Thursday, July 11, 2013

Second Grade in Review

This post has been a long time coming, but I just couldn't find the right words.  Instead of trying to be perfect, I'll just try to get the post up.

Second grade, in a nutshell, was fabulous.  She stayed with her first grade teacher--almost his whole class did, as he requested to "loop" with the class over a period of years.  I believe this is common in Waldorf-style teaching, where one teacher stays with the class for a long time.  I was excited about this almost from the beginning--Mr. Matt is a wonderful teacher, and I knew Elena would benefit from more time with him.  An added bonus was I didn't have to get a new teacher familiar with Elena and her challenges, which was a huge relief.  The best thing about a great looping teacher is they know your child's strengths and weaknesses, and have more time to address this.  The class has a great understanding of each other and there was a very special vibe in that room.

Matt respects the kids, and helps them figure out their own problems and find solutions.  He gives them a great amount of choice in the classroom, and fosters critical thinking--something I think is missing in schools across America.  He treated Elena like any other kid in the classroom--as much as he could.  Sometimes she had to have special seating, or extra time to get around.  She did have (and sometimes expected) extra help carrying things and cleaning up, but was reprimanded if she waited around for her aide before starting those activities.  Elena's aide had two other kids in the classroom she had to pay attention to--so E did not have her undivided attention like last year.

The best parts I witnessed when I got to visit the school were the everyday activities...seeing her get into the mix in P.E. (and her classmates playing with her, even though she didn't move like they did), hearing "Hi Elena!" countless times in the hallway (I've never seen most of these kids), watching her run and play (with her crutches) with her girlfriends during recess, seeing her do a project with a classmate.  Acceptance, friendship, learning, play, challenge, support, excitement, laughter were everyday events.  Super Awesome.

Academically, Elena struggled (struggles?) a bit.  Overall her scores were very good--great even, and we are very thankful for that.  The biggest realization was she really needs proper seating to work well at a table or desk, and she didn't always choose a good seating position.  She also had (has?) problems understanding certain math concepts.  This is tricky, because Matt teaches "number sense" rather than just "rote math" (the way I learned it).  I feel very strongly that "number sense" is a better way to teach mathematics--relationships between numbers, "what's larger and smaller", "what's in the middle", counting by 2s, 3s, 10s, etc., and a different way of looking at place value.  I think it's better--provided the child can connect the pieces by the end of the year.  Elena didn't.  She had some of it, but I think she just got confused.  And frustrated.  Jason and I never had an issue learning math concepts until high school (I did have an issue with long division for a short while), so we couldn't figure out why she didn't get it--and I was afraid to start teaching her a new way.  We decided to get her a 2nd grade math book for rote math work, and spent more time working on sample problems Matt brought home.  We also got her a recommended tutor for the summer (we call him the Math Coach) and Elena LOVES him, and I think they are working well to connect the number sense pieces together so E is ready for third grade.

Another thing we noticed is Elena's artwork/choice time.  She likes to draw and build things (houses, like a room layout for a paper doll) but I noticed it was always two-dimensional.  Houses were always drawn and built like a perimeter (even with legos), as well as furniture and creatures living in them.  It's weird to me she would choose to do that so often, especially as she has some fine motor issues (it takes her effort to pick up small flat pieces of paper, for instance).  This "2-D" rendering made me wonder about her ability to see things in three-dimensional space.  I know she can--she can throw and kick, hit a ball with a bat, she can catch and aim.  I think it has something to do with core strength--her arms are almost always by her sides (walking with crutches), and rarely out from her torso (airplane arms, or holding an invisible beach ball).  I read some studies that talk about fine motor skills and the strong correlation of understanding math concepts, and wondered if that was one of our problems.  It doesn't mean that people who lack fine motor skills CAN'T learn math easily--it has to do with a different method of thinking about space and conceptualizing something you can't see--opening up the brain to a different way of thinking, if you will.

That's where I got the idea of our Big, Messy Summer.  I want E to use her hands, get her arms away from her body, make something BIG and creative and fun and crazy.  Swimming and horseback riding are helping, of course.   If you have any other suggestions, let me know!


Anonymous said...

Hi. I just wanted to say that I also have CP (spastic diplegia), and I think there's definitely some relationship between having certain motor deficits and having trouble with visual-spatial or math concepts. When I was younger, I was a lot like Elena- the only thing that worked for me was rote memorization for math, and I couldn't do any of that intuitive "number sense" stuff- everything had to be spelled out very clearly, logically and step-by-step, for me to get it. I was a really verbal learner, so using words and writing down a step-by-step plan for each type of problem helped a lot, along with sometimes using models or drawing really clear pictures. I got confused with charts or graphs and number lines, and manipulating anything in 3-D was an absolute hell for me.I still rely mostly on a verbal-logical approach to doing math, and I think more experience with 3-D models or puzzles would definitely help Elena. There is hope, though- although I'm still directionally challenged today, I did manage to make it all the way through Calculus in high school!

Margot said...

I have spastic diplegia and I started sucking at math in 4th grade. I still kinda suck at it. I think the 3D perception is definitely somewhat of a problem. I think I have some of that since cubed figures look weird to me on tests. Though I'm really good at visual math-geometary. I did "Math sense" with a tutor. I didn't know that was the term for it. It worked better for me. My issue is remembering all the steps to things like algebra,figuring out what operations to do for word problems,and getting my brain to do all different types of math in a short period of time like on timed tests that cover all the math concepts. My brain also tries to form pictures of every single number I deal with which is nice but slows me down a bit. I always pass math. It's just not as high as my other grades. I can't draw in 3D at all but I can build and stuff with blocks.