Wednesday, October 19, 2005

parent-teacher conference

We had our first real meeting with Evangeline's teacher Tuesday, as part of a parent-teacher conference to set goals for Evangeline's education during the first trimester of school.

I don't remember anything like this in the schools I had growing up. Back then, if there were a parent-teacher conference, it would be in response to a problem academically, behavorially or socially. Here, we actually got to help set Evangeline's goals and provide feedback on what the teacher was thinking.

To say I was pleased with Evangeline's academic performance to date is something of an understatement. She is not just doing well academically, she has blown the bell curve out of the water. Some of this surely is due to our decision to homeschool her last year, for kindergarten; I'm sure much of it has to do with the wonderful preschool experience she had at Somerset Presbyterian when she was 3 and 4; and a lot of it just has to do with how she's wired.

Evangeline has a Renaissance brain, and is equally good at this time at artistic expression and mathematics. Creativity and logic are both tasks she can handle easily.

One of the things that Evangeline's teacher has been impressed with since the beginning is her reading ability. When Evangeline learned to read last fall, she took to it immediately, and rapidly moved from "Dick and Jane"-level books to chapter books. When school started in Septemeber, she lacked the patience to wait for me to read the next chapter of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and usually would plow on ahead, reading three or four chapters on her own.

Zoë remarked that she has been amazed how well Evangeline reads aloud. She's not just reading, mind you; she's reading with inflection and feeling, and when she reads dialogue, she even uses different voices for the different characters. (Not surprising, since Natasha and I have done that whenever we've read her stories, since she was an infant.)

She also is impressed with Evangeline's spelling prowess. Last week, she asked Evangeline to spell California, and her only error was to spell it with a Y instead of the second I. That's largely because Evangeline is a visual learner -- she sees the words written that way when she reads them, and remembers it for future reference -- but we encourage that by encouraging her to figure out the spelling herself when she's writing something.

Other areas where she's exceeding expectations for her age include the well-developed stories she tells, the artistic detail she brings to pictures she draws (no surprise, since she's been taking formal art lessons for the past year), her attentiveness during circle time (she was familiar with that from preschool), her ability to work well with others, and her math skills.

It turns out that Evangeline's math and language skills are so advanced that her teachers don't have the materials in the classroom to challenge her adequately. I'd suspected as much, since the math work she's been bringing home has consisted of really simple addition problems, like 2 + 3, and the English work has involved things like words with the short-I sound. Evangeline has been doing double-digit addition and subtraction for months now, and I've been giving her extra math problems at home in order to keep her skills up.

What they're going to do is to borrow some material from the third- and fourth-grade teachers and give Evangeline reading assignments from there. She'll get to do dioramas and reading comprehension questions for reading; for math, they'll be sending home more challenging worksheets, also culled from the older grades.

The downside to all this is that, although Evangeline is well rounded, her artistic side is a little too predominant. Drawing usually is a part of the assignments Evangeline brings home; she's supposed to draw an illustration for the math word problems, and draw another picture for her reading response, and so on. The instructor at the art academy has stressed from day one that Evangeline should take her time when she's drawing, since good art requires patience, hard work and time.

I'm sure you can see the problem. The school assignments are geared toward students who will finish drawing in something like 10 minutes. In 10 minutes, Evangeline has maybe figured out what exactly she wants to draw, and where to place the elements of her drawing. If she's moving really fast, she may even have started her sloppy copy. This leads to a lot more time being spent on art at a move-at-your-own pace school than is really necessary or wise.

On Tuesday, Zoë told me, Evangeline spent 75 minutes coloring a drawing everyone else had finished on Monday. She still wasn't done. It had a lot of detail, though -- individually colored raindrops, and a night sky behind them that had been very painstakingly filled in with black crayon.

Time management, obviously, is one of the areas where Evangeline needs improvement.

So the deal we struck, with Evangeline's full agreement, is that since good art takes time and should not be rushed, Evangeline gets 10 minutes to work on the drawing at school, and then after that, she gets to take the drawing home, where there will be plenty of time to finish it.

(I had suggested they should head the whole time management problem off at the source, and teach me better skills in that area, but they weren't much moved by my proposal.)

The other problem they commented on is that Evangeline doesn't participate fully in gym class. This completely failed to catch me by surprise. When I try to get Evangeline to walk some place with me, she starts complaining after a block that she needs a break, that her legs are falling asleep, and so on. She apparently has done the same thing in gym class, but Zoë and the teaching assistant, Anna, had no ideas to offer on getting improvements.

Besides time management, Evangeline's goals for December are to master money concepts and to do a research project on Barbies. The money is important because she doesn't "get" the money thing. She's forever forgetting which coins are worth which amount and doesn't get the connection between dollars and cents.

The Barbie project was her idea. I suggested Roald Dahl since she's enjoyed the books of his that she's read, but she wanted to do Barbies, so Barbies it is. My brain is melting already from the mere thought of helping her research this.

By and large, I've been pleased with how well Evangeline has done at school. I was a little nervous about how well she would adapt, since she can be quiet around people she doesn't know, and I wondered how well she would assert herself and the knowledge she already possessed at the start of the year. (That was one of the reasons I let the teacher know myself that Evangeline was reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," that she could do double-digit arithmetic, and a few other things.)

I also had some concern over how Evangeline would fare socially. She's an intelligent girl, but she's also creative, independent and her own creature, all things that can count against her in school, where the unwritten rule so often is "You're different, and that's wrong." Adults usually consider her a cutup, because she'll shout things like "Help, help, I'm being oppressed!" when I tickle her, knows the Éowyn-Nazgul exchange, and says "have fun storming the castle!" as a form of goodbye.

Well, it also helps that she's witty, engages in word play with a startling facility for a 5-year-old and ... well, you get the idea. She's one of a kind, which can be a tremendous liability in school, even if it's not a liability at home.

Still, Evangeline is hitting it off very well with a number of children. There are a few she complains are mean, but she has friends, and whenever she leaves school at the end of the day, there are plenty of kids who say goodbye to her by name.

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