Sunday, November 27, 2011

Progress 4!

Today, Younger Daughter finished reading Big Max.   Her fluency is vastly improved, the word-guessing has almost disappeared, and she will even admit to being interested in the story.  Hooray!

On the math front, she's slowly working her way through Singapore Math 1B, and I've been teaching her how to tell time.  She was struggling with the idea  of "a quarter of an hour", until I hit on the idea of using a pizza toy she has (which was designed to teach fractions.)  I think this visual will stay with her (in this case, demonstrating that "quarter after 7" is the same as "7:15"):

And to cap it all off, Younger Daughter was hanging around our front yard when one of her classmates stopped by, walking her dog, and invited YD to join her!  One of the great benefits of public school is local friends.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Chris' recent post at A Blog About School reminded me of one of my favorite websites,  Here's one of their demotivational posters:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My e-mail to Fragrant Hills

So, as a follow-up to my little contretemps with the school psychologist (described in a previous post), I sent this e-mail to the principal, the school psychologist, and Younger Daughter's teacher at Fragrant Hills:

Principal, Psychologist, First-Grade Teacher --

I thought I should take the opportunity to explain, for the record, why I chose not to follow the recommendations of Ms. H's report for more testing for my daughter, YD.  I gave this matter a great deal of thought.  This was not a decision I made lightly or out of prior bias.  Here is some of my reasoning:

1.)  The report was written in a particular context.  At the time, Natural Friends was hoping that we could get  a 1:1 aide to work with YD in the classroom.  The only way the state would pay the aide's salary was if YD had a documented medical condition.  So Ms. H knew that her task was to support the case that YD had a disability that would justify paying for an aide.  She was looking for evidence of a medical disability, and what we look for, we tend to find.

2.)  Ms. H observed YD for a couple of hours in the classroom and saw YD engaged in panicky, disruptive behavior.  Based on the behavior she saw, she made recommendations and theorized possible diagnoses.  Now YD is in a different environment, and her behavior has improved considerably.  If Ms. H observed YD today, she would see different behavior, and probably make different recommendations.

3.)  The underlying problem is that YD doesn't like to be tested.  Ms. H mentioned that most of YD's test scores were artificially low because YD was so resistant to taking the test. Testing, especially when carried out by people YD doesn't know well, is not a very effective way to find out who YD is, what she needs, or how she could best be helped. 

4.)  YD has already taken a number of psychometric tests (especially in reading and language development), and no-one has found evidence for any disability.

5.)  The more time YD spends being evaluated and treated by specialists, the more she will come to believe that something is wrong with her.  This will undermine her self-confidence and make it more difficult for her to learn.  Instead of testing and evaluation, I think it's more productive to give YD intensive teaching so we can bring her academics to the level they need to be. 

In summary, I would like to say that I take all recommendations seriously, but that doesn't mean I follow them all. 

Thank you for your consideration. 


Second Conference

Last Thursday I had a second conference at Fragrant Hills to discuss Younger Daughter's progress.  The cast was similar to the first conference, but Sainted Husband wasn't there.  So this time we had my fed-up self, the first-grade teacher, the principal, the reading specialist, the school counselor, the school psychologist, and, on a flying visit, the math specialist.

The meeting began, informally, with me talking to the reading specialist about YD's reading.  I know the specialist socially because one of her kids was a classmate of Older Daughter's at a Montessori pre-school.  We had a very pleasant conversation; she said she was working on phonics with YD (Hooray!), and showed me the book they were reading, about plants that eat bugs.  She said YD enjoyed it, and indeed, YD later gave me an unprompted demonstration of the different ways bugs can be eaten by a plant.  Later, the specialist said something about "strategies", and I said that YD had a bad habit of guessing that I wanted her to get out of.  The specialist made a note of it.

I asked the first-grade teacher how YD's behavior had been, and she said, again, that it was basically okay.  Sometimes there are minor problems, but the teacher doesn't find YD difficult to work with, and YD isn't disrupting the class.  So far, so good.  The principal asked the teacher what concerns she has, and the teacher said, "YD has come a long way from the beginning of the year, but I'm worried that the gap will keep opening up between her and the rest of the class.  She's done OK on the spelling so far, but the spelling lists will just keep getting harder."  (She mentioned the spelling lists twice.)

She said she was worried about YD's social development.  When asked for an example she said that their new math curriculum (Investigations!  Gack!)  requires that the kids pair up for various games.  She assigns the pairs randomly, so the kids will all meet each other.  When she tried to pair YD up with a particular kid, YD said "I don't want to work with him!"

The school counselor said that maybe YD is worried that the other kid understands the math better than she does, and she'll be embarrassed working with him.  I agreed that the fear of embarrassment is a big deal for YD.

(Inside the fed-up brain, I'm thinking, so what?  YD didn't slug the kid.  I think her reaction was pretty mature and reasonable.  Why should they expect every second-grader to be able to work productively with every other second-grader?  And why do they mix up math with social development?)

The math specialist came in, briefly, to show me the results of some testing she had done of YD.  She said YD needed to work more on coins, clocks, and subtraction, which I made a note of so we can follow up at home.  She also said that YD tested out in the average range compared to other kids.  YD always shows up in the average range, which is remarkable, considering how hard she fights taking the tests at all.

(Back inside the fed-up brain, I'm thinking, if you can afford to spend 10 minutes explaining to me that YD doesn't seem to know her coin values, couldn't you have spent 10 minutes, oh, I dunno, teaching YD about coin values?)

That was most of the conference, except for the school psychologist expressing her contempt for me.  Now that a little time has passed, I realize that, on balance, the conference went extremely well.  The next one is scheduled for January.  I figure if we keep on after-schooling YD, she should be in good shape by then.

My New Blog!

I've started a blog about my paintings here:

Paintings B.Y. Randall

Come on by, have a look, and leave a comment so I know you're out there!  Thank you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Mother Refuses

Here's a highlight from my second conference at Younger Daughter's public school, Fragrant Hills.  I'll describe the conference in detail in another post, but I wanted to describe this moment first.

Some background:  in her previous school, Natural Friends, YD had been a big behavior problem.  We brought in a psychologist who observed her freaking out in the classroom, ran a few tests, and wrote up a report, ending with recommendations that YD should be tested for any number of possible medical issues (partly to justify the state paying for a 1:1 aide to follow YD around and keep her out of trouble.)

In our previous conference at the public school, Fragrant Hills, the district psychologist, who had said nothing up to that point, asked me whether I had followed the recommendations in the report.  It actually took me a moment to remember what the recommendations were, because the situation had changed so much (in particular, YD is no longer exhibiting the panicky, freaked-out behavior that the psychologist based her recommendations on.)

I said that I hadn't followed the recommendations on the report because I now believe that YD's problem was a mismatch between her needs and the teaching methods used at her previous school.  I said that I don't think YD has a medical problem, and that I was skeptical of the recommendations.  At the time, the psychologist nodded and didn't say anything, so I figured the conversation was over.

So, fast-forward to the second conference, last Thursday:

The conference was humming along quite well when the principal turned to the district psychologist and asked her (she had previously been mute) if she had any recommendations.  The psychologist, who was turning over the pages of the old psychologist's report, said (and I wish I could convey the snotty, patronizing tones she used!):

"Well, the mother has made it clear that she has no intention of following recommendations."

Me (stunned):  "what recommendations?"

Psychologist:  "for more testing and a diagnosis."

Me:  "what kind of diagnosis?"

Psychologist:  "a disability."

Me:  "like what?"

Psychologist:  "... ADHD."

So ... the more I think about this, the more I think I need to call the psychologist on her outrageous, insulting behavior.  It's almost as if she forgot I was in the room, and gave the principal the answer she would have given privately:  "the mother is a deluded b*tch, who doesn't do what we tell her."

Readers -- what do you think?  Any ideas about what to say in my e-mail to the principal?  Stay tuned for our next thrilling adventure!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Last in Math

"First in Math" is a website that allegedly teaches math through games.  The company has apparently been wildly successful in selling its product to schools, on the grounds that it makes practice fun, and "kids love computer games!"

Both of my kids have been told to use "First in Math" as homework; Older Daughter at Natural Friends, a private school, and now Younger Daughter at Fragrant Hills, a public school.  When Older Daughter got the assignment, I told her to ignore it, and we spent the time doing Singapore Math.  Younger Daughter just got the assignment and wanted to give it a try, so I watched her play the games on the web site.

Ugh, what a complete and total waste of time.  Younger Daughter was playing a game where you're supposed to add 2 numbers to get 10.  For instance, you'd look at "3 + ___ = 10", and you could press buttons associated with the numbers 5, 6, 7 and 8. 

Younger Daughter had absolutely no idea what she was doing, so she was just randomly pressing buttons and getting rewarded with little audio riffs.  Here's the epic fail — if you give a wrong answer, there's no provision for explaining why your answer was wrong, or giving you a chance to find the right answer.  You just get an audio riff and a little button that you can press to play again.  If you press the button, you're set up with a completely different problem, which you can again answer randomly, and so on.

If you give the right answer, you get a slightly different audio riff and a little graphic that says "Cool!" or "You're Hot!" or "Way to Go!", but if you give the wrong answer there's no graphic, just the "play again" button.  In other words, it doesn't actually tell you that the answer was wrong, it just neglects to give praise.

Younger Daughter's got the day off tomorrow, so I'm digging out the Singapore Math books.  It's way past time to get started on them.

Learning to Read Chinese

Because we have a Chinese-American daughter, our whole family at various times has studied Chinese. At the moment, it's mostly us parents who are studying, because Younger Daughter has been resistant, but I'm hoping to get YD back to it later.

Our teacher is American, and she's been teaching us to read Chinese characters by decomposing the characters into smaller pieces, called "radicals". Here's an example:

In this case, the top part of the character ("jia") represents a roof, and the bottom part of the character represents a pig.  A pig under a roof -- what does it mean?  Why, home (or, by extension, family), of course!

Here's another one:

Here, the radical in red means "female" (it's a pictograph of a woman), and the radical in black means "horse" (imagine four running feet and a flowing tail at the bottom.)  This character represents something female, which sounds like the Chinese word for horse, "ma" (low dipping tone).  What is it?  It's "ma" (high even tone), which means "mother".  (Famous advice to beginning Chinese speakers:  "Don't call your mother a horse!")

You can see how decomposing a character into radicals is a big help in memorizing characters.  So here's the funny thing — apparently, reading is never taught this way in China.  In China, kids are taught to read purely through brute-force memorization.  They get a list of characters and are told to write them out multiple times until they've got them memorized.  If you talk to a Chinese-taught person about radicals, you're likely to get a blank stare.

I had this experience myself once.  I was talking to a Chinese friend of ours, when I noticed the character "jia" in something he was writing.  I pointed to it and said, "we were just studying that character!  It's a pig under a roof!"  He looked at me like I was crazy and said "it means home or family." 

It's the Chinese version of whole-language versus phonics.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Progress 3!

Currently, Younger Daughter is reading Amelia Bedelia, besides slowly working through the phonics at the back of Why Johnny Can't Read. I've started using a technique I read about somewhere on the web: holding a bookmark just under the line of text she's reading, to help prevent "wandering eyes", and keep her reading in sequence. Her fluency is improving a lot, and I think she's reaching the point where she can really enjoy the story.