Monday, November 26, 2007

engaging my gifted child

I had about the 10 billionth meeting last Monday with Evangeline’s teacher regarding her schoolwork and socialization in the classroom, with the major change this time that I involved the school principal.

Evangeline has become extremely disengaged from school. Her work is mostly stuff she mastered in kindergarten or first grade, which is frustrating. Her teacher last year had her learning negative numbers in math and had put her in the most advanced reading group the school offers for her age group, which was still far below her reading level.

Her teacher’s main focus when we've talked has been on Evangeline's perceived inability to socialize with her peers. We've met or conferred at least a half-dozen times where that was the main focus of the meeting, but some time about two weeks ago, I finally snapped and got angry in a constructive way on Evangeline's behalf.

Instead of trying to redirect the focus to a discussion of her academic skills, I pushed back hard on the social skills and said point-blank "She’s not an extrovert. There's nothing wrong with that. She has friends, she makes new ones, and she has no problem interacting with them. But she doesn’t like crowds, and when she started third grade, not a single one of her friends was in her class. What did you expect her to do? Open up to a bunch of kids whom she barely knows or who have picked on her?"

The main thing Evangeline needs socially is a chance to interact with her peers, not just kids her own age, but kids who really are her peers, both academically and interestwise. But when you’ve got a kid who started teaching herself to read when she was 4, who took it upon herself in first grade to learn cursive writing, who reads at a ninth grade level when she's only in third grade herself, who had her own freaking art show in first grade, and you give her assignments like "Write your name and address three times" or two pages of "Underline the subject and circle the predicate," you’re going to get a kid who’s as lonely as Mr. Morton, no matter what the predicate says she’s supposed to do.

So the long and short of it is that, after Natasha and I met with the principal and the teacher last Monday morning for about 45 minutes, Evangeline is getting some math work from a higher grade level, will be reading some books that are considered middle school level, and will be partnered with some of the other bright kids in the third grade.

It'll be an improvement, though heaven knows if it'll be enough. The school is great for kids who are in the center of the bell curve and who fall to the left of it, but I’m seeing with my own eyes that it’s not as well equipped for kids who land on the right of the curve and who need a little more effort to engage them.

With a little guidance, Evangeline does a good job of keeping herself engaged. Six weeks ago I let her read my trusted copy of "Coraline," and she was hooked from start to finish. For about two weeks, everything was "Coraline this" and "Coraline that" and "AAaah! Look out, it’s the Other Mother!"

Rachel, who hasn’t even read the book yet, got in on the action too, and was drawing pictures of women she said were the Other Mother, and loved to watch a "trailer" for the book that someone posted on YouTube. (Incidentally, did you know they’re making a movie of the book now? It’s stop-motion animation, and features Dakota Fanning as the voice of Coraline.)

Evangeline immensely enjoys books like "Coraline" that play with expectation and perception, and that give you unexpected twists in direction or on reality. I've told the girls a few of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories as best as I can remember them, and she was hooked. After her bath the other night, she even started wearing her towel over head so that it covered her entire face except for her mouth, like in "The Minister's Black Veil."

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