Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Russell Sprout and Tale of Four Schools: Part I.

Thank you all for your supportive comments following my last post. I really appreciate this aspect of the blogosphere there just seem to be so many great people out there.

This post was prompted by DJ Kirkby's comment to my previous post. It is a rather long post so I have elected to break it into two parts.

Meet Lu, the baby of our family.
We have three girls: E who is 23; Io who is just about to turn 20;
Lu at 16 is a full seven and a half years younger than E.

Lu is simultaneously a delight and a total handful. All our girls are very intelligent, each of our three has a very different worldview and vastly different strengths.

E is a social being, her first word wasn’t ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, rather it was ‘hello’. E can walk into a room full of strangers and in ten minutes all of them will be her friends.

Language is Io’s skill, I would never dream of trying to debate anything with her she would simply tie me in knots. She also has an amazing gift when it comes to drawing and painting.

Lu prefers much more structured things. She loves Maths and Science and until recently, her driving passion was competition chess. Amazingly, Lu has played chess since she was two years old. I was teaching a ten year old E to play when this tiny face peered over the edge of the table and said, ‘Can I play too?’
Of course being an indulgent dad I gave her a go. To my surprise Lu nut only understood but actually learnt to play.

By the time she was 3, Lu was beating her then 11 year old sister. Not surprisingly E quickly lost interest in the sport. Lu joined her first chess club when she went to primary (elementary) school, not the school club but the local adult chess club. Soon after she had us travelling all around the country for tournament play. She represented Oz as under 12 female in the World Youth Championships and she held the State Women’s Title at 12.

Now I don’t want to give the impression she is only good at very structured things like maths and chess. Like many bright kids Lu has an interest in all sorts of other pursuits: singing, music, sport, reading, animals, etc. etc.

Our two older girls found school easy. A piece of pie really, achieving everything they wanted and more. They did what they had to do in class and then cruised.

In theory, Lu should have found school easy, as easy as her sisters found it.

No such luck. To be fair to the schools Lu’s first year of school was ok. She was occupied with things like learning to read (which we had deliberately not taught her, E went to school already reading and was a bit bored in Year 1).

Once Lu had managed the basics like reading she rapidly became bored. After that things went down hill – quickly.
Oz has a good public education system, but we have always wanted a bit more for our girls and have elected to pay (usually more than we could really afford) for private schools. The girls usually got scholarships because they were clever and at one we paid half fees because I worked for a church organization (there are some perks working for charities).

So, because we had our kids at good schools, with good resources and (in theory) the capacity for structuring individual programs for kids, we went to the teachers. We repeatedly explained what the problem was. Repeatedly asked for an individual education plan (IEP). This had mixed results, in primary school they ranged from really disastrous; to just bad.

At the disastrous end of the spectrum, Lu’s grade three teacher was positively threatened by the concept that there might be a kid in his class who was smarter than him; it just got a whole lot worse when she beat him at the school chess club. Five times. In a row.

At the simply bad end we had teachers who meant well, and who coped well with bright kids; but who just didn’t get that they were dealing with a kid outside the box. They’d try giving Lu ‘extension’ work which simply meant more of the same. Another tack they tried was to get Lu to help the slower kids in class with their work. This simply frustrated Lu to tears, she couldn’t understand that anyone could struggle with something like maths.

By the time Lu finished primary school she was totally disengaged from education. In some ways she was her own worst enemy, when she was bored (which was always) she simply turned off: she refused to complete assignments; she wouldn’t finish class work. Her attitude was something along the lines of, ‘I showed you the first time that I understood the concept. Surely it is a waste of my time and yours to do it over and over.’

Lu’s school tried stick, detentions and loss of privileges, but for a strong minded person who already hated the system they became something to fight against. They tried carrot, prizes for first in the class etc. Lu’s response was usually something like: ‘but I would have to do all that boring stuff’; or ‘I get paid cash for beating adults at chess tournaments, why would I bother?’


Jenners said...

My brother was a bit like Lu ... schools don't know what to do with kids that don't fit neatly inside the box or are "too bright" (i.e., threatening). I'll be interested to hear more!

Mary said...

My youngest son is like Lu in that he doesn't fit within the school system. He's incredibly bright, but he doesn't read, write, or do homework quickly. Instead, he needs time to process it, but when he does, he has a full comprehension of what he's learned. And it sticks with him.

Our public schools in the U.S. seem to want to cram info into kids at a rocket pace. If there's a kid who doesn't work this way and keep up, it's the kid's problem, not the school's.

Al said...

Hi Jenners,
You can say that again!
Part 2 should follow soon.

Hi Mary,
Teachers here have been taught for decades that kids learn differently. Yet somehow that never (or at least rarely) seems to penetrate to the classroom. I hope that doesn't spoil your youngsters education experience too much.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I feel for Lu, it's difficult for gifted kids to benefit from mainstream education. Extention work, or accelerated learning programs, sound good in theory, but I think they are often implemented too late in the game. Toss in a multitude of other variables, personality type, learning style, emotional growth and it's enough to make your head spin.

Enjoyed this post and wow, I'm impressed with Lu's amazing aptitude for chess. Looking forward to part two!

heidenkind said...

I thought school was pretty boring, too. I would bring a book and read all during class. I slept through my math class most of the time and still managed to get an A--don't ask me how, because I have noooo idea.

Just get her into a good uni and she'll do fine. :)

Kristen M. said...

I haven't been sure exactly what to reply to this because it hits so close to home. Z, in fact, has an IEP and is in a fairly good public school system for the time being but I'm not sure if it will always work for him. And yet we looked at private schools and didn't find any that seemed like the right fit for him either. I know this is going to be a long process but I'm glad to know that we aren't the only ones going through it.

Al said...

Hi Deb,
Acceleration and extension do sound great. But they need a lot of dedication from teachers, otherwise they fail.
I'm pleased you liked the post part II coming tonight.

Hi Tasha,
Our big girls adopted your approach. But Lu simply refuses to, she thinks it is the teachers responsibility to meet her needs.

Hi Kristen,
I hope it works well for Z.
Unfortunately, it comes down to the ability of individual teachers more often than not.
Private schools here are in theory better resourced. Lu has had one so far(in her 10 years of school) who really "got her".
Hang in there is all I can say and best wishes.

Lisa said...

My oldest is not bright on Lu's level but he had the same problems in school. Unfortunately we also didn't get him properly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder until he was 14 which only made things much worse. Even then, he hated the side effects of the meds so took himself off them two years after he started taking them. It was a nightmare to get him through school. He is much happier at university where he can work at his own pace in classes and really take classes that interest him.

Anonymous said...

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!


Al said...

Hi Christian,
Thanks for the praise.
Enjoy the blog and keep coming back.

Anonymous said...

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!