Monday, March 30, 2009

Boys will be...Restless

I just learned that my 11 year old nephew has been diagnosed with ADD after getting 4 As and an F on his latest report card. Seems he didn't turn in any of his homework, which counted for about 40% of the grade. My mom's response was disbelief, after all this was a kid who at 3 could sit for three hours just playing with buttons in a car, the same age he learned to read. "Sure" responded a friend, "they can focus on stuff they are interested in." Why does there have to be something wrong with a kid who doesn't work hard on things that don't capture his attention? This kid can play golf or chess for hours, video games too, although that's not quite the same. I'm sure it doesn't help that my parents and I are are currently engrossed in the book "Weapons of Mass Instruction" but that's for a later post. At the same time I was learning my bright nephew is failing due to lack of homework (he did fine on the tests), I have come face-to-face with the 2nd grade language arts standardized tests and it makes me sick.

On a recent Thursday I find myself sitting on a pint-sized chair with two 2nd graders. I'm helping them prepare for their first standardized test given in English. They are both native Spanish speakers who've been in a dual immersion program since kindergarten and I've volunteered to give them some extra help. The enthusiastic and eager little girl, N, sits so close to me you can't even fit one page of the test booklet between us. She loves to read, do word searches and is thrilled when she gets an answer right. The sweet-faced and active little boy, who I'll call S, has not stayed still for more than about 30 seconds since we started the session, and as I turn to answer N's inquiry, he darts across the room, ostensibly to sharpen his pencil, but his legs move a lot more quickly than his brain as he looks confused as to how and why he's standing there. I call him back and manage to hold his attention for about 3 minutes before "coach" (my husband) wanders in to get his iced coffee and our son. "S___________" he barks out, followed by the patented hand slap fist bash, and I can see the longing on S's face as my two guys head out to play pick-up soccer.

He was so full of energy he literally could not sit still in his chair, half falling out and popping up every once in while. He'd already been in school for four hours (this was a short day, other days it would have been 6) and he made it very clear reading was not his favorite subject. Why do we make kids sit down all day to learn? This boy had already been separated from his buddy, who had a tutor all to himself since he "was worse" I was told. S made it very clear reading was not his favorite subject. He even asked if we could do math instead.

I worry about both kids. The little girl absolutely loves to read, but the moronic questions she has to answer will likely burn that love right out. Would not her time be better spent pouring over books with princesses and witches and silly chickens, rather than answering "which of these is not used to make bubbles?" (the answer is glass balls, in case you were wondering, not scissors as any normal person would have surmised). I remember my mom telling me there was no need for SAT prep classes. I should simply read as much as possible, looking up any words I didn't know.

I guess I should feel lucky, in as much as my son can't sit still at home and complains about having to sit still all day at school, he is a rule follower. He would rather get on the rocket ship of good behavior in class even if it means sitting and being quiet when he's supposed to. He's actually in the most active 1st grade classroom at the school, one where the teacher routinely gets told he needs to get better control of the classroom. That class fits us well, although drives the parents who are former teachers a bit crazy. Even in this lively room full of 1st graders the need for conformity threatens to crush his active mind and adventurous spirit.

My husband encourages all his kinesthetic learners to juggle a ball while he's talking to them out on the field, as long as they aren't talking to each other. A roomful of moms were given "permission" by a professor of childhood education to let our little boys (and girls) play during reading time, that our toddlers and preschoolers would still get the benefits of reading. Can you imagine how that would be received in a public school? Actually, it's been done here, so maybe there is still hope.

In the meantime, I'm also following the rules to the best of my ability. The boys now have different tutors, ones who can get them to sit for the full hour. I'm working through the tests with two sweet girls and letting them read as much as they want, but no more.

Photo courtesy of creative commons


  1. There's a lot of food for thought in this post. As a parent of a "different learner", as well as three boys and a girl, I can second almost everything you've stated here.

    My current frustration is the single-minded devotion to those infernal standardized test scores. You can't really blame the public schools — their funding is tied directly to those scores. But in the few years since my high school juniors were in elementary school and now, when my younger boys are taking those tests, the pressure surrounding them has increased exponentially (and dangerously, in my opinion).

    Like all things in our education system, this pendulum will swing back, and we will likely throw out any good along the way. Don't even get me started on homework in elementary schools and parents who are angry that there isn't "enough".

    Great post.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Another thing I like about Keegan's teacher, the first half of the year he often forgot to give out the homework, now he pretty much never bothers. Don't tell, though :)

  3. I love your the way your husband deals with kinesthetic learners! Reminds me of the movie Akeelah and the Bee, where Akeelah discovered she could concentrate most effectively when she was skipping rope. It's certainly food for thought and I wish more public school classrooms would be more open to this kind of learning rather than the current system, which seems to be set up for little girls' learning styles rather than little boys. I may be generalizing, but I have a daughter and two sons, and they certainly seem to hold true to that stereotype.

  4. I see your points, and I agree with some of them. But really, can you imagine a classroom where kids are juggling balls, jumping rope, or hopping on one leg as they work? Our elementary school classes have 20+ kids in them--barely enough room for centers and desks and books, much less the kind of activity you are talking about. And what about the kid who wants to sit and receive instruction without all the movement? They deserve that kind of classroom just as much as the kids who want movement. Pass school budgets--campaign for smaller class sizes...the way to more individualized instruction is to free the teacher up to spend more time with each student!

  5. Your comment about the SAT prep, and how reading lots of books and looking up the words was the strategy in the good old days, really resonates. Some of the truest principles of learning seem to be overanalyzed in this highly complex world. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  6. Thanks for all your comments. I agree it's not the schools, goes much higher up. And simply allowing kids to learn differently is a step, not the whole thing. The point is, though, you may have a quiet classroom, but if 75% aren't really learning anything in that classroom, something has to change.

    I'm really saddened by complete lack of field trips, and am working on a post about our field-trip filled spring break.