daughter:

OK, I'll go first.

1.)  Giving rewards for an activity that should be enjoyed for its own sake is demotivating.

2.)  The rewards listed are trivial.  It's downright insulting to ask a group of kids to read 250 books just to get a sticker.

3.)  Giving a "No Homework Coupon" as a prize is a terrific way to cause all kids to hate homework and perceive it as pointless, even if they previously liked it.

Phirst Phonics

The other day I tried to get Younger Daughter to read some Bob books with me.  She was extremely resistant, and I think a bit insulted; she sees these as "little kid" books that she has moved beyond.  Fortunately I've found that she's quite willing to do the exact same kind of phonics drills in the back of Why Johnny Can't Read, probably because this is a grown-up book that she sees Mom reading.

What We Say, What They Hear

The other day I went to pick Younger Daughter up at the bus stop.  The conversation went like this:

Me:  How was school?  Did you have a good day?

YD:  Yeah ... do you see this stuff on the back of your hand?  It's called "vines"!

Me:  Um ... I believe they're called "veins".

YD:  No, they're vines!  They wind around and around our whole body.  They hold us together.  We learned about in science class.

Me:  Well, the way we learned it is they're called "veins", and they carry blood around your body.

She probably still thinks they're called "vines", but at the moment I'm too busy teaching her to read to worry about it much.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Character Ed: Bah, Humbug!

In today's NYTimes, What if the Secret to Success is Failure?, about attempts to teach good character traits.

At a KIPP school, they've designed a report card:

Logistically, the character report card had been a challenge to pull off. Teachers at all four KIPP middle schools in New York City had to grade every one of their students, on a scale of 1 to 5, on every one of the 24 character indicators, and more than a few of them found the process a little daunting. And now that report-card night had arrived, they had an even bigger challenge: explaining to parents just how those precise figures, rounded to the second decimal place, summed up their children’s character.   I sat for a while with Mike Witter, a 31-year-old eighth-grade English teacher, as he talked through the character report card with Faith Flemister and her son Juaquin Bennett, a tall, hefty eighth grader in a gray hooded sweatshirt.

... Witter pulled out a green felt-tip marker and circled one indicator on Juaquin’s report card. “ ‘Pays attention and resists distraction,’ ” Witter read aloud, an indicator for academic self-control. “That’s a little lower than some of the other numbers. Why do you think that is?” 

“I talk too much in class,” Juaquin said, a little sheepishly, looking down at his black sneakers. “I sometimes stare off into space and don’t pay attention.” 

Oh, please.  Is there no end to the meddling our schools engage in?  If I were Juaquin, I would never want to step foot in school again, after such an invasive and humiliating experience.

Meanwhile, at an affluent private school in the Bronx:

[Guidance Counselor] Cohen said that in the middle school, “if a kid is a C student, and their parents think that they’re all-A’s, we do get a lot of pushback: ‘What are you talking about? This is a great paper!’ We have parents calling in and saying, for their kids, ‘Can’t you just give them two more days on this paper?’ Overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character — that’s huge in our population. I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have at Riverdale.”

I am extremely skeptical of the alleged character-building effects of bad grades.  Bad grades are just as likely to provoke depression and despair as hard work and persistence, especially if the child perceives them as unfair.

For kids to grow as complete human beings, they need autonomy, privacy, and free time.  They need the chance to figure things out for themselves and develop their own point of view.  No report card can help kids achieve this goal.  The only way for kids to develop true character is to have genuine, real-life experiences that grow naturally from their own interests.

I fear that at this rate, the first genuine, unmediated experience our kids are likely to have is post-graduate unemployment.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ron Clark Bashes Parents

What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents, by Ron Clark.

Ron Clark is an A-1 creep; a sadistic, self-promoting control freak.

From a review of Clark's book, The Essential 55:  An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child:    

What really turned me off from this book was that it is painfully Anti-kid and Anti-teacher. Instead of raising child self-esteem and documenting actual achievements, readers are treated to a continuous line of Mr. Clark's unregulated stunts. Nowhere else have I seen an educational author earning money from his experiences of humiliating both students and teachers. Until now.

According to pointless RULE 9, Mr. Clark will take back any gift you don't thank him for in three seconds. After one little girl won a set of books from him, our heartless author states on page 24, "The little girl was so excited that she was jumping up and down." Guess what. She forgot to immediately say thank you, and her gleeful classmates pointed it out. Mr. Clark then took away her earned reward and traded it in for lasting humiliation. He was then kind enough to share this humiliation with the world and profit from it in this very book. Have you thanked her for that Mr. Clark? Can you give her that excitement back? His excuse on page 25 was, "... I had to remain consistent." If you are wondering readers, this type of behavior will consistently transform employed teachers into unemployed ones.

It became obvious to me, that everything Mr. Clark did in his classroom (including going to teach in Harlem) he did to eventually make part of a future book; this book. Take RULE 16 on page 56. "Homework will be turned in each day..." In this section we learn that the amazing Mr. Clark got 100% of his class to turn in their homework for 62 days in a row. Something smells fishy here when he uses the phrase "homework participation," instead of homework completion. To get this 62 day run of whatever it is, he uses "peer pressure." This is code for bullying. If he doesn't like a kid, he turns the class loose on them stating "Well, I let the class lay it on thick." If the kid is his best student who is reduced to tears because she is the one who forgot her work on day 63, then Mr. Clark says, "Class, we need to have a talk." What happened to taking back books on page 25 and, "...I had to remain consistent."? Again new teachers, if you want to be fired, be like Mr. Clark.

Mr. Clark actually hides behind RULE 49 "Stand up for what you believe in," after giving a detention to a model student on page 139. Her sin? She had forgotten to bring to class a piece of blue paper. Really, how important are homework streaks when homework consists of carrying a colored piece of paper to and from school? The once happy, well-adjusted student, "...had cried all night long" because of this undeserved detention. Are we seeing a pattern here folks? Mr. Clark then refused to remove his martinet policy or the detention. If not for his preposterous fame, I don't see how he would have kept his job. Instead we read, "...that class went on to have twenty-three days in a row..." of what? successful colored-paper carrying? I am curious, what story of child humiliation arose at the end of that streak?

Why My Kid Can't Read

Memorizing or guessing the meaning of whole words is not reading; on the contrary, it is an acquired bad habit that stands in the way of your child's ever learning to read properly. Therefore, the problem of improving your child's reading cannot be solved by giving him a more concentrated dose of what he has been getting since first grade. It can only be solved by making him drop the habit of word guessing and teaching him to read -- from scratch.

from Why Johnny Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch (copyright 1955!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Behavior Problem, Learning Problem, or Both?

Here's my latest theory about what went wrong for Younger Daughter at Natural Friends.

It's clear that YD has language delays, probably caused by not enough attention in her first 16 months of life in an orphanage. YD started speech therapy at 5, and she's still going. When she began, she was collapsing all her consonant sounds into just a few -- d, m, and s, maybe? Speech therapy helped a lot and she is now speaking quite clearly, although her syntax is uneven and she has odd vocabulary blocks. She's said several times, for instance, "Can I help you plant the lightbulbs?" and I'm still trying to convince her that the ones you plant in the ground are just plain bulbs.

Given YD's difficulties with language, it's no great shock that she's a late reader. Back at Natural Friends, they teach reading with Reader's Workshop, which has nothing like the intensive phonics instruction that YD actually needs. So YD was in a very small class of (mostly) very verbal kids, who were (mostly) able to read with minimal phonics instruction. Over time, YD became increasingly intimidated and frustrated by watching other kids who seemed to magically understand reading in a way that she just couldn't grasp. But, like all kids in this situation, she was ashamed of not understanding, and it would never have occurred to her to ask for help. Instead, she just faked it and tried to get by as best she could.

Over time, her frustration led to anxiety and increasingly impossible behavior. I think she was almost in a panic -- we got descriptions of her constantly interrupting the teacher, grabbing things out of kids' hands, unable to sit still for a moment.

So then we started getting complaints from the teacher, and we made the rounds of various specialists. They were pretty useless, frankly. YD didn't need "more structure", or "clearer expectations", or (the school's suggestion) an aide to follow her around all day, and pull her out into the hallway if she was causing a ruckus. She needed teaching methods that would work for her, so she could learn to read and do basic math, and she wouldn't be constantly frustrated by stuff going over her head.

Will Local Public Elementary teach her better? Who knows? I've learned not to count on schools to actually teach my kids. I'll work hard with YD on the reading, and eventually on math too. If school can just be a reasonable social experience for her, I'll settle for that.

If nothing else, YD will be closer to the middle of the class at Fragrant Hills, since there are twice as many kids, spanning a wider variety of abilities. She won't feel like she's on the spot so much. Also, she has her own desk with inbuilt storage, instead of just a seat at a round table, which I think will give her a sense of control of her personal space and belongings.

So far, YD's gotten off the school bus looking happy, and we haven't gotten any complaints from the teacher. She told me last night that she likes her new school, and asked if she could go again next year. I said "sure, if this year goes well." Knock wood!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

School is More Efficient

At home I managed to make my life miserable more or less unaided. At school this was done for me.

Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not-So-Great Expectations

There's nineteen men livin' in my neighborhood
There's nineteen men livin' in my neighborhood
Eighteen of them are fools
And the one ain't no doggone good.

-- Bessie Smith, Dirty No-Gooder's Blues

I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is or who commenced it
I'm against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let's have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
And even when you've changed it or condensed it
I'm against it!

I'm opposed to it ...
On general principles, I'm opposed to it!

-- Groucho Marx, Whatever It Is, I'm Against It!

So Younger Daughter's first day at Local Public Elementary is tomorrow, and I've been thinking about my expectations for the place. Various people have warned me not to get my hopes up too high. That's actually kind of funny -- if you could see inside my head, you would know that my expectations of schools are bog-level and sinking all the time.

Over the past few years, I've gotten used to the idea that I can't trust most schools to teach my kids math, and I'll have to supervise and teach them pretty closely to make sure they've really got it. (Friends Omphalos, where Older Daughter goes, is the best I've seen yet in this regard, but Older Daughter can still use some review and backfilling.)

With Younger Daughter, I'm getting used to the point that we will have to work very hard to get her reading. I can't trust the schools to do this for her, although the public school might be more help than Natural Friends, which really had no provision for any kind of special ed.

Somehow, Younger Daughter has gotten it into her head that reading is a kind of magical process where you memorize what the words look like. She said to me the other day, "I can't read this word -- I don't know it." (Me: "that's exactly why you sound it out!")

Sometimes she glances at a word and thinks she knows what it is, but she isn't paying attention to the order of the letters, so for instance she'll look at "plane" and say "apple", or look at "white" and say "with".

Can Local Public Elementary solve these problems? I don't know, but I'm not counting on it.

So what are my hopes for Local Public Elementary? I hope Younger Daughter will feel more comfortable there, and less threatened. I hope her behavior is better, and if it isn't, I hope the school won't dump the whole problem into my lap, instead of looking for solutions themselves. If nothing else, I'm guaranteed that no matter how dysfunctional the school is, at least they're not draining my bank account.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Day, Two Schools

Today I had brief encounters with both of Younger Daughter's schools.  In the morning, I stopped by Natural Friends.  Younger Daughter's first-grade teacher last year, Teacher 1, had sent us an e-mail saying that she had some of Younger Daughter's writings, and the wiggle cushions we had bought her, so I went over to pick them up.

I told Teacher 1 that I was pretty sure I knew what the basic problem was; a lot of stuff they did went right over Younger Daughter's head, and she was intimidated that many of the kids seemed to "get" subjects that she struggled with.  She was afraid of looking stupid, which led to anxiety, which led to bad behavior.  Teacher 1 said, "Yes, she's very perceptive that way."  Thanks a lot.

In the afternoon there was a "Meet and Greet" at Younger Daughter's new school, the local public elementary.  Let's call it Fragrant Hills.  On the playground YD met 2 kids she knows from the neighborhood, plus a kid she knows from summer camp.  One of her tablemates in the classroom was actually in her kindergarten class at Natural Friends.

I had hoped to talk to YD's second-grade teacher about YD's behavior issues.  I had completely forgotten that these events are set up precisely to prevent any meaningful discussion from taking place.  So, like the other parents, we said a brief hello to the teacher (about whom I know nothing), put our names down for the fall conference, poked around the classroom a bit, and then went home.

I did notice a corner of the whiteboard labeled "Daily Homework".  There were spaces for reading, math, spelling, and social studies, and something about getting the homework log signed.  Hoo boy.

So, we hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes.