Saturday, April 1, 2017

When GAT Goes Deep

I've listened to many complaints over the years from parents of children in GAT programs.  Most of these are under the heading of what the teacher should do or what the curriculum should be.  Many complaints are related to a mismatch between the child's learning preferences and either the teacher or the curriculum.  In the 3rd to 6th grade age range, the complaints tend to be motivated by a drop in test scores or a drop in grades for a formerly perfect student.

There are three problems with the complaining and these three problems will have a negative impact on the child's learning experience.  The biggest problem with these complaints is that there is something much bigger going on that is missed, and the child will pay a much bigger the price.

The first problem with the complaints is that a parent with no experience with curriculum, who has never taught a classroom of x graders, and has no idea what the demands are for the next few years decides that he is going to tell a teacher of 20+ years experience what and how she should be teaching.   While I realize that the ultimate answer to this type of complaint is for the parent to see how things turn out so that he knows why the demands of the classroom are designed the way they are, my patience has been worn so thin that my general internal response is "shut up you clueless moron and let the teacher do her job".  This is not a helpful response so I've been working on patience and meditation.

Years ago, I was cautioned against not agreeing with the teacher, by teachers, and this advice has paid off.  I may not walk away from parent teacher conference feeling satisfied after so much forced agreeing but at least I didn't alienate the teacher.   Instead, I did what I was told to do and grades improved.  And 6 years later, I see a room full of highly skilled geniuses even though I'm not quite sure how they learned anything with no text books and a bunch of projects.  Plus the math curriculum is weak.

When the child is Type A, and the Type B teacher uses curriculum Type C, this can be a problem.   I have a son who inherited the 'learning by not listening' gene and every year there's a teacher who tells kids stuff and expects them to hear it.   The norm is kids who expect to be told everything and are baffled when they have to figure it out on their own, so I'm not complaining.  There are two ways to approach this issue, which will come up in your child's academic career with 100% certainty.  You can demand that the teacher accommodate Type A students, in the hopes that your child will actually learning something, or your child will struggle to learn how to deal with different teaching styles. The second approach is harder but pays off in middle school and high school when teachers don't give a hoot what type of learning style your child prefers.  As parents, we've been involved in many long semesters of having to memorize stuff or redo homework or ask "did you bother to read the directions?" over and over again.  With the other child, it's been arguments over "I know that's what the directions say, but they really want you to think on your own."

I feel like the test score drop is inevitable with normal children, and I have two very normal children. 99% takes a lot of work, and frankly neither of us are going to put in this work in years where it really doesn't matter because we're usually focused on the future year when it will, and there is contention between learning and test scores.   There are kids who love this work year after year.  A few of these kids are even well rounded.  When test scores drop, there could be a lot of reasons, and without a complicated investigation that few of us are qualified to do, you can't jump to the conclusion that the teacher is doing something wrong.  Especially 5th grade teachers in an 8 year program in a city where it's popular to switch programs after 6th grade.

Anyway, aside from all of the complaining, there is a really big defect in gifted education that some parents miss.  The curriculum is really deep and either no one bothers to mention it or my child wasn't listening at the time.  I think both.

In every one of the classes, almost every year, I'll look at an assignment or a project, something on the order of an hour or two, and realize 'holy crud' this is an 8 hour ordeal with about 19 hidden layers.  Sometimes I find this out because of the helpful child who accidentally shares their homework with the whole class and I open my gmail on iPad to find my son logged in.  Sometimes I find this out by going to Amazon for teacher's notes on a book they're reading in class.  Sometimes I google 'earth's core' and find out that it appears in Canada and then have to google 'what the heck is wrong with Canada?'

I can only imagine the teacher handing out an assignment and thinking 'If you're smart and motivated, you'll do a lot, and if not, you'll do the minimum to get an A'.    It would have been nice if the teacher just explained that, but I can imagine the reaction of the parents when they realize how much work it leaves for them.

I've put the most investment into reading and writing assignments.  I consider science a technical writing exercise, which I enjoy immensely, but we let no science topic go ungoogled, and lately I've been trolling through historical documentaries on scientists.   I wish I learned that in grade school, but our state was ranked 49th in education, just ahead of the state with all of those websites full of jokes. The most trivial problem in math is 5 million miles deep, but I think the time for dealing with that is after 6th grade.   In the meantime, I've got Test Prep Math Level 3 for this summer get get my child past 4th grade.  

So behind all of the complaining lurks an even more pressing problem.   The program is going to be what the child makes of it.   After all, the program is for supposedly gifted kids.   For those of us who's kids aren't necessarily gifted after all, or for those of us who don't believe in gifted in the first place, this problem needs to be solved each year with an eye toward eventually retiring from involvement in the child's education.  My retirement date is officially set for 8th grade.  I'm told there will be no parent teacher conferences in high school, and we'll be ready.


  1. I am mother of three - 9, 6 and 4. I have been reading your blog for a few years now and truly appreciate all the effort and time you spend in sharing all the information. I wonder though how your manage or divide your time among your kids each night ? Its a struggle for me to spend a fair share of time with all three of my kids. I would love to get any suggestions from you.

    Thank you!!

    1. I generally ignore homework and school. My spouse is in charge of assignments and projects as needed. I'm currently working with more than 2 using these principles: First, I've got work for each and make sure there's a stack of books. They are expected to do it on their own with the normal nagging, interruptions and complaining. During the school year, or during the summer, one kid is going to get some really hard work or challenge and a lot of my attention. The others are grateful to be left on their own. Anyone who is 4 gets the full treatment with reading, math, and cognitive work. Somewhere between 10 and 12 is a big year for the next level, which includes writing, and in between, maybe 2nd grade someone is going to get a lot of math. It turns out that full attention is usually about 6 weeks of I can't do it to figure it out yourself. I'm 100% about the core skills, because these result in independent work at a high level. Saturday's we go full bore for an hour with each - currently 4 kids - and lately it's been math and reading comp, depending on the kid. It varies by season. After about a year of the routine, the kids generally work independently and I can ask who needs a big push in what area? Every kid had to go through something big, and after that I'm more than happy to watch them coast for a year or so on their own. I hope this helps. If not, feel free to email me.

    2. Thank you so much, yes it does!! I guess I need to focus on teaching the core skills to my youngest, and help the second one be independent. The issue with my oldest is he makes a lot of silly mistakes. I am trying to enhance the rereading skill in him and hope to see it work.

      Thanks again so much!!