conuly: (Default)
For English, I had to convince her that there is no law saying that paragraphs must have a minimum number of sentences. "You mean that a paragraph can have ONE sentence, Connie???" Yes, Ana, that is what I mean, and please don't insult me by claiming you weren't rolling your eyes at me when you definitely were. I pulled up a random article from CNN to prove the point. I don't know who started that silly story or why people keep lying to kids, but it pisses me off.

For the math portion she had to correctly identify the associative trait of multiplication and explain how she knew that 60 x (3 x 4) is the same as (60 x 3) x 4. And "associative property, duh!" is not an acceptable response. She righteously complained that she HATES those that have one small problem, but then you have to do a whole paragraph of writing, and I concur. For that matter, I'm not entirely sure she needs to be able to regurgitate the phrase "associative property!" on command provided that she understands the concept (which it turns out she didn't, but more on this in a bit). It actually angers me that so much of the test is multiple choice, for MATH, and so her class tests are multiple choice to "prepare them", and her homework is multiple choice, and they cover a number of topics that are utterly useless for her at this age at the very real cost of getting real practice in things she SHOULD be learning. They have too many topics to even test on every one at the end of the year, and the ones they can cram into the test get one or two questions each. Which are multiple guess, or else require an essay.

Ana wasn't sure which property this was, so we looked it up and defined the term. But, oh no! Ana forgot the answer in seconds, and didn't want to think! I told her that since she knew the concept, she could just think it through.

The answer Ana wanted to write then was "the associative property is when you multiply three or more numbers and do reverse psychology". I put the kibosh on that for not making any sense, and also because when you try to define terms on tests with "this thing is when", nine times out of ten you end up babbling and not, well, making any sense. Something about trying to fit a definition into a grammatical sentence with that intro leads to sloppy thinking. I justified it with prescriptive grammar, but that's the problem there. Outside of a poem we wouldn't say "a cat is when it is furry and purrs", and that's just going to apply to thought and representative government and the associative property of multiplication as well.

Ana threw a fit, because she had already written "it is when" and had to erase. The horror. Several tries later, during which I finally screamed that she could NOT write her answer because HER ANSWER WAS WRONG and she might as well write that the associative property is BATMAN because she'd be as likely to be correct if she did!!! (not my best moment, I'll admit, but it saved us from having to wake Eva from her nap) I realized that Ana somehow had gotten the impression that all these properties of addition and multiplication are something you do, some form of mathematical trick, rather than describing essential facts about how numbers work.

Well, of course she had. They should have just told her those facts and given her examples like 2 x (3 x 4) = 24 and (2 x 3) x 4 = 24 rather than giving her a list of names with neatly balanced equations on both sides. The terms could have waited. I can't help but wonder how many of her classmates are laboring under the same strange misapprehension, and the hilarious thing is that there is no way the standardized test is going to catch this! At least I am forewarned for when Eva is in fourth grade. Joy of joys.
conuly: (Default)
It starts off with adding fractions with the same denominator, reducing if needed. That's easy enough, and sure enough, the same task that drove Ana to tears just a few months ago, reducing, is now the easiest thing in the world for her. WHY IS SHE ALWAYS LIKE THIS??? That isn't a rhetorical question, I actually want to know what makes it so that things that were hard become easy with a break for her. Practice doesn't do it.

In school math they're doing division, but they don't seem to be doing the long division part yet. Ana had to divide 87 by 6, and she was actually expected to draw six plates with 87 cookies divided among them. To which I say "fuck it", and she must have agreed, because she did the division first and then drew the cookies. It's faster that way, but it's still stupid. Talk about busywork, drawing 87 cookies! They've been having little intro to division assignments like this since the second grade, or maybe even the first. If they don't understand the general concept by now, drawing 87 cookies and six plates certainly won't help! You want to help them understand the idea of division and remainders, give them 25 cookies or something. But 87? Craziness.
conuly: (Default)
The first problem had a cut-out segment of a thermometer with the tens marked and the ones done as lines. Ana was supposed to "estimate" the location of ten lettered spots on the thermometer. So she did estimate, but very badly. I'm not sure how she came up with some of the numbers. I looked at it, erased everything, and asked her what the lines meant. "They didn't say I could count!" Well, she can count, but her estimation skills aren't that great. We went over that as well, and I'm not sure which set of answers was really asked for.

Then she was supposed to "use a thermometer" (an actual one, the little diagram didn't have the correct range) to "find the change" in various temperatures. "I can't do that, we don't have a thermometer!" Well, we do, but it's a digital one and useless for this purpose. If I want to find out how warm it is outside, I don't want to squint at some mercury, I just turn on NY1, which has the added bonus of telling me how warm it's going to be. Or I open the window and wave my arm outside, same difference. Given that some of these problems went into negative numbers, which she hasn't been taught yet, the least they could've done was included a number line! Back in first and second grade number lines were included ALL THE TIME and hindered her from actually memorizing simple facts, but now that they're useful again they just assume we all have thermometers hanging around for this purpose?

I said "Ana, just subtract." "I'm supposed to use a thermometer!" "Ana, listen. What's the difference between 56 apples and 24 apples? 32, right? It's the same thing." We managed to get through the ones with negative numbers fairly competently as well, and she immediately grasped that you go down to zero and then add the under zero number. She had learned that much. Argued with me about putting a plus or minus in front of the answers, but I told her that otherwise the answers were meaningless. "My teacher didn't tell us that!" Well, I'm sure she meant to, and you rarely get in trouble for doing more, so hop to it.

Then, the kicker, she had to choose between two answers for approximate temperatures of various things - a lake, an ice cream, hot tea, and something else. Some where in Fahrenheit and others in Celsius. Well, Ana DOES know the boiling and freezing points of water in Celsius, which I pointed out is also called centigrade because centi means a hundred (never too often to make the point that we can work out what words mean by analyzing them). But she didn't know human body temperature, or ANY markers in Fahrenheit. Shouldn't this be down pat before they start guessing and estimating other things? Shouldn't some of the questions be reviewing the facts that let us know what answers are reasonable before they're thrown into the deep end? There is nothing wrong with this sort of work, but shouldn't they have the background solidified FIRST? Why did I have to tell her these things?
conuly: (Default)
Which means she can start the next one before the second term of school, and if we work over the summer she'll even be a little ahead next year!

To make things better, the last two sections are two she enjoys, time (she actually squealed) and geometry. The LAST section was comparing fractions with different denominators, and she was not so impressed. I'm finding, though, that often she struggles to get through a section, takes a break, and when it comes up in review she whizzes through it. For example, long division was super hard (as it should be), but when we came back to it after the summer break she had it all memorized, even though that didn't seem the case when we finished that section before.

She hasn't even touched on long division in her school curriculum (a teacher who saw her working on it last year commented that it's end of fourth/early fifth grade work, which doesn't sound right to me, but what do I know?), but they're doing stuff I know I didn't learn until middle school, like order of operations or the term variable. I don't mind them using variables - I mean, if they decide to write problems as x + 3 = 6 instead of 3 + 3 = ? or 6 - 3 = ? it probably doesn't do any harm and may do some good - but I wish they wouldn't use the term. They don't seem to have actually explained it, and Ana now tries throwing it around in all sorts of occasions where it doesn't make sense. It's the same as the whole "label the axes" debacle last year. They told her one was x and one was y, and it was the better part of two weeks to convince her that they never, ever, ever want you to label them literally "x" and "y" because that would be stupid.

And sometimes, in her homework at least, the textbook authors seem to have deliberately chosen the most verbose phrasing possible. "Show which numbers, out of the set 8, 9, 10, 11, make the following inequalities true." I'm certain there must have been a simpler way to phrase that. At least it didn't ask her to explain her answer, which is the new vogue. Ana has lost points on tests, math tests, for failing to adequately explain her answer. I'm looking at 2010's state math test now. Five lines provided to say explain how you figured out that Jose's math pattern was "add 2, subtract 5, add 2, subtract 5...." It really is so much silliness, and that's what they expect kids to do. I read an article about how this great school had low scores on the 8th grade tests despite actually working above grade level, and they specifically blamed this fetish for "explaining" as the reason. Some commenters refused to believe it, but I do. It's hard to explain these, especially when you understand them enough to just do the math without counting or drawing pictures! It really penalizes kids who work at a level where they don't have to think it all through, and it's tedious as well.

As for Evangeline, she's doing multi digit subtraction with borrowing, or regrouping as we say today. In school they're doing two digit plus one digit addition with carrying, and they've only just started, but she's pretty much mastered subtraction at home. Funny thing, her mistakes are completely different from Ana's! When Ana started with that level of subtraction, sometimes she'd forget and, if the top digit was smaller than the bottom, subtract the smaller digit from the larger instead of adding a ten. So if she had 78 - 69 she would get 11 as her answer. Eva has yet to do that. However, when SHE gets careless she starts borrowing to digits that don't need it! So if she has 531 - 140 she might absent mindedly take away from the 30, and then get stuck when her answer makes no sense. In math, she's better at catching silly answers than Ana is, though. (Ana is better at catching silly mistakes in reading.)
conuly: (Default)
She's finally learning to check her work as she spells. This doesn't necessarily translate to better spelling - the only two tests we've gotten back this year were a 40 and a 0, so... yeah - but she does now realize when words she's studied look wrong, and she does understand that she *should* review her words before handing her test in. So go her!

She also, I realize now, has become the master of the strategic mumble. Maybe this is what she was doing in class all last year? She was reading aloud the blurb of a book to me.... *dreamy flashback music*

Evangeline: After he kissed his elbow, did MumbleRumble become a girl?
Me: Wait, what did you say?
Eva: After he kissed his elbow, did MumbleRumble-
Me: Who???
Eva: *pause* Mumblerumble
Me: Can you try that again?
Eva: (slightly louder) mum
Me: Seriously? I know you're just mumbling so I won't know you didn't really read the word. Except I do know. What's his name?

Now, at this point, had I used that line on Ana, she would've acted huffy and upset and stormed that I don't know what she's thinking and she can do it herself without my help and basically done whatever she could to change the subject from her reading to... anything else! It's every bit as transparent as the mumbling! But Eva, you know, she knows when the game is up. (Edit: Although, to be fair, Ana probably wouldn't've tried the mumbling in the first place, even if she was having trouble reading it for some reason. I don't know what she would've done, since she's never had trouble reading aloud, but this doesn't seem like her style at all.)

Eva: Marvelrumble
Me: What's his first name?
Eva: Marvel.
Me: I don't think so. Let's chunk this into syllables. The first one is mar, what's the second? We'll cover the other word.
Eva: Vel.
Me: No.
Eva: V. I. L - oh, n. Vin. Marvin. Marvin Redpost!
Me: Thanks.

Other than that she swears she's *always* finishing before anybody else in the class and she's *always* bored. If this is true, we may send her in with some other work to do if she finishes first and has read her books, but things that she's not studying in school already. That would just exacerbate the problem, and we already *do* extra schoolwork at home. (Ana still isn't happy about that. She likes the results of doing math before she encounters it in school, but she doesn't like that this requires work.)

On the subject of homework, I'm finally enforcing the rule I should've been enforcing all along: I set a reasonable amount of time for Ana to do her work (an hour and 15 minutes, plus some time for reading), and when the timer goes off, she's done. I mean, I'm fair and if she only has two words left to write I'll let her do that, but whatever's not close to being completed gets put away and she can finish it in the morning if she wakes up on time but I won't have it eating up the entire evening. It's like when she was three and would dawdle all day over her breakfast. Now that she has a time limit, lo and behold, she's mostly fitting her homework within the time limit! Look, Ana, it *doesn't* take you three hours to do one spelling assignment, one math assignment, and a journal entry! And I don't need to sit on top of you and scream, either!

I knew I should've really done this at least a year ago, and I don't know why I didn't.
conuly: (Default)
Apparently she's been stealing the fun-tac to fidget with (we'd noticed the fun-tac, but she'd managed to imply her teacher let her have it!), and she filled the inside of her desk with glue (!!!), and she put her hands on her head during play rehearsal instead of keeping them by her side.

At the last one, I can only imagine the teacher is just getting frustrated, because seriously? I don't think that deserves a note home, or even PART of a note home. Certainly not when compared to the glue...!

The teacher said she's "still having trouble with reading", and I'm not going to bore you with my opinion on that again.

I also still don't get how she can spell words mostly fine when I dictate them to her at home, but then fail on the test. She's supposed to "write the words without looking" once a week, but the truth is that I never let her look at the words. It's probably different with other children, but if Eva's copying, she's not thinking. (And what's really funny, I'm starting to realize, is she's more likely after the test to misspell her predictable "word study words" than her unpredictable "sight words"... maybe because she's more familiar with words like "know" than like "peg"? Her misspellings there are more likely to be transposed letters than skipped ones.)

But what really, really bugs me is her math test. See, the very day after this note we got a math test home. She has a perfect score. In her "open response" portion (where they're supposed to explain their thinking, the bane of Ana's existence) I actually think she did that better than her older sister does!

On one she was supposed to pick which student had measured the page correctly with buttons, and she picked the ones where the buttons went in a straight line, touching, across the page. "I think Rodrigo put the buttons on crele (correctly) becus his buttns are steratocrus (I think this is supposed to be "straight across") and do not have the spasis."

Ana probably would have said "I picked him because his go in a line. And that's the right answer. So I wrote it down." (But you know, Ana can be awfully passive-aggressive, especially when there are explicit or implied rules about how many words or sentences to write.)

So why is it we get note after note about how Evangeline "can't read" (no comment, no comment, no damn comment) but none of them mentions, even in passing, how her math is doing? When I was an underachieving kid, nobody ever held a parent-teacher conference or dragged me into guidance without first starting with "Connie is a very bright student" and spending a few more sentences talking about the particular strengths they thought I had. And THEN they talked about how I didn't do my homework or my classwork or whatnot.

The end result of this is that I cringe a little when people start extolling my virtues, anticipating the worst, but that's beside the point. Isn't it a little basic to start off with a softening compliment before you get to "what needs work"? (Even on Supernanny, the conversations with the parents all seem to start that way!)

Anyway, in other news, yesterday I told the nieces the story of how Ana, on her 4th birthday, slid down a very very tall firepole at the playground. (I can touch the platform if I stand on my tiptoes.) And I told, in dramatic tones, how when I saw Ana up there I wanted to scream and yell, but I was scared that if I did she'd just FALL, so I kept my mouth shut and, afterwards, pretended I hadn't seen her. And I reminded them that I rarely say things like "Don't do that, it's dangerous" because I want them to listen when it's dangerous, but at that age so many people still followed their kids around on the playground and it really irked me because the kids played less safely when their parents did that.

Ana: And anyway, if you follow your kids around and say "No, no, no, that's not safe", when do your kids get to have an adventure?
Eva: Yeah! And when do they learn anything? Like my classmate, his parents treat him like a baby! And they come to EVERY event at school and even tell him how to spell words!

(Maybe this is why the other kids spell better than Eva does! "Sound it out for your own self" has been the rule here since Ana was in kindergarten, followed closely by "This word is wrong. Go look it up" now that she's older! Seriously, Evangeline sounded like she was revealing that they spoon-feed him purees or wipe his butt for him, not that they help him with his homework!)
conuly: (brain)
A book report. She was supposed to read a book on any holiday (December holidays implied, but not explicitly stated) and then write about what she learned about the holiday.

In the spirit of the thing, I put a book on Diwali, which I know little about other than that it exists on hold at the library. The library promptly lost it.

So we had to scramble to get a Christmas book for her to read. She decided to read Jingle Bells, Homework Smells.

Well. She did this all at the VERY last minute. We literally finished her second draft (she has to bring in a "sloppy copy" and her finished work) on the train to school. Funnily enough, "don't put off your homework" is the supposed moral of the story... but we'll get to that.

She didn't even want to do it right. Her "three sentences" barely counted, and I had her redo them entirely for her second draft. "The main character is Gilbert. He doesn't do his work. He hands in his book report late." She utterly refused at first to write "I learned not to put off doing my homework" or anything of the sort because, of course, she didn't learn that and to write it would be lying. In vain did we all point out that her teacher would neither know nor care! Lying. Is. Wrong.

On the train I managed to get her to write a little more, retelling the story. As I pointed out, her teacher doesn't care if she learned anything, she just wants to make sure Evangeline understands what she read. So, assured that she wouldn't have to lie, Evangeline managed a full paragraph about this book. And then we came to the moral. She suggested (correctly, I think) that the real moral of the story is "If you make a snowman instead of doing your book report, and bring in your report a day late, you'll still get full credit. So why rush?" But she as quickly rejected this as not being appropriate for school. (I wish she hadn't!) Instead, she wrote down, very carefully, that Gilbert learned not to put off his work, because he might not be able to get it done at the last minute. (She, of course, learned nothing of the sort, as seen by the fact that she was doing her own report at the last minute. And heaven forbid we lie!)

On the subject of homework, Ana says she's not allowed to take notes in math because her teacher assumes they're WRITING notes and takes it away. How she's supposed to study or do her homework when she can't refer to classwork, I don't understand. Yesterday she got very upset because her homework asked her to identify the "mode" and the "range" from a set of data, and she couldn't remember the definitions - and of course, she couldn't find them in her notebook either.

I'm not entirely sure she's correct about this, but I told her to talk to her teacher and if the teacher still refuses we'll write a note in. This is ridiculous. (Of course, throwing a tantrum within 3 seconds of reading a difficult math problem instead of thinking about it and/or asking for help is also ridiculous, but I can't solve that with a note to the teacher, can I?)
conuly: (can't)
Or it was for Evangeline. Ana isn't getting hers until her mother fills out the lunch form. Jenn swears she filled it out already, but the school lost it. Regardless, that report card is being held hostage until the form is in. (Again?)

I told her not sending it in (again) would come back to bite her in the butt! Ana, of course, thinks this is a reprieve - another day until we find out the terrible truth about her writing, or lack thereof! (Newsflash, Ana, we already know about you and writing.)

Anyway, Evangeline and I sat at the table doing this poster for class which I could've sworn was due at the end of the week, but apparently was due today. It was on her heritage, which tangentially is related to Thanksgiving in teachers' minds.

Sometimes I wonder if teachers ever consider that a student may have heritage from multiple sources. From our side of the family alone we've got Belgian, Russian, and of course, American. (Yes, that's a heritage too. My grandmother was a DAR. A member of the DAR? Whatever.) And then there's her dad's side as well, of course.

That's one chopped up poster. For "American" Evangeline decided to make a model of a hand turkey (because there wasn't enough room for her hand) to represent "the ones that we kill for Thanksgiving". And as she's coloring, she asked me "What's this holiday for again?"

You really shouldn't ask me questions like that, because my answer is the perfect truth: "It roughly commemorates the Pilgrims being thankful that God sent a plague to wipe out the original inhabitants of their landing spot so they didn't have to fight off the Native Americans and also could rob their graves and seed so they didn't starve that winter."

The nieces are used to this sort of thing, but I noticed Ana at the other end of the table was kinda giving me the 0.0 look over her book. The one that indicates she was unaware of this aspect of the holiday, but doesn't exactly want me to continue talking either for fear I'll keep on talking. That or she was constipated.... (But by now she's so used to it she sometimes comes up with her own commentary on situations, and it matches mine eerily. One such thing happened today on the walk home from the library, but damn if I remember.)

At any rate, all this reminded me that history is another subject on the list of Things I'm Not Sure I Trust The Schools Not To Fuck Up, along with math and sometimes spelling.

I've long since thought history should be taught largely with primary documents, whenever possible. (And, to go along with this, there should be a much greater emphasis on current events. It should NOT be newspaper book reports!) But I'm not sure I know enough about history to take that approach in inoculating the niecelings against the damage that's sure to come from the standard middle school American History course (followed by global and then American History all over again in high school). Any help is greatly appreciated and needed.

Also, thank you, lady_angelina, for the puzzle magazine :) I meant to thank you, and then flaked out.
conuly: (Default)
I *did* get there in time for reading... but they weren't doing individual reading today, they were doing a shared story and then writing a text-to-self connection based on things they'd discussed during circle time.

I like how they managed that. Because it's definitely not feasible to always give EVERY child a chance to participate, at various times they asked the students to talk over their ideas with their neighbors instead. A little noisier, but everybody got to say their ideas aloud and think it through that way.

Midway through the story, there was an announcement. The gist of it was "Look, the fire marshal told us you can't have more than 20% of the wall covered with papers. If they can't go on the bulletin board, make sure 80% of the wall is uncovered. Yes, even the windows and doors". That's easy enough, right?

It took at least three minutes. That's not counting the 45 seconds of "This is an announcement", which aside from being pointless, ran something like "Students, teachers. Oh, and parents, please pay attention to the following announcement. Please stop all instruction so you can pay attention to this important announcement. I'm sorry for the interruption, and I'll be brief, but you must listen to this announcement. I know this is disruptive, and I apologize". She apologized again at the end. There would've been less to apologize for if she'd shut up faster! And to all this I say, if you make so many announcements that your staff and students habitually ignore them, stop making so many announcements!

And then the meat of the announcement was repeated at least three times. The first repetition makes sense, because the first time the secretary made her little statement it sounded an awful lot like "The fire marshal is here to inspect, and god knows we don't want to get dinged with a citation, so move that paper off your walls before they show up to your classroom". Honest, but it doesn't really have that caring "safety first" (said no less than four times during this interruption!) attitude that people like to hear in regards to their children. So she rephrased, emphasizing that of COURSE they care about SAFETY. And then she said it again. AND AGAIN.

And you know what? I don't know about the fire safety aspect, but from an aspie aspect, I think they're right. The walls were covered in bright, competing posters. That includes the blackboard, which they don't use (when they need to write something down they do it on a big pad, which strikes me as wasteful of both money and space) so it's just another wall. There's a big colorful poster of the days of the week, and another of the months of the year. There's a big colorful calendar that they do every day. There's a big chart showing the daily schedule - and I don't care if you DO take Italian at 10:03, it looks more cluttered to write that! They aren't going to class on their own, just put 10:00 and be done with it. There's an attendance chart and a chore chart and a behavior chart. There's two lists of rules. There's an alphabet strip above the board - and right below it a poster by the same company with the same letters and same pictures illustrating them. There are three posters illustrating character definitions. There's a poster at the top which I think is there to cover peeling paint about how great the class is. There are THREE posters about the March of Dimes walk they did on Halloween. There's a poster with their birthmonths and one listing who lost a tooth when. There's a tiny space carved out for the example of what they're writing today - but it's so hidden that the kids have to LOOK for it every time they need to check the spelling of "connection" or "turkey". There's a map of the US, too high up to be useful. There's a model clock for learning time. There are two dangly "fall" decorations, and I don't know what-all else.

Oh, and in the last bit of space left, there's the kids' work. That's positively restful compared to the rest of it, which is all bright colors going every which way. It was exhausting looking at the front of the room! Much of that stuff is useful, I'm sure - but is it really all useful ALL DAY LONG? I wanted to go through and clear the walls and paint them a nice, calming color. Seriously, sometimes less really is more.

So when Evangeline was trying to write her piece, her teacher prompted her to "keep writing" - but it was clear to me, having had my eye on her specifically this whole time, that Evangeline hadn't STOPPED writing. It was just taking her a long time to find the part she was copying the spelling off of, and the rest of it must be amply distracting.

Anyway, at this point we got to see how all the other grown-ups act. The room was suddenly abuzz with parents trying to help their kid do work (despite us all having been exhorted NOT to do this in the form home). And what a bunch of buttinskies they are! Their kid can't put pencil to paper, some of them, without their mom already spelling the next word. Which made me look like a terrible aunt, but honestly, it's Evangeline's job to be a first grader, not mine.

It didn't look like Eva wrote less than all the other students, or particularly worse, but I don't know. I didn't look over all shoulders.

I did say something to Evangeline. She'd complained to me that her seatmate is "always complaining" when Evangeline lets her shoulder or pencil get onto her desk "even just a little". At the time, I'd told her that Evangeline should stay in her own desk, which annoyed her. Shouldn't I be on her side all the time???? Today I saw the situation... and said it more firmly when I left at snacktime*. No wonder the kid gets mad, Evangeline lets her pencil case go halfway across her neighbor's workspace!

*I don't care what you think, Goldfish crackers do not constitute a healthy snack. Am I the only person left who hears "healthy snack" and assumes the correct answer is "fresh fruit"?
conuly: (creepy)
Your input is all appreciated, but why don't I cut down on the nattering spam? )

This is more reading comprehension )

Ana is working through multi-part word problems with, if not exactly ease, at least aplomb. Which is more important, for her - she tends to trip up on things that are easy for her because she panics and starts to overthink.

Also, she confided to me today that she's not really doing any assigned reading in class because the teacher doesn't have any books on her level. So she just picks what she wants from whatever bin. I'll admit it, I was proud. Not that it's any of my doing.

Edit: And about the "neck/nack" and "shed/shad" spelling errors, it'd be convenient to blame the teacher for having a funny way of saying those words, except that she made that same error with me over the whole of last week. That's not the issue.
conuly: A picture of the Castleton Castle. Quote: "Where are our dreams? Where are our castles?" (castle)
Eva has to make a "persuasive poster" encouraging her friends to vote for one of two Kevin Henkes characters, thus teaching children that elections aren't about issues but are simply popularity contests where you can divide neatly into two "teams". She's not allowed to enter a write-in third party character, because they only have two choices.

Pretty much the truth, really.

You know, even more than spelling reform (and for the last time, spelling reform would NOT need to fix everything, we could get by quite well just fixing the most glaring problems with our orthography!), we really really need some sort of voting reform system. There are so many different types of voting out there, and they don't all of them make it impossible to have more than two viable options at any given time.

But I think we're even less likely to get that.
conuly: (Default)
Which I expected, as noted.

And on the train we read the third chapter of Frog and Toad Are Friends ("This book is not on her reading level!"), which Evangeline has never read before: The Lost Button. She stopped a few times mid-story to guess what would happen next.

And I asked Eva after the fact what happened...

Me: So, Evangeline, what happened in this story?
Eva: He lost a button and -
Me: Wait, wait. What happened first?
Eva: They went for a walk, Frog and Toad, and he lost a button. And he-
Me: Who he?
Eva: Toad, Toad lost the button. And he and Frog went looking for it, but they couldn't find it. And they couldn't find it, and then when Toad went home he found it.
Me: Why did Frog look for the button too?
Eva: Because he and Toad are best friends.
Me: Okay. And then?
Eva: And then Toad took all the buttons they found that weren't his, and put them on his jacket and gave them to Frog.
Me: Why? (This isn't stated in the story.)
Eva: I think he just thought maybe Frog was upset at looking for the button, so he wanted to make him happy.

This is pretty close to the synopsis I would've given. This is, as near as I can tell, what Evangeline's teacher thinks she can't do. Are first grade teachers looking for something different?

Evangeline also, I will note, is very careful when reading dialog to try to read it with the appropriate emotion. She'll actually go and re-read something if she started out "sad" and thinks it should have been "happy", or if she was "shouting" and the text says the character "wailed". I don't think I'm just doting when I say that *I* think this puts her ahead of many young readers, and, for that matter, many not-so-young readers who ought to know better.

I mean, here's the thing. I am starting to think, as I've said, that Evangeline may not be reading as well as it seems, that she relies on guesswork more than she ought. However - is she also just working incredibly sub-optimally in class? Because I can't figure this out at all!

Her spelling test didn't come back yet either. I'm quite annoyed.


Nov. 4th, 2011 12:11 pm
conuly: (Default)
This was a light homework week because of Halloween, so Evangeline really did have all her work done on the train. Her dad's been picking Ana up and doing homework with them both after school because he's going off to basic training school, so when I saw him after school yesterday I told him three things:

1. Eva has finished all her work.
2. However, I'd like her to rewrite her spelling words twice.
3. And if she reads another chapter of Frog and Toad, have her tell you the story.

For 3 he apparently misunderstood that this was her assigned reading (I wish) and had her write her retelling in her homework book. I would not have even seen it if I hadn't decided to have Evangeline go over her words one more time on the train this morning.

The teacher as good as told me that she thought maybe the only reason Evangeline didn't seem to have trouble retelling stories at home was because she was familiar with them, even though I know for a fact that's not the case. (I wouldn't've even had any conversation with her if she'd just sent Eva down the hall to get the notebook herself. It's all of 50 feet!) It's for precisely this reason that I don't give her books she's familiar with to read. But this will all get sorted out or it won't on parent teacher night.

So now it looks like she's got a sorta very polite, schooly "fuck you" right in the homework notebook! "You think the kid can't do it? HERE'S THE PROOF!"

Either we'll get a snippy letter home today, or we won't but the teacher will have really wanted to write a snippy letter home today. And I actually can't even blame her! I'd do the same thing. (And guaranteed it's just going to seem like she's familiar with the book and/or she had lots and lots of help writing that out. Whatever.)

I really, really want Evangeline to pass that spelling test, though. She should be taking it right about now, so fingers crossed!
conuly: (Default)
So, yesterday I totally forgot Evangeline's homework book at home. So I left an hour early to pick her up, and brought it with me!

Two things I saw when I saw Evangeline: First, she looked incredibly lethargic and bored. She perked up as soon as we left the school at dismissal. Dear god, is she ALWAYS like this in school? If so, I understand much more... but this raises SO many new questions! I'm definitely snagging a spot at the "visit during the school day and see how we teach!" thing if I can't make Jenn or 'dul go.

The second thing I saw was her teacher, who wanted to tell me they'd found the doctor's note that they thought we didn't send in. And she told ME that the problem with Eva's reading is she can't (or won't) retell the story after. And also she's not doing her work.

On the train today, I tried her on Frog and Toad are Friends, a book Eva has read once just before school started and that nobody has ever read to her. Had her read me the whole first chapter on the train. Had her retell the story. And... no problems there other than the ones I already noted.

So I don't know what's up with that.
conuly: (Default)
If it's true, we already know it by looking at the results. And if it's not, it's just insulting by implying that we (and the kid) are just damn lazy.

Evangeline took a spelling test today. And she failed miserably. Which is funny because she got all those words right yesterday when I tested her on them! I'm putting under the cut the text of the email I sent Jenn about it.

Read more... )

It probably didn't help that she developed a headache this afternoon (she says "right after the test"), but a headache should not have produced this amount of difference between what she did yesterday and what she did today. A difference in how the words were presented might make that difference, I think.

It also doesn't help that it apparently never occurred to her to go back and check your answers after writing them down. I asked, and she said she didn't re-read that first section after writing any of it.

Ana also had a spelling test today, but I don't know how she did yet. I know that on one of her homework assignments she wrote "friendlly" and nobody corrected it, which wouldn't be such a big deal except that friendly is one of her spelling words. And because nobody corrected her she tried arguing with me when I pointed it out to her, naturally. Her teacher checked it and didn't correct it! But as I pointed out, if friend has no l, and -ly has one l, zero plus one still only equals one.
conuly: (Default)
No more packets!

This is a huge step forward, of course - she has to do what we had to do in first grade and write her assignments down! (Then, I should talk. I *never* did my homework.)

That doesn't mean her homework is necessarily any better, though. Ha! Don't make me laugh!

They're back to assigning writing homework. Instead of having to do a pointless journal entry every day, she has to do a story with her spelling words at least once a week.

Last week her spelling words were all silent -e words. So far so good - but the list was hopeless. There was no conceivable way to link all twelve words in one story - at least, not unless you used Ana's first approach of "So-and-so RODE to the store. He bought word1, word2, word3, word4, word5.... Then he decided to USE his car and DRIVE home."

Which I nixed because it was lazy, but I should've listened to her.

To make matters worse, apparently they had to read their stories out loud? And here's Ana panicking because her story is going to be stupid. Well, yeah! Because it was a stupid list of words! (It really was. I'll copy it out later.)


The two of them are in different schools this year. This, of course, causes a hassle at the end of the day. Eva's school gets out 2:30. It's supposed to be 2:35, but they run 5 minutes fast and I sure have no intention of correcting them! The train gets us to Stapleton Station at 2:13, and it's an 8 minute walk home OR a 12 minute walk to Ana's school, which lets out 2:58. (And then it's a 10 minute walk home from there.)

The obvious solution is for Ana to walk home alone and meet me there 15 minutes later. That's not happening. I'm not even sure the school even HAS a policy on kids walking home alone.

The next obvious is for somebody to walk Ana home. Everybody I thought could do it turns out to have moved or started work during the day. Or they just are too polite to tell me to my face that they don't like me.

Jenn managed to get somebody to take Ana to HER home, but that doesn't save ME any time AND I have to go up a hill.

Now, if I could just get somebody to drive me from Pleasant Plains every afternoon, the car ride is only 25 minutes (according to Google). I've been saying this vaguely to everybody in the hopes that somebody, somewhere will take me up on it, but so far no luck.

Today my mom is picking up Eva, so I'll get to Ana's school early and corner, like, the nurse or somebody as she walks out of the school. She parks only a block from the house anyway, and she always cuts out as soon as the bell rings, so maybe she can help out. (Plus, she's DEFINITELY too polite to tell me she doesn't like me.)
conuly: (Default)
In my earlier post, when I mention "PS 70 in Queens", I'm not just giving more information for the sake of giving more information. In NYC, different public schools can share the same number, so long as they're in different boroughs. So it's important to state which PS 70 or whatever it is. The administrative code for PS 70 would be ??Q070, if it were in Staten Island it'd be 31R070 (R for Richmond), in Brooklyn it'd be ??K070 (for Kings County) and so on. As it happens, the only other 70 in the city is in the Bronx, so that'd be ??X070. (The question marks refer to the district number, which I only know for Staten Island.)

You go to elementary school and typically middle school in your district with a few exceptions: If you're in the gifted program, you can go to any gifted program school in your borough (and it's several districts per borough with the exception of Staten Island, we all have the same district and it overlaps into Brooklyn as well), and all the self-contained special ed classes are in the same district (district 75, even on Statne Island) instead of being regional.

You can get to go to a public school out of district if they have space available OR if your school is seriously low-performing (and the school you want has space available, they register children in their district first.

And sometimes two or more schools will share a building. This can work out well, or it can work out very very badly.

This all excludes discussion of charter schools (a whole freaking can of worms!) and the high school admissions process. (Not to mention non-public schools.) All of you living outside of NYC should thank your lucky stars (individually and by name) that you never have to deal with the NYC high school admissions process.

The other day, passing by Stuy towards this awesome playground, Ana went "Could I try that out and change if I don't like it?" and I said "Yes... maybe." The truth is that Stuy can be a crazy pressure cooker in the best of circumstances, and already I'm thinking maybe not the best choice for Ana. (Plus, honestly, the quality of the teaching isn't any better than at any other school. In some cases it can be worse, if the teachers expect the students to teach themselves everything.)
conuly: (childish)
Better than Ana was at her actual age, but not quite as well as during the same part in her school career, if that makes sense.

Both of them had, at this point, a problem with guessing. But they guessed totally differently!

Ana, at this stage, would look at the first few letters and make a guess based on how they should all sound... even if it didn't make sense. So if she had a sentence that ran something like "We all live on the Earth" and she was tired by the end of it, she might read "Earth" as "earring" or "eats" or some nonsense word that sorta sounds right.

Evangeline, looking at that same sentence and being just as tired at the end of it, is much more likely to make a guess based upon the sense of the sentence. So HER guess might come out as "planet" or "world".

This has the result of making Evangeline sound like a much better reader, and the fact that she pays attention to what the words mean is very good... but in the end, I don't really want either one of them guessing at all. When they do (and they don't guess right), deep down I feel like shouting "STOP GUESSING! JUST READ IT! R E A D!"

But I try not to do that. I doubt it's helpful. I know, being able to figure things out from context is an important skill, and Ana, at least, is reading well above grade level, so why worry?

But it really annoys me. I mean, really.

Here's something else about reading, and I'm allowed to post this on the condition that none of you ever mentions it to anybody who might ever meet Evangeline, ever. You're swearing an oath by reading onwards!

When they read, they like to pretend they're characters in the books they're reading. (And to an extent they do this when watching TV too.) So if I read about how Omakayas felt bad because her sister Angeline teased her (we're reading The Birchbark House now. Good book, but it's about to get REALLY depressing), Evangeline will go "That's me, I feel bad!" or start to "cry" at the same time I'm reading because "My sister was mean to me". Evangeline especially listens very closely for any mention of HER chosen character in whatever book we're reading. (She was Diana when we read Anne of Green Gables. She still IS Diana sometimes.)
conuly: (cucumber)
So there's going to be a bunch of articles about school!

Ana was talking to me about her teachers and school, and boy did she ever have a lot to say! She doesn't like that her teachers always claim that when THEY were kids THEY always acted right and never were disrespectful or misbehaved in any way. This is clearly a lie. (And it clearly is, and a stupid one, no argument here.) She doesn't like that some kids get pulled out of class for special reasons and she never does. (After talking with her, I managed to get it across that they're not being pulled out of class because the teachers like them more, but because they probably need special help. It seems one of them won't do any of his work...?) She doesn't like that her kindergarten teacher was so awesome that she managed to set an impossibly high standard - seriously, she went on and on and ON about exactly why her kindergarten teacher was such a good teacher, using many specific details. I eventually told her she should write it all down and tell the woman next time she sees her, because it'd be helpful. (It'd be more helpful for the others, I guess, but how could that go over well? Forget it.)

And we talked about other things. Apparently, she thinks that the most popular girl in her grade is beautiful. Everybody thinks that. Except she's not very nice. (According to Ana, anyway.) And several other named people are pretty too. Which led to two discussions:

1. In five years, this girl A will think she's fat and want to be slender like Ana (Ana giggled, because the girl in question IS big compared to her - but then, who isn't?), that girl B will think she's too skinny and want to look more like A, a third girl C will just think she's ugly and want a face more like B's face, and D will want C's hair. And it's all a pointless waste of time.

2. There's pretty on the outside and there's pretty on the inside, and people can get over not having the first but very rarely get over not having the second. Ana apparently managed to completely and pointlessly antagonize That Popular Girl in her grade last year, and it didn't make her happy in the end (well, really, I could've told her that saying to the girl's face that she's mean was a bad idea, even if it IS true), but as I pointed out, there's probably lots of other kids who wish they could be brave and kind like Ana is. That doesn't mean they're going to be nice or are going to be her friend, but you have to take what you can get.

So we'll see what happens this year. Ana isn't convinced she doesn't want to transfer schools, but truthfully, I don't see her social problems (the extent of which she only was willing to talk about in June) as changing just because she changes schools. That's assuming that she has as many problems as she thinks. I pick her up, I see kids randomly hugging her as they say goodbye, and while it's possible they're all really being manipulative, they're not hugging everybody and calling out to them.

Anyway! Articles!

Growth scores give schools No Child Left Behind alternative

Basically they're saying that if you're evaluating teachers, evaluate by how much they taught, not whether they were magically able to pull 33 kids up to grade level from being 3 years behind. If they do a year's worth of work, that's a year's worth of teaching. I think that's fair.

PS 70 in Queens has the city's worst bedbug problem. I really only linked this for the first sentence:

This is one grade a Queens elementary school wished it hadn't scored highest in the city.

What an unusual way to form a sentence, don't you think?

And this piece on independent learning in a school
conuly: Dr. Horrible quote: All the birds are singing, you're gonna die : ) (birds are singing)

Now, I realize that they are required to have a certain number of half-days and administrative days (where the teachers go in but the kids don't) in the year. And I can appreciate that you might want to put them near the end of the calendar just in case you have a substantial number of snow days and whatnot to mess with the plans. I get it.

But it's absolutely absurd to have a calendar that gives us a half day on Tuesday, a whole day off on Thursday, and then another half day on Monday. And the school year ends with a half day on Tuesday the 28th. And yes, they make you come in (or send your kids in) for that last half day, at least, they do if you intend to get a report card. (Well, it's better than last year, a damn half day on a Monday. WTF?)

The one advantage of these half days is that the nieces get to have a nice, hot, homemade lunch. I mean, lunch is served on half days, but I mostly send them with just a snack and make something at home.

The disadvantage of these half days is that the nieces get to whine about their nice, hot, homemade lunch. *sigh* Well, Ana does. She's the one who eats her breakfast, and her sister's too. Evangeline is the one who eats her lunch, and has Ana's for an afternoon snack. (And on that note, I'm going to try pasta puttanesca this Tuesday. Evangeline will eat it no matter what, and Ana won't, so I don't think it matters what I make.)

I keep thinking maybe it'd be better to take one of those half days off and go do something for the day instead. I mean, they're at the *end of the year*! (Now we see the secret plan. Nothing gets done on half days anyway, so why not put them during the month when nobody expects to learn anything?) If Jenn and 'dul okay it, maybe we'll take the Monday and head to a museum or something. Might hit the Tenement museum like I wanted to, make a day of it. I mean, I never went to school on a half day when I was their age, because we were really far from our school.

What I really want to do, this summer anyway, is GO SOMEWHERE. I don't just live in a city, I live in a city that's in a whole cluster of cities, and we never go anywhere. (Heck, like most people, we hardly go anywhere within our own city either!) There's no reason we can't take a day trip out of the city and do something else, if only I knew what I wanted to do outside of the city. Ideas?
conuly: Good Omens quote: "Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous!" (armageddon)

(Other things everybody posted about and I didn't: That wedding thing. I managed to avoid the topic entirely until Ana came up to me and asked if I knew "Queen Elizabeth's grandson" existed and had gotten married.)

On the subject of Ana, she's been having more reading comprehension homework lately, mostly easy peasy stuff. Some of it is so easy she doesn't even read it, she just does the questions, a trick I taught her last year. (Questions first, reading second. Even if you have to do the reading to answer the questions, by reading the questions first you can just skim.)

Now, I've had my questions about the assumptions and moral agenda behind Ana's homework before, but this one takes the cake. It's about this man sometime during the last century who, as a teenager, starts doing deliveries for a bakery. He works hard, is successful and well-liked, and all without finishing school.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to express the fact that in the past, it was less common for people to have high school diplomas (to say nothing of going to college!) For example, you could say just that. Or you could hedge around the subject and just say "after he left school" and make it sound like he left at the same age kids leave today. Or you could, as I would, say that not everybody has always believed it's wise to make every person spend 16+ years in school (largely sitting in a seat being told stuff, no matter what they tell us about new methods, and mostly stuff they don't actually need, no matter what they tell us about being well-rounded and how we'll use these facts later!) just so that they can support themselves. (Support themselves! Not necessarily have a very well-paying job, but support themselves at all!)

But no. The way Ana's text expresses this fact? "In the past, people didn't understand the value of education."

If they had, that loser would never have been successful, kiddos, because nobody would give an ignorant slob the time of day if they knew better like we do now! Stay in school! Ain't nobody letting you drive cakes around town if you don't!

Oh, gosh, now the education police are going to arrest me for my jocular use of the word "ain't". I only said it because I don't sufficiently value education.
conuly: (disaster)
(And I have no intention of going through the series in one big lump either. Book 1 is fine for their ages, but book 7? NOT EVEN CLOSE. I'm going to stretch it out a bit.)

Reading any of my Old Favorites is like this, and one reason I insist on reading a chapter book with them even as they're outgrowing daily doses of shared picture books. (Well, Ana is, she reads them on her own mostly now, Evangeline still needs it because she can't read yet... but we'll get on this in a minute.) But Harry Potter is, well, Harry Potter. It has had so much massive (massive) discussion.... Well!

And now this leaves me with dilemmas. Should I point out to the nieces the small size of Harry's year (along with the fannish muttering that this implies a massive die-off and lack of births during and just after the first war)? Should I mention all the meaningful names as they show up? Like, if we get to PoA, should I point out that Remus is basically named Wolfy McWolfman? (A name like that is just asking for trouble. It's like Swiper on Dora. WHAT was his mom THINKING? If she'd named him "Giver" or "Sweetie" instead he'd never be a pain!) Should I mention what we know about Dean Thomas from interviews, namely that his dad was a wizard who got killed for turning down the DE? Man, I feel like one of those people who worries that their child might grow up thinking Greedo shot first!

Of course, I can't even remotely do accents when reading, so I feel silly every time I get to one of them whose accent is clearly spelled out (mostly Hagrid). How do other people handle accents when reading, anyway?

As far as Evangeline goes, I asked her teacher what level she is so I can clear out some of our older books (which I'll do when she goes back to school - she and her sister are home sick today), and her teacher said "D". This is pretty much where she ought to be at the end of this year, so I'm not concerned - she's not at all behind, nor is she so far ahead that she's likely to be bored.

Except yesterday I caught her reading "The Fire Cat", which is... not D level. But I'm thinking she may have had it partially memorized.

Ana, for her part, has discovered a profound addiction to graphic novels. She started with Rapunzel and now... sheesh. I know precious little about graphic novels for her age, but I'm learning fast!

Well, that last part was random. Let's get back to what's important - Harry Potter, and also - what are we reading next? (No, really. What ARE we reading next?)
conuly: Quote: "You only wish you were as cool as I am" (cool)
I have a few, actually, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow when I can recall who said what, exactly.

This is a boastful post.

It really is. You've been warned! )
conuly: Dr. Horrible quote: All the birds are singing, you're gonna die : ) (birds)
She's supposed to research the first Thanksgiving and write two pages on it. Internet research is OK, in fact, they gave her three sites to start from. They misspelled "Plymouth", btw. There's no "i" in it, no matter what you think. (In fact, they may have put it down as "Plimoth", but I can't check.)

Naturally, I'm a little... doubtful about the... well, about the perspective and the accuracy of the information. And, secure in the knowledge that the teachers will (probably) not read what is handed in (seriously, would *you* want to read 23 homework assignments? I'd just check that they filled out two pages and give it a sticker), I'd like to, well, be a little better. No reason to teach the nieces lies! (Unlike that stupid, stupid, STUPID syllable work Ana's doing. No, sweetie, I don't care *what* your teacher told you, in English we don't typically end syllables on a consonant unless not doing so would force us to start the next consonant with an illegal cluster. No, it has nothing to do with whether or not the vowel is short. But, you know, slightly more important than that.)

So! Who has a better website to direct me to, one that has a more accurate and complete picture up?

(Actually, what really upset me about the syllable homework is that it's all busywork. Giving children a list of 40 words and telling them to mark them up is one thing, but when each word is marked in the exact same way I can't figure out what, if anything, they're supposed to be learning.)
conuly: A picture of the Castleton Castle. Quote: "Where are our dreams? Where are our castles?" (castle)
Ana's homework today was ANOTHER sheet where she's supposed to rewrite the sentence and add descriptive words. It's getting a bit repetitive, but it's a chance for her to practice - her cursive! (Yes, she has progressed enough that she's doing it on homework assignments!) Our focus this year is getting her sizing and spacing right. She finally seems to have her spacing down, but her sizing is... dubious, at best. Still, she's seven. I'm not worried. We're also still talking about holding her pencil properly, I should've been firmer about that back in kindergarten. (Evangeline gets to hear all about it now.)

And she had a math sheet, and she also had a page of paragraphs to read and answer context questions like "What does gaze mean in the paragraph above?"

The last gave me a chance to teach her a very useful trick - read the question first. By reading the question first she was actually able to ANSWER most of the questions without reading the paragraph above at all. Win! And the few she did have to read, she could skim because she knew what she was looking for. This is a useful skill, because next year she's starting a long and tedious career of test-taking. (Boo!)

Also, of course, it speeds up homework. Two pages of reading and questions boiled down to about 30 seconds of circling the answers.

Now, the nieces' school, of course, has uniforms - blue and navy. And PS 16 has uniforms, white and navy, and the charter sharing with Trinity Lutheran has uniforms, gold and navy, and Trinity Lutheran of course has white and navy, and PS 75, in the annex of PS 16 has uniforms, the dark green and khaki. (That last pisses me off. Every other school in the area has navy, and half the kids at 75 must have older brothers and sisters! I can understand having a different colored shirt so you can differentiate your kids from the ones at 16, you're sharing that space, but to make it so NOTHING can be handed down? There are families in this area with two or three kids, close in age, going to a different elementary school each (as they all scramble to stay out of 16 if they can, or if they can't to get into the bilingual program or the gifted program there), and you're screwing up the whole system by having your kids wear khaki!)

This of course is wildly different from when I was a kid, when only the non-public schools had uniforms. (Well, Trinity Lutheran isn't a public school anyway.) But a "law" was passed about a decade ago (if you call a totally opt-in ruling a "law") to encourage uniforms, and now something like 85 or 90% of the elementary schools have them, although they vary with how they're enforced and how strict the uniform is to begin with. (Some schools only ask for a certain color of shirt and whatever pants you like, which is sensible in a poorer neighborhood.)

As I recall, the rationale was primarily "Uniforms keep kids from arguing over who has better clothes, keeps the focus on schoolwork, and lessens gang activity in the schools". It seemed like a silly argument even then - surely, a determined enough gang will always find SOME way to differentiate themselves, and absolutely kids will find other ways to compare and contrast even if it's only by sneakers, but that's beside the point here.

The point is that it's only the elementary schools that require uniforms. After you leave the 5th grade, they don't. I mean, I think some charters do, but that's about it.

But... if the big push was "gang activity" and "let's not have them dividing themselves up by class", shouldn't uniforms START when kids are older? Pre-k kids are a lot less likely to do harm with any form of violence, even if they know what gangs *are*. And they're also less likely to try wearing very revealing clothes either.

Which leads us (sorta) into my segue here: The middle school options on the Island suck. I went to IS 61, and it wasn't a bad school then (academically, if you were in the "smart" classes... though they had a REAL problem with bullying, ask me how I know that - or don't, actually) but right now it's hideously overcrowded. And I don't see it getting better - we're finally getting new elementary schools (finally!), but the kids whose parents started pushing for this originally, they're already in the 4th and 5th grades!

And obviously the nieces will be zoned for the same school I was.

So the real solution right now is we need more middle schools. Charter school, regular public, I actually don't care, but we need more of them. And I have *no* idea how to go about doing that. But I'm actively trying to find out. (Everybody says I have to talk to Jackie down the block, who does know how to do things like this, but I'm putting it off and putting it off.)
conuly: Picture of a young River Tam. Quote: Independent thought, independent lives, independent dreams (independent)
First, another post on Speak
And from the same blog "Can Censoring a Children's Book Remove its Prejudices?"

Now, the latter is what actually (sorta) has to do with Ana's homework. As you know, I sometimes like to read Amazon reviews in hopes of finding an amusingly negative one. (The positive ones, no matter how inane, are rarely as funny - although there are some gems in there.) A common reply to negative comments (the good ones and the bad ones!) is "It doesn't matter, it's just a children's book, I doubt your kid even notices, you're reading too hard". Whether or not I agree with the original review, this comment always gets under my skin.

A book that loudly proclaims whatever offensive message it is? That's easy to deal with - you see it, you roll your eyes, and you put the book down. End of problem! But a funny and mostly great book with a disturbing subtext that you don't quite get? That's the message that's going to sneak up on you! (Maybe. Remember, I had no idea until I was grown that Narnia had anything to do with being Christian, and the message I got from the Ayn-Rand-for-kids book "The Girl Who Owned a City" was "Let's pull together!" Then again, maybe I was just a bit inept.)

With that in mind, let's go back to Ana's homework. She had two reading assignments for two different days where she's supposed to read it and then answer comprehension questions... to prove she actually read the passage. If this keeps up, I might cave and show her how to answer them WITHOUT reading. It's a useful skill! (No, it really is. They actually taught it to us in school, though they didn't call it that.)

The first story raised my eyebrows even before I read the second, but I didn't say anything. (Critical thinking is NOT what she's being asked to do on these assignments.) Maybe I should've, I don't know:

A boy in upstate New York (we're not told if this story is true or not) decides to start a business selling worms. He works hard, and sells a lot of worms, and in the next year is able to expand his business. When he's asked to pay income tax ("There's a law that if you make money you have to pay the government", no other explanation for taxes is given) he's confused and upset. There is a lot of media attention, people protest, and the law is changed so that kids under 12 don't have to pay taxes.

This whole thing bugs me because, of course, if you're making enough money to come to the attention of the tax people in the first place, and you have no expenses, shouldn't you be paying taxes? Taxes don't just exist because "there's a law", they pay for valuable services, like this boy's schooling. What age is too young to be educated about your civic responsibility?

So maybe I should've said something.

But then we have the second assignment, which isn't so bad at all:

An 8 year old girl is given a small ear of corn. She's impressed with how teeny it is, so she saves the kernels and plants them. However, she planted them too near some regular corn and they grow too big. So she tries again the next year and she gets small ears, which she sells. Like the boy in the first story she continues to expand her business, and now she spends "some of her money on clothes" and also puts some away for college.

(I don't remember if the first kid spent any of his money, I'll check when Ana gets home.)

Putting these two stories back to back, as they were, gives me a chance to stare and go "My goodness, what a lot of propaganda!" Certain parties like to accuse textbooks* of being full of socialist or liberal stuff to "brainwash" kids, but what do you call this? The underlying message seems to be that the proper activity of young children is to try to earn money (on their own merits, though, not through employment), and that it's not enough to earn money, you must INCREASE how much you earn. Also, girls like to shop and we should save money for college, because (I guess) taxes shouldn't help pay for that.

It's not that either assignment bothers me so much (well, except for the part about how kids who earn a lot of money still shouldn't pay taxes), we ARE living in a capitalist society after all, I just thought it was funny to see them RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER.

*I actually don't know if these stories came out of the textbook or if they were printed out separately, and whether or not they go together or if the teacher just put them together.
conuly: A picture of the Castleton Castle. Quote: "Where are our dreams? Where are our castles?" (castle)
I was actually gonna post them yesterday, Thursday, but there was a massive storm that knocked out power for our half of the block. (Literally our half. The house next door had lights while we were creeping around with candles.)

Ana got a lucky break, the power outage kept her from having to do her writing homework, though she was still supposed to finish her math this morning.

She, uh, she didn't. No, she dragged her feet and was stubborn and recalcitrant all morning, and Jenn got more and more frustrated, and then when Ana was told to put on her shoes she RAN downstairs and locked my door. (I don't quite blame her. Once you decide to run off, you really have to lock the door so nobody follows you.)

Jenn wanted me to run around the house to fetch her. My pants I was wearing were more hole than cloth, so I declined, and offered an alternate plan: Jenn should take Evangeline to school, then swing back around and get Ana once everybody has cooled down.

It was a good plan, especially as it turns out that Ana had locked the deadbolt on the inside front door as well. Once Jenn was gone, I went to MY back-up plan. It's not a method I enjoy or am proud of, but when locked out of my own apartment it does work: Open up the icebox window in the pantry and tell Ana calmly but firmly that if I have to crawl in and drop four feet to the floor, she is going to regret it.

And then I cajoled/forced her shoes on her and sent her on her way. End of problem, except that that homework's not done.

On the subject of homework, she had an especially stupid assignment Monday and Wednesday. It's the beginning of the year, so all they're doing is review. Review, review, and more review. On Monday, the homework was a short page of words, and they were supposed to identify the long or short vowel sound. Fine... except that some of the words were two syllables, and there were no rules about what to do in that situation. *headdesk*

Wednesday was more of the same, except MORE words and this time they had to color according to a code. I *loathe* "color according to the code". Ana invariably starts coloring without bothering to read the instructions, even if I tell her the instructions beforehand, and then gets mad at me for pointing this out. (She ended up ripping that homework into pieces.) And it's not fun either - you just have to add an additional step of looking up the code before you can complete each word.

Worse, this is review from the beginning of last year. One assignment would've been sufficient to ascertain that Ana (and probably everybody else in her class) already knows this.

Worse still, there were still two-syllable words in there, and still no advice on dealing with them.

Worst of all, we had words in the infamous pin-pen merger from kindergarten, and (I love it) the word "log". I understand some people say that word "lahg", but for crying out loud, "lawg" is a standard pronunciation! And unlike pin-pen, the vowel in log in Ana's speech doesn't even fit on the neat chart of long/short vowels!

It was all-in-all an utter waste of time. In retrospect, I probably should've just written that on the assignment and not even let Ana do it, because (unlike yesterday's math sheet) it was plain pointless.

Look, all this typing, and the articles are still waiting. I'll get to them!
conuly: Picture of a sad orange (from Sinfest). Quote: "I... I'm tasty!" (orange)
Which, yes, is stupid. Boy, is it every stupid. It's even a lousy half day! The only reason I'm dragging my butt up at 7 on Monday is because otherwise we have to wait for the report cards to be mailed. The schools don't give report cards until the very last day of school for precisely this reason. By holding report cards for ransom, they can ensure at least SOME attendance on that half-day, and of course they get money based on overall attendance... because their costs are so much lower if half the kids don't show up? *shrugs*
conuly: A picture of the Castleton Castle. Quote: "Where are our dreams? Where are our castles?" (castle)
I brought a book, as usual.

Now, you have to know something before the following little rant makes sense: I don't say the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't said it since the 6th grade, and I don't intend to start up again now. I sit respectfully and wait - same as I would if I were visiting and somebody at the table had to pray before eating dinner, I'd wait patiently until they were done. This is the appropriate way to act if you're not participating in displays of this sort.

This puts me lightyears ahead of the people who stood, put their right hand over their heart, and then used their left hand to snap pictures with their cameraphones. WTF? That is not behaving respectfully. That is not appropriate behavior!

(I'm sure in the past I've said quite a bit about my feelings on the Pledge and teaching it to small children, but I can post it all again later if you're interested.)

So, you know, I was a bit shocked. It's rare that, during these events, I have no worry at all about having to have an impromptu discussion on the value of exercising your First Amendment rights! If it had happened this time, I could've smugly pointed to all those other people for a change!

During the graduation, the students sang four songs... the first of which had to do with God. *sighs* Staten Island is just like that sometimes, but all the same we DID talk to the teacher and Jenn DOES intend to follow up with a formal note to the principal.

Now, the teacher assured us that they changed the words for the children to sing, which is great... but as they were playing the song on a CD at the same time that means the children (and the guests!) had to hear the original lyrics as well. This is no doubt confusing for two groups of children. First, of course, it's just inappropriate in a public school because teachers should not be talking about God at all. Children *believe* their teachers, and if their teachers say things to imply that there are or aren't gods, that's not what public school teachers are for. Secondly, by changing the lyrics (but the children were still able to hear the original lyrics), they managed to imply to religious children that there's something shameful about believing in God. That's not right either! I don't want, as an atheist, for public schools to cultivate a belief in deities... but I also don't want them to make religious children feel like they have to keep their beliefs secret.

Now, as the teachers said, it's a catchy song. And it *is*. It's a very catchy song. Other than the inappropriate context, I liked it a lot. I'm humming it now in my head. Very catchy. That doesn't help. Not only does it not excuse the poor choice, but it only makes it worse. Both sets of lyrics are now stuck in the kids' heads, precisely because it *is* such a catchy melody.

So that was that. The rest of the graduation was very nice, and I enjoyed my book. We were going to take Evangeline home, as she was the last student in the class who DIDN'T go home (and I at least felt it's silly to force the teachers to stay all day when they only have one kid left), but the other pre-k teacher had only two kids and she agreed to take Evangeline in her classroom to watch a movie for the afternoon, so that was that.

I also took the time to point out to the pre-k teacher that, end of the year though it is, they should look into what juices they're buying, as some of them may have lead in them. Eep!
conuly: Good Omens quote: "Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous!" (armageddon)
This is due to two things: First, I showed her how to do an outline and made her do one with me before writing her journal, and second, I made a rule about fixing mistakes AFTER we write, and made her sit down with me to edit her journal every day.

Now, the outline concept was a big help, first because it helps Ana organize her thoughts, and also because Ana HATES writing an outline and will jump right into journal time if it lets her avoid it.

The editing was also a big help, first because otherwise Ana would get hung up with paralyzing fear that she was about to make a mistake, and secondly because once she's done (warts and all) she realizes she just doesn't care. (The fact that she doesn't care is probably helped by the fact that I only know one way to edit, and it's not very nice. So once she remembers that - wow, look, time has flown, she wants to go out and play! Truthfully, I don't want to edit her journal EITHER, so whatever.)

So lately I haven't had to stand over her as she writes her journal entries, and boy, how refreshing that is! But maybe I need to pay a bit more attention.

See, she's SUPPOSED to write about her day. Every day. (Actually, she's supposed to write about school. After thinking it over, Ana's come to the conclusion that this is because her principal is a mean meaniepants, but she tries not to hold it against the woman.) Now, she's tried writing about how she hates writing about her day, and she's tried ignoring this rule and making up stories instead, and I guess today she decided to try the passive-aggressive approach:

All spelling, capitalization, and punctuation is as in the original )

She also drew a carefully labeled picture with tunder, a clawd, raie (rain), linke (lightning), her huse (itself with a labeled windoe, Eva, and dor), and of course "Me"... a child standing directly under two bolts of linke.

I'm not sure where she gets the linke spelling for lightning. Even raie makes sense, she just forgot about the "n" in there, but... linke?
conuly: Picture taken on the SI Ferry - "the soul of a journey is liberty" (boat)
They're opening it up on Daniel Low Terrace.

As it happens, there already *is* an elementary school on Daniel Low Terrace, or right nearby. That's PS 16. It's, uh, it's not a long street.

I'm glad they're starting new elementary schools in this area. It's long overdue - people have been complaining all over the city about a need for new kindergartens for years! That's why Ana and Evangeline are in their school, actually - it was opened in part to handle overflow from another school over by Snug Harbor.

Unfortunately, that's kinda the problem. The same kids who started this push for new elementary schools, the oldest of them are in the third grade now, or the fourth. How long is it going to take the city to build new middle schools, new high schools? Curtis High School, for example, is at 156% of capacity. How much worse will it be in another few years? The class size at IS 61 is currently 33 students. The year after I left, they added more classes per grade. How much worse will it be when these kids hit the 6th grade?

Of course, you tell people, and they kinda nod, but they don't do anything until their kids are in the crowded classrooms, and then it's all a big surprise. Wow, who could've POSSIBLY seen this coming?


Well, with any luck we'll have a new school - and NOT the one that opened up by the Mall, that's a hellish commute - by the time Ana's in the 6th grade.
conuly: Picture taken on the SI Ferry - "the soul of a journey is liberty" (boat)
I was the only one who made it - the other grown-ups I saw were taking their kids out of school because of the snow. When Ana gets home, I'll have her change fast and send her out to play, or maybe we'll even go to Silver Lake. It's great packing snow.

They're going over in Ana's class "fact families", which is basically a run-down of the commutative property of addition plus the related subtraction equations. (So if they get the problem 3 + 8 = ? they're supposed to work out 3 + 8 = 11, and then write down three more problems: 8 + 3 = 11, 11 - 8 = 3, 11 - 3 = 8. Easy peasy for some of them.)

So they do group work together, and then they go into their separate leveled groups to do practice work on their own. (Ana is in the "Red" group, but I don't know what group that is. I can guess based upon the fact that these were the kids saying that their work was "easy". I have to talk to Ana about that, and maybe the teacher as well. If they're saying the work is easy, what is the effect on the kids for whom it's not easy? It's not much better than saying, if somebody gets it wrong, "Oh, that's so stupid". Ana wasn't one of the ones commenting on how easy it all was (she was the one saying you're not supposed to talk while working...), but just in case I want to make sure she knows that's Not Acceptable.)

I was also a little concerned, the kids were fidgeting a bit. That's normal - they're six and seven, after all! - but the teacher didn't seem to have much of a way to deal with it other than to tell them to stop and to make threats she obviously didn't want to carry out (you never want to have to carry out a threat, really, because once you do, what do you do NEXT?) about taking away a gumball from the chart that, when it's full of gumballs, will get the class a small treat. At the end of the group work a lot of kids were suddenly getting up with an urgent need for the bathroom (in the classroom) or a tissue, presumably because that doesn't constitute fidgeting. But if they're moving in their seats, it's not because they want to annoy the teacher or disrupt the class, it's because they need to move, right? If you don't want them to fidget, surely it's better to deal with the problem at the source (whatever it is that's making them move around, probably just the effect of sitting still too long) than to try to fix it at the end? Heck, there's probably a way to do that without even pausing the math lesson. But I didn't think that this was the right time or place to bring this up, honestly. There might not be a right time or place for this one.
conuly: Picture taken on the SI Ferry - "the soul of a journey is liberty" (boat)
Last time they said that (last week) we got, like, three inches of snow. If that. And it melted within the day. I didn't even shovel the front.

This time, they pre-emptively canceled school tomorrow. This solved the problem of "who's gonna pick up the nieces when I take my grandmother to her doctor's appointment", but that got canceled too.

No school. No doctor's appointment. Two kids and a Bonne-maman home all day. All I can say at this point is it had better snow. If I don't see snow up to my thighs, heads are gonna roll, I can promise you that.

Gotta give the school credit, though. They printed their "school canceled because of snow!!!!!" notices on the backs of their "Friday, V-Day party" notices so they only had to send home one flier. (Meanwhile, when I was a kid, they never closed the schools. Not ever. The snow could be shoveled up into piles higher than our heads like tunnels and we'd *still* have to go. Or stay home, but not, you know, legitimately.)
conuly: (Default)
"Please make sure that your child wears their school clothing on this day. We encourage all of our "little dolphins" to dress in school clothing every day If you need to reach out to us concerning this policy, please feel free to contact us.

On the reverse side of this letter is a list of wonderful WEBSITES your child may use at home to help them become better at Reading, Math and science. Please have your child go onto these sites. This will significantly increase their achievement in school."

(This whole letter is in italics, btw.)

Now, first of all, I don't think I need hype telling me that MORE SCREEN TIME is the answer to all that ails kids' grades. Nor do I really need people giving the easy solution to school achievement instead of one that might work just as well if, say, I were poor and didn't have easy access to a computer.

But besides that, wtf is with "If you need to reach out to us, please contact us"? Why not just say "Please contact us if this is a problem" so you don't sound jargony and redundant?

conuly: Quote from Veronica Mars - "Sometimes I'm even persnickety-ER" (persnickety)
And also to practice identifying triangles and words that start with the letter S, of course. She was very excited to tell me it's a "Dooiss" star, and I corrected her with the phrase "Star of David" - yes, Ana, David like David in your class, but not exactly.

It's interesting how these things stick with you. She swung her star a bit, Evangeline, and said "Hanukkah, Hanukkah", so I pulled her on my lap on the rocking chair and sang "Oh Hanukkah" with her, which we sang *every* year during winter when I was in Brooklyn. (We had more Jewish students in my class than I think either Ana or Evangeline does now, so it made more sense, but whatever.) And when we moved to Staten Island, the schools here didn't do that, they had other songs they did. So it's been a good 16, 17 years since I've sung or heard this song - but I was still word perfect.


Of course, when Evangeline was a baby I used to entertain myself by going "Oh, baby, baby, baby, I made her out of clay, and when I'm good and ready, with baby I shall play", which... didn't make sense even then, but it's a catchy melody to be sure. When I was a kid, they'd hand out these little plastic dreidles for us at the Holiday Party (or around Hanukkah if it was very early in the month, and then our party would be at the end of the month), and those chocolate coins, gelt. And now they sell those chocolate coins with Santa on them, presumably for Christmas, which just strikes me as either the ultimate in cross-cultural sharing or WRONG WRONG WRONG VERY WRONG. Not sure which.
conuly: image of Elisa Mazda (Gargoyles) - "Watcher of the City" (watcher of the city)
I was SO there - I wanted to see the pragmatics of how the class works without a blackboard! (Ana's teacher has been having printer problems, and not always giving out the homework on time because of it. At first I wondered why she didn't just write on the board for the kids to copy, but then I remembered she has no blackboard. When I said this to Jenn in Ana's hearing, Ana tried to correct me - but honey, when your blackboard takes up about a fifth of the wall and is mostly covered with paper anyway, it doesn't count. This was apparently a deliberate choice so the teachers couldn't resort to teaching as they were taught, working primarily from the board.) The answer, by the way, is that they have a heck of a lot more student participation at all levels than when I was a kid. I can't see these students reading under their desks all the time like I did - it'd be immediately obvious!

I also, while I was there, took a few running tallies in my head. Out of 25 students (two of whom were absent) there's one Asian girl, 5 white kids, 5 probably-Hispanic kids, and the rest are black... and I know for a fact that at least one of the black kids besides Ana is biracial and another one is a recent immigrant. So that's, you know, a fairly mixed class. Evangeline's class is very evenly divided with 5 each white and probably-Hispanic kids, 6 black kids (some of whom are biracial and some others of whom are immigrants... and of course, some of the white kids and many of the Hispanic kids are immigrants too), one Asian kid, and one kid who was out when I made my little count. Only five boys in the class of 18, though. And, of course, things pile together - one of Ana's close friends in her class (they sit next to each other) has a black father and a mother who is a Polish immigrant. Another one of her friends (not in her class) is biracial with a white Jewish mother. So you know, the class is mixed, the kids are mixed (which makes the classes more mixed than you'd know by just counting and making guesses) - it's nice. A lot of the schools in the city are almost entirely Hispanic, or almost entirely black - or even more specifically almost entirely Korean, almost entirely Russian, almost entirely Haitian.

Here's something else interesting. Ana's class has 5 left-handed students. 5 out of 25 - my goodness, that's 20%. Depending on the source you read, anywhere from 85 - 93% of the population is right-handed, so you'd think that the numbers are slightly askew.

Or maybe they're not. It's just as likely that more of the population is left-handed but, due to lack of support in early childhood, writes (and only writes!) with the right hand and that our conventional numbers are wrong because we're looking at the wrong facts. I don't know. I mean, I *really* don't know.

So now that I have an accurate count, I can go get the lefty scissors for the class like I've been thinking for the past year and a half. I also mentioned to Ana's teacher - who apparently hadn't heard this before and didn't know exactly how many lefties she's got (it's a lot) - but then, she's right-handed and probably has never had to think about it before - that a lot of left-handed people find it easier to write when the paper is slanted so they can write more up-and-down and the hand doesn't cover the words as much or make them smear. I should write her a note about it, actually, because she should tell the lefties this not just if their handwriting is visibly worse than other kids', but also if she catches them hooking their hands to write. I've only seen a very few righties do it, but it's epidemic among lefties. I'm constantly working NOT to do that - sure, you can see what you're writing, and sure, your hand doesn't get all smudged, but meanwhile your handwriting is a mess and it HURTS. But nobody taught me properly when I was little. WHY didn't they teach me properly? Because they didn't know. And WHY didn't they know? Because until recently, the MO was to make lefties switch and in some ways attitudes and knowledge are still stuck in the backwater in this respect. (And now, finally, I have that segue into that post I was gonna make, so let's see if I'll do it this time!)
conuly: (Default)
For Ana's birthday, I got her class a wooden birthday cake. Evangeline was there. And for Evangeline's birthday I did the same thing. After her party at school, as the class was leaving, Evangeline began to cry. And cry, and cry, and cry, and she would not be consoled. If we asked her what was wrong, her reply was a furious, frustrated "Nothing!", which wasn't very helpful.

So I picked her up and walked homewards with her while her mother went around the side to pick up Ana. And Evangeline eventually calmed down a little, but she wouldn't tell me what was wrong. We went through the churchyard and hit all their windchimes and yelled Boo! at her mom, and Evangeline still wouldn't tell me what was wrong. She was calmer, but she was still upset.

To make her stop crying after she started up again, I started walking backwards.

Read more... )

But you know, even after that, she was still a little on edge, so finally, after I crossed the street, I sat right down on the sidewalk and put her on my lap and asked again what was wrong.

Read more... )

I can see what happened from here, of course. Evangeline didn't ask because she assumed she'd get to play with the cake that day, and she didn't, and then when everybody packed up to go and she realized her teacher didn't know she wanted to play with the cake at all she also realized it was MUCH TOO LATE to ask. Which is why she kept telling us nothing was wrong when something obviously was.

Poor honey.

We explained the problem to her teachers later, they'd been concerned.
conuly: Quote from Veronica Mars - "Sometimes I'm even persnickety-ER" (persnickety)
No doubt she'll have to do so again this year, because instead of teaching anything straight out in math, in the US we tend to "spiral" and teach ever advancing versions of the same concepts year after year. I've read that this is an inefficient method of teaching math, but I only read it once.

The stated goal of Ana's homework on measurements last year was, repeatedly, basically to learn that standard measurements are "better" than measuring through nonstandard units like thumb-widths or human feet... which of course were in many ways the origins of our standard units today, unless you use metric. This annoyed me at the time, because it made no acknowledgment of the fact that, actually, nonstandard units are, in some ways, superior to standard ones. We're so used to our standardized world that we don't think that way, but I can think of one easy advantage to measuring by hand and thumb instead of by inches - if you're counting out five thumbs of space on your fabric, or two handfuls of pepper in your peppergrinder, or three paces to bury the body, you NEVER have to resort to tools to figure out if you have the right amount. Instead, all the tools you need are right here on your own body. There are definitely disadvantages to this system, sure, but that doesn't mean that the standardized systems are the best. They each have their pluses and minuses, whatever the homework might state.

Which leads me to Wikipedia, and to shoe sizes. Listen!

Basic Anglo-Saxon unit, the length of a corn of barley. The unit survived after 1066, as the base unit from which the inch was nominally defined. 3 barleycorns comprising 1 inch was the legal definition of the inch in many mediƦval laws, both of England and Wales, from the 10th century Laws of Hywel Dda to the 1324 definition of the inch enacted by Edward II. Note the relation to the grain unit of weight. This archaic measure is still the basis for current UK and U.S. shoe sizes, with the largest shoe size taken as thirteen inches (a size 13) and then counting backwards in barleycorn units,[4] although the original derivation was: less than 13 barleycorns: infants with no shoes; 13 to 26 barleycorns: children's sizes 1 to 12; 26 to 39 barleycorns: men's sizes 1 to 13.

Yes, you heard it here first. WHY are shoe sizes so weird? Because, unlike anything else on this good green earth, they're based upon a unit that's a third of an inch. Sheesh.

(And listen, while we're on the subject. For all the easy math of the metric system, I've always had a real fondness for our system and all its halves and doubles.)
conuly: (Default)
She's taking a break from learning new letters to review the ones she already knows, because we're (just over) halfway through the alphabet. She has a - l and q, t, u, and w.

We're using worksheets from here, although I modified the b so that she curlicues it back instead of just dipping down at the end. It's easier for her. Tomorrow we'll do another bit of review, just the letters she's having trouble with (b, f, k and the ha combination) and move onto the next set of letters - n, m, v, x. And then another week and a half for the last of them and she'll have her lowercase letters down. Then I'm thinking a few more weeks of review before we start on capitals?

As a side effect of all this, my *own* handwriting has improved.

Ana showed one of her worksheets to her teacher (f - and let me tell you that her fs are beautiful, she just has to think too much to make them) and we got a little note going "Well, we're still working on print letters". For crying out loud! If you were an early elementary teacher, or have been an early elementary teacher, and your kid showed you something extra they did on the side, would you be "Well, we're not doing that" or would you stick a sticker on it anyway?

And I'll tell you... I tell Ana that I want her to learn cursive now because it's easier to learn it at 6 than at 8, and that I know it'll be more frustrating for her in two years. And this is true. But the reason I don't tell her is that we only started with cursive learning because after doing print all through kindergarten and September of this year she still had no idea how to hold a pencil properly, nor that it mattered *how* you formed the letters so long as it looked more or less okay. Because you *can* print with your pencil in your fist, and you *can* print if you write your a backwards or if you do a lowercase h and then add the rest of it to make an H. (It took the better part of two weeks to convince her that the tails on letters aren't just decorative, that you can't just do most of the letter and add the tails after the fact!) But you can't print very well or efficiently that way, and it's sure to tire you eventually. Of course, there was no convincing her until she had enough letters in cursive that she could write real words and see and feel the difference doing it right makes.

Ana's teacher has 24 students. I don't know how she teaches penmanship, or if she has time to do so in her day, or if she's able (or willing) to correct things like grip when the kids are writing in class, or... any of this. But if I really felt Ana were being taught to write properly, in a comfortable and efficient way (printing is writing), I would never have ended up doing cursive with her.

(Ana's cursive letters are lovely, btw. Her bs are a bit sloppy, and sometimes her ws or us are a bit looser than I'd like, but she's just learning. If only I could get her to write on the line...! Do you think raised line paper would help?)
conuly: Quote from Veronica Mars - "Sometimes I'm even persnickety-ER" (persnickety)
Back when I was sitting in Ana's class, her teacher mentioned that she at times illustrates concepts with drawings, and she showed us an example with the caveat that "I'm not an artist, so...." and said she says that when she draws for the kids.

Funny thing, Ana's teacher last year said the same thing.

This kinda bugged me, but I couldn't work out why so I kept my mouth shut. (Given the conversation on competition that transpired later, that's probably just as well.) Now, after a lot of thought, I think I've worked out why.

I'm sure that people saying this to kids are trying to convey a message along the lines of "It doesn't have to be perfect, see? You can make mistakes!" This isn't exactly the same as the same words spoken in normal life, which self-consciously mean more like "Don't make fun of me", but the idea that people might make fun of you is there, isn't it?

But anyway, they want to tell kids not to beat themselves up if it's not perfect, and on the face of it that's a fine message, but I think they're going about it the wrong way, because there's two - well, three if you count "don't make fun of me" - messages there. And the underlying one is...

Well, let's tangent a second.

You all know sometimes I like to hang out on Amazon and make fun of the more thuddingly dull reviewers, right? The ones who want their children to be ignorant of the word "ain't" or "hate" or "stupid" or "butt", the ones who more or less outright state that a book without an explicit moral or educational meaning is worthless, the ones who think that showing bad behavior is the same as endorsing bad behavior? (Some of these people? I think they just don't like books. But that's a post for another day.)

Well, if possible, they also dislike the artwork. Or, as they say, the "art". "My kid could draw this picture!" or "Everybody knows pigeons don't have long necks!" for Mo Willems becomes "A five year old could do this picture!" for "The Hello Goodbye Window". (Incidentally? Happening to have an interracial family != propaganda. Thanks.)

Jan Brett doesn't get this criticism, which gives me a good basis of comparison.

And it took me some time, but I think I have "the rules of art" for us all. (These aren't the rules that involve naked ladies and plinths, they're the rules that involve art and "I'm not an artist". Don't get your hopes too far up!)

1. Art is HARD. If it doesn't look hard, it's not art. If I could put tracing paper over it and copy it, it's not art. If I think I've ever seen anything remotely similar to it made by my own hand, it's not art.
2. Art is representational. Period.
2a. Since art is representational, anybody choosing to do a picture with people or things in it that isn't exactly like what I pictured in my head has to have done it because of lack of skill, rather than through stylistic choice. There are few, if any, valid options for making art less representational, and those options are probably ugly.
3. Art is USUALLY better when it has details. Otherwise, I can't tell if you chose to have empty space to make a point, or if you just were too lazy to draw anymore. It's possible for a picture with space to be good. It's never possible for a picture to look too cluttered. Less is not more.
4. Comics aren't art, and they sure ain't literature. But that goes without saying. Also? Don't say ain't. EVER.

I think there's some rules for being an artist as well:

1. If you aren't trying to make a living on your art, you're not an artist.
2. Then again, if you're trying AND FAILING, you may be an artist. Unless you just suck.
3. If you draw (or whatever) something and it's not PERFECT, you're not an artist.
4. Art is a talent, and there's no way to improve it, see rule 3.

Of course this is all a load of unmitigated crap. Stinky, disgusting, barely-solid crap on your shoe.

All those people saying "My five year old could have done this!!" may be right - maybe if you gave them some tracing paper and a pencil they could copy the image. Maybe with time they could do it EVERY time, sure, why not? I doubt they really could be consistent in whatever style we're talking about, but let's run with that.

Who cares? There's more to art than just having accurate drawings to scale. Mo Willems got his Caldecotts not through having accurate, detailed, "beautiful" pictures; but through having pictures that are funny and that accurately capture the *mood* of his characters. (And I've heard that he's made a conscious decision to have his artwork look like a kid could do it in order to make his audience relate to it more easily. If true, that argument is blown right out of the water anyway.) Kevin Henkes got a Caldecott for The Hello Goodbye Window because his pictures, though "messy", reflect the genuine warmth between grandrelations. David Shannon's illustrations strike me as appallingly ugly, but a lot of kids really dig them; and Jazz Baby? Dude, I love that book and I think the people have incredibly misshapen heads. I ignore it, though, because I also think that the pictures sing and dance on their own when the book is shut. They're not even remotely "accurate"... but they are. They're accurate to the words and the feelings. It's like a quote I read on metaphors: "There's true, and there's true. I've never seen the wind run, but the horse still ran like the wind".

And how this all relates to the teachers who "aren't artists"? Well, when they say that they think they just mean "It's okay not to be perfect", but what they're SAYing is that there's some form of "perfect" to begin with. They're reinforcing all that nonsense I just said up above, that art is a talent, that it all depends on doing pictures that look the same as the outside reality and have some appropriate level of detail (stick figures don't count), that most people aren't gonna be able to do that.

And that's just not an accurate representation of the world as we know it.
conuly: image of a rubber ducky - "Somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you" (ducky predicate)
Look at it! And they say American cursive is curly. This is like... curly CURLY curly. Look at those Ns! I have no idea how anybody ever learned to read this stuff, but it's really pretty.

So I've caved and started Ana on basic cursive, one letter a day (excepting Monday). When she gets all the lowercase letters down I'll start copying out her sight word worksheets every day for her to do in cursive as well. She doesn't like the work, but she *is* pleased at how neat her handwriting already is and that it's easy enough. And she more or less understands my point that learning it now is a lot easier than unlearning print when she's 8 or 9. Even if they don't enforce it, it's just a lot of stress. (To be honest, I just got tired of seeing her hold her pencil wrong, and I *know* it's because of the printing!)

I still want to see other types of cursive than the one I'm able to print out worksheets of, but I've yet to figure out the search terms.
conuly: (ducky)
I do not even "abeeve" her.

Every day - every day! - after I pick her up we walk around the side of the school to wait for Ana. Every day, another little girl is there as well, Brianna. Every day I ask Evangeline about Brianna, and every day she says "Oh, she's not in my class" and "Oh, I don't even know her" and "Oh, I don't know who she is". And Brianna nods her head - SHE doesn't know EVA. Oh, no.

They sit right next to each other in class.

WTF, Evangeline?
conuly: (Default)
(Although I silently lol'd (yes, I'm aware one can't do that) when she corrected me for asking to confirm she was Hispanic. "No, I'm half-Italian and half-Puerto Rican." Well, if it's so important to get your ethnic identity right (and I don't blame you!), isn't it equally important to get everybody else's right as well?)

I should've known not to continue when just about the first words (from the OTHER first grade teacher, making me feel a bit ganged up on here) were that I should talk to the principal. Seriously? I should go to your boss before talking to you? Here I am thinking it's better *not* to move things up the ladder unless you're sure of deliberate wrongdoing, but... whatever.

My real problem, and I know it, was trying to talk to people. It's not my forte. I would have been better off writing something down and editing it. Talking to people... they misunderstand and then misquote. They say one thing, and then say another and swear they never said the first. They don't do this on purpose, but they do it anyway and I always come out looking wrong. (People try to do this online as well, but much less successfully because of the way words on the screen stay on the screen. I often wish words in real life did the same thing.)

So now I'm going to take a day to think it through, what to say and how to say it (and if to say it). I think I'm pretty much committed to following this one through at this point, though. (Also, some people online suggested they may not have a choice of what books to use, in which case I'll need to talk to other people, although honestly if that's the case you'd think they'd've said so directly and saved us all several minutes of me getting shaky legs. You'd never know it from me online, but I actually don't like confrontation.)

Comment of note? When one of the two at the door (there's a third first grade teacher, but her class gets out the main entrance instead) mentioned that it "probably has to do with how history is taught". Because, y'know, those people only live in history and not in real times. (Oh, I'm sure she didn't consciously mean it, but I'm just as sure it's under there somewhere.)
conuly: image of a rubber ducky - "Somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you" (ducky predicate)
(I finally set up my wireless again, so I'm totally upstairs while typing. This either rocks or sucks depending on how much computer time you figure I'll have...!)

Their mother hadn't sent Ana's vacation homework up with her, which meant I got stuck with it. That's all right, she just kinda plowed through it. (And yes, I *do* think vacation homework for kindergarten is silly, but I'm told that the other kids in her class have parents who want MORE homework. The mind boggles, let me tell you.)

One of Ana's homeworks (she only has three left for the weekend - the daily "what the weather is" picture, her "my favorite thing I did this week" picture and two sentences, and a math set (they're working with coins) that she didn't want to finish) involved rhyming words. There were four words in each row (in four different rows), three of which rhymed. This was pretty badly done as the non-rhyming word always made a minimal pair with a rhyming word - bug, rug, and rag, for example. It would've been more challenging if they hadn't. But I digress.

The final row had these four words: pin, pen, ten, hen.

Can you see the problem with that? Say the list aloud. If you automatically figure out the problem, gold star! If not, go here. As it happens, I have the pin-pen merger. I think I must have gotten it from my dad, as neither my mother nor sister has it and they used to tease me about it. (Because I didn't get enough of that at school, guys?) I remember sitting in speech (therapy) lessons as a kid, the only year I had actual instruction in those, working it out in my head how weird it was that there was no short-e before n, even when it's written in that way! I literally don't hear it when other people say it unless I'm listening for it, and I feel as though I'm twisting my mouth unnaturally to produce it myself.

So when I saw this I listened with great interest to see what Ana would do.

She carefully read the words (didn't have to sound them out!), and as soon as she got to pin and pen she stopped. Read them again, the whole list. Frowned. Sounded each word out carefully. "Connie, they all rhyme!"

So what do I do? Do I tell her to ignore her instincts and fill out the words that look like they rhyme? That's what she used to do when she was three. Do I let her fill out all of them and look like she didn't get it at all? I compromised by telling her that there's a good reason they put four rhyming words there, telling her to fill them all in, and writing a note to her teacher explaining this. Then, she she was done, I explained the pin-pen merger and talked her through the steps of a simple linguistic survey. We're totally stopping family members to see who has it and who doesn't today!

[Poll #1385210]

This isn't the first time I've had a language quibble with Ana's homework. Once she had to do "initial sounds that match" and one of the examples was a P word with a "pan". Except that I generally say skillet, and she generally says skillet, and when we don't say skillet we say frying pan. But she breezed right through that without a thought, proving that she understands very well how to do worksheets.


conuly: (Default)

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