Tag Archives: second grade

A student

This is the first year that Dash has brought home letter grades on tests and reports instead of smiley faces and stars and mostly meaningless abbreviations like IP for in progress and PR for proficient. (The checkmarks and smiley faces and stars actually followed a progression that the kids were well aware of, so they may as well have been A’s and B’s and C’s, really. But it seemed friendlier and less pressured.)

Dash never really asked what was in his report, and I never particularly told him. I said it was fine, and that was that. It was usually a mixture of IPs and PRs and an OG for reading. (That means “on grade” level.)

Dash’s first report this autumn had a lovely line of straight A’s. I was happy, and feel this slight improvement can probably be credited to his vision therapy. In general, though, he’s a smart enough kid who’s well-behaved in class, listens to the teacher most of the time, and is liked by the staff. I’m pretty sure that these are the traits that lead to A’s from your teacher when you’re in elementary school just as much as your test results and your homework does. (Especially in fuzzy subjects like PE, for instance. Then it’s all down to how much the teacher likes you.)

I told him he had straight A’s, and he was pleased, because he knows that’s a thing that people aspire to.

I would like to leave it there, but in American schools there’s this little thing called Honor Roll.

Twice a year (three times? I don’t know yet) in our school, all the children who have all A’s and B’s or higher on their reports are deemed to be honorworthy, and they have an assembly to which their parents can come to watch them be presented with a certificate saying that they’re on the Honor Roll. There are bumper stickers, even, saying that this car is driven by the proud parent of an Honor Roll student at your particular school. It’s all made a bit of a big deal of.

For tedious reasons, Dash didn’t actually get a second report this term, and therefore was not eligible for Honor Roll this time, but his teacher assured me that he would have been on it, and apologized for the oversight. (Okay, tedious explanation: what happened was that we had to un-enroll him from school when we went to Ireland, so that his absences wouldn’t count against the school and bring down their average, and so his records were all inaccessible when the reports were generated. We’ve done this before and it’s a simple matter to re-enroll him when we get back and he slots straight back in as if he’d never left. It’s fine.)

Not only did I not care about the second report; I was actually a little relieved that he wouldn’t be in the Honor Roll thing. And that seemed weird, so I put some thought into figuring out why I felt that way.

As a child who enjoyed reading and tended to “lick up to” the teacher, (pretty much the same as brown-nosing), I usually got good marks at school. But somewhere along the way I took in the fact that it was bad manners to ask what someone else got in a test, because that was tantamount to bragging about my own grade. Test marks were like salaries – you don’t ask, but if someone else offers information you can reciprocate with yours.

So having a ceremony where you proclaim to the whole school that we’re the smart kids doesn’t seem fair.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re showing the value of hard work and application. Maybe that’s the only way you get A’s and B’s; but somehow, when you’re seven years old, I don’t think that’s really it. Maybe they’re proclaiming that they’re the kids with the involved parents, the families where a parent is around to help with homework, where books are read as a matter of course, and, often, where English is a first language. I’m pretty sure all those factors also contribute to high grades, and those have very little to do with how hard the kids work at their studies.

Maybe I’m wrong, and all the other kids watch the Honor Roll-ees troop off for their assembly with nothing but goodwill and ambition in their hearts, happy for their friends and newly committed to learning all their spelling words this week so that maybe next time they’ll be one of the hallowed few. Maybe, in fact, half of the kids at school are on Honor Roll, and the others couldn’t care less about it. Maybe some kids would actively hate to be on it. Maybe it would destroy their street cred, and is just one more reason not to bother doing their homework.

I’m not sure I see the value of grades for elementary school students at all, for one thing. In general, bragging about grades (albeit in a fully school-endorsed way) sits badly with me. If Dash ends up on Honor Roll next time, I’m sure I’ll go along to the ceremony and be delighted for him, but I’m not going to be the sort of parent who pays for grades, or rewards an excellent report card with an extravagant present. Not at this stage. Maybe never.

When I googled to find that news story I linked to above, it turned out that I’m not the only person who maybe thinks Honor Roll – or even grades in general – aren’t the greatest idea ever. But apparently lots of other people think that the people who complain about Honor Roll are like the ones who don’t want winners and losers in kids’ soccer games because they want to protect their little darlings from ever feeling “less than.” My point is exactly the opposite: I don’t want a group of kids to feel that they’re “more than,” when – in elementary school at least – I think that hard graft and dogged perseverance are not major contributors to good grades. There are way too many other factors at play in the early years.

Tell me what you think. Do you think Honor Roll helps kids do their best, or would you rather it didn’t exist?

A grade

Vision therapy: further update

Dash has a vision therapy assessment this afternoon. I haven’t been talking about vision therapy much because I want to do a big reveal when it finishes up, but I’m tired of waiting, and frankly I’m excited about the way things are going.

At the start of the summer, Dash was seven and a bit and fresh out of first grade. He was reading a little above grade level, but it was a struggle and far more halting and laborious than it should have been. He was comfortably reading books like this:

Book with one or two sentences per page.

More tellingly, he never spontaneously read a road sign or a store name. He resisted reading anything we asked him to, though he faithfully did his 20 minutes of homework reading every night, eventually, when all other options had been exhausted. He would blink and say the words had gone blurry after a sentence or so, but he’d persevere. It was painful to listen to.

He began vision therapy in June – two half-hour sessions a week, with a few minutes of “homework” to do every morning and evening in between. It’s hard to explain what the therapy consists of – reading and pointing and following arrows and picking out highlighted text and finding letters in order and learning how to focus and unfocus his eyes as if he were doing one of those magic-eye pictures that I can never do. Games and puzzles and things on a computer.

We had a preliminary assessment after six weeks or so, and to be honest at that point I was still ambivalent about how things were going. I couldn’t see any change, really, in his homework reading. I felt at that point that the worst outcome would be if his reading improved a little, but nothing really changed much, and if we’d never know whether he’d just caught up late as he was going to do all along or if the therapy helped.

Less than a week later, something changed. He started reading the next level up and stormed through a level-three Ninjago book in a few nights. Words didn’t go blurry any more. He was reading paragraphs.

Now he’s reading text that looks like this:

Book with many lines of text on each page.

He’s on his third Magic Treehouse book. He’s still reading aloud, and only for his 20-minute mandated time, but if you’d told me when we started this that we’d have reached this point as soon as October, I’d have said all my hopes had come to fruition.

Today he was off school. We were talking about his reading and he said “…and when I’m finished all the Magic Treehouse books, I can read higher-level books and when I’m finished all of those I can start reading about real things.”

“You don’t have to wait till you’ve finished all the fiction in the library to read about facts, you know. We have a history book at home.”

So he did this:

Boy reading history book

He read two pages about World War II, asking me what things like N-a-z-i and C-z-e-c-h-o-s-l-…  and D-u-n-k-i-r-k spelled, and taking in every word even though his supporting background knowledge and geography are pretty hazy because it’s quite an advanced level book of world history.

His handwriting has improved to the point where he’s writing essays entitled “Why my writing is so neat.” He brought home a report card full of straight A’s last week. (This is his first letter-grade report card, so I can’t really compare it to previous ones, and I really don’t care and don’t want to put any pressure on him to stay a straight-A student, but that’s a different blogpost.) Last week at a birthday party he willingly read out the list of scavenger hunt items, even though they were in an unfamiliar cursive font.

At Wednesday’s session I got talking to another mother. Most of the kids I see at vision therapy are Dash’s age or a little older, but this woman’s son is in tenth grade, which makes him 15 or so. His deep voice sounds out of place beside my son’s piercing trill as they both do their separate exercises with their therapists, around the corner from where I sit and wait.

This mother said they’d spent thousands and tried everything trying to figure out what was going on with her son’s reading. He’d bring home A’s and B’s but his homework was taking seven hours a night. He’d had an IEP (individualized education plan; for children who need extra help while in mainstream schooling due to something like high-functioning autism or ADHD, maybe). Nothing had helped until they discovered vision therapy. She looked at me with hopeful weary eyes and told me we were blessed for finding this now, when Dash is seven, for saving ourselves all those years of struggle. I don’t doubt it.

Vision therapy isn’t over yet, and today’s assessment is to get a better idea of how he’s doing and how much more he needs. But I am happy to report that things are looking good. No pun intended.

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To read more about Dash’s journey with vision therapy, see here or type “vision therapy” into my Search field. If you wonder whether vision therapy would benefit your child, read this very informative page and take a look at the checklist linked at the bottom. We found a qualified developmental optometrist in our area using this search. Feel free to e-mail me if you’ve any specific questions, though obviously I’m far from an expert.

The homework debate

My second-grader is doing his homework. It’s quick and easy and it doesn’t take long. But I started reminding (/asking/exhorting) him to do it when he got home from school at 3.45. He finally began at 7.20pm, after some outside playtime, some TV time, dinner, dessert, some more outside time, and a glass of milk. I’ve come to accept that this is how it is with him, and for now it’s working. He knows that ultimately he is responsible for his homework being done. I worry about how things will go next year, when they say the homework load really ramps up, and when if he starts at 7.30 he won’t finish till long past bedtime. I suppose he’ll live and learn. He’s not one to stress over his homework; I’m lucky that he’s a relaxed kid who loves school for its social aspects and has not yet been turned off learning for its own sake.

People used to think that we should show children it’s a tough world from the outset. Some people still feel that way, on one matter or another. You shouldn’t pick up your crying baby. You shouldn’t tolerate tantrums. You shouldn’t let that five-year-old sleep with the light on. They need to learn that life’s hard, and people are mean, and they need to buckle down and do their work; and the sooner they figure that out the better.

I think we should be kind to our babies and love them while we can, because life is short – and childhood shorter – even more than it’s hard; and because they will find out the rest soon enough.

And so I’m thinking about homework again. I’m not saying that people who expect children to do homework are cruel, Dickensian types, or that making a kindergardener come home from six hours of school and asking them to sit down and do homework is like forcing a three-month-old baby to cry it out – but then again, maybe one day in the future it will be seen that way.

I’m not big on research. I like to read the headlines and let other people do the heavy lifting. But I can tell you a few things I’ve seen recently that have stuck in my mind:

Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many people, but I am not one of those people. I like our local public school and I want to be part of it. My son loves school. I enjoy sending him to school every day and picking him up at the end of it. I don’t enjoy bugging him to do his homework for an hour or more every day while he strings me along with promises of “Yes, yes, after this,” and finally sits down to do it right when it’s dinnertime, or maybe bedtime.

I really don’t like the conversations I’ve had with other parents who have more intense children who burst into tears crying “I just want to play” when it’s time for homework, or whose studious third- or fourth-graders won’t hear of stopping after 45 minutes even when their mom says they’ll write a note because that’s long enough.

And on the whole, I know that my household has it easy right now. So far, the amount of homework he has had has been very reasonable, his teachers have been undemanding, and he’s not the type to stress over schoolwork. Once he finally sits down to do it, it goes pretty quickly these nights. Additionally, our school has said that roughly ten minutes per grade is as much work as they should be doing – 25 minutes for my second-grader, then; under an hour for a fifth-grader. (Does that mean zero minutes for a kindergardener?)

Children are not miniature adults. They are not just university students in training. Their minds and bodies are still developing and they have more learning to do than can be taught in school. Childhood is not the time for them to learn how to buckle down and work for a further two hours (or even 45 minutes) when every fibre of their being tells them they should be running and jumping and climbing trees and playing soccer and organizing skipping games with the other kids on the street and finding out what it is they love to do. They’ve spent six hours clamping down on their wild sides – or having them clamped down for them – when they get home it’s time to do the other thing.

I want there to be no homework. Not just less, but none, for the sake of our quality of life four nights a week, and my children’s childhoods. And I’m almost fired up enough to do something about it.