Saturday, November 01, 2008

An Analysis, Not a Brag (I Hope)

In our house, we pretty much take E's capacities for granted. On the soccer field or singing Hannah Montana songs, she totally blends in with her peers, so we just figure she's a normal second grader, and we don't really think about the fact that she also does things like have conversations about genetics and multiply fractions and write chapter books (with a problem and a resolution).

Yesterday I was in E's class for their "Harvest" (i.e. NOT Halloween) party. In kindergarten, I was in E's class every other week, so I really knew the kids and their work. In kindergarten, E was a total outlier: she could read, she could behave, she was writing five-page books when most kids were still drawing pictures. We didn't think much about that either, though, because she was older and doing her second year of kindergarten (for birthday/preschool availability reasons that you either remember or don't care about). In first grade, the other kids started catching up with her, plus she made a best friend who is a lot like her, so we figured the maturing thing was happening (differences are largest in younger grades, when the kids are, in fact, farther apart in age, relatively, plus boys and girls have significant developmental differences). But I wasn't around much in first grade.

It was quite exciting to see, yesterday, how far all the kids have come since kindergarten. Their writing is awesome, and they are just a super-nice group of kids (for the most part--let's say 95%). But I also saw, in just an hour, how truly different E is. Unlike kindergarten, she's not alone: there is one boy like her, and there are another boy and girl who are similar, but a little different. But, wow, what a span in a single classroom.

Digression on teacher: E has a fabulous teacher. The kids love her, she has total control of the classroom, they are doing a lot of content, and they have fun. But she is definitely of the new breed of all academics all the time, even though she also makes it fun. So yesterday they had Halloween all day (aside from the party which was HARVEST, in case you don't recall). In the morning they drew haunted houses and wrote poems about them. Then they listened to scary music and chose from scary writing prompts to write stories. The party was all about the orange food: canteloupe, clementines, cupcakes, candy corn (ooh, orange C-food, though we didn't go there), and, uh, Munchkins and juice boxes. Then there were four stations--math (which was also science), science, literacy, and fun pack--through which the kids circulated in small groups. They were totally into it, but, you know, it might have been fun to make pumpkin pies or leaf collages or our own witches' brooms...only it's not that kind of school...

Back to the kids: I was momming the math (science) table where we had a scale, a small pumpkin, and a big pumpkin. The task was to weigh ourselves (themselves), estimate the weight of the pumpkins (one at a time), weigh the pumpkins, and figure out the difference between the estimate and the actual weight. All the kids loved the estimating and the weighing (though most of their estimates were off by a factor of about 40). Not all of them could follow the directions--they were writing their numbers down all over the page, when there was a specific place and sequence for each number. And the math? It wasn't that they didn't love it--the kids who got it were totally into it--but that some of them just drew a total blank. The teacher said they knew the concept of difference, but for most of them, it sure didn't seem like it. I'd ask the question in several different ways and get dreamy stares. Then there were a few who got it, but didn't know how they got it (these were usually kids who guessed things like 118, when the big pumpkin actually weighed 18, so it was easy to get to 100).

The other issue was the small pumpkin which turned out to not weigh enough to register on the scale. In the first group, we figured out how to solve this problem: weigh the kids holding the pumpkin, which everyone loved. Luckily the pumpkin weighed one pound, so almost every kid could figure out that if I weigh 56 pounds by myself, and 57 holding the pumpkin, the pumpkin weighs one pound. But some couldn't even figure that out: one thought the pumpkin weighed 57 pounds.

So what was the difference with E and her friend Z? Well, they read the directions, were a step ahead on the tasks, understood the difference concept, and did the math. Not only that, but when I asked their group how we were going to figure out the weight of the small pumpkin, E immediately suggested weighing ourselves holding the pumpkin (I had to coax that solution out of every other group). And not only that, but when I asked them to help the other kids in their group with the math, Z came up and said to me "we haven't learned borrowing yet, what should I do?" He knew how to borrow, but he knew that the other kid didn't, and he wanted to help him appropriately, not just do the math for him. In other words, what E and Z are is academically capable, creative (i.e. problem solving), and meta-cognitive. S, a boy who shares their skill level, completely lacks the meta-cognitive piece, and C, a girl who did some creative thinking (she compared the weight of the big pumpkin to her little brother's weight) is not quite there in skills.

So I guess E is different, but she's not a total outlier. I'm glad she has Z, and S and C, and, frankly, all the other kids in her class, because that's life: a whole lot of different people who need to negotiate the world, individually and together. And I am in total awe of her teacher for teaching all these kids at once: I only did it for an hour, and I was exhausted.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Wow, cool piece. It is so interesting to observe a group of kids. And it is exhausting...very.