Daily Archives: August 29, 2010

Math Chat

After Lily expressed her math concerns at Dr. K’s, I emailed our Special Ed contact at school and Lily’s math teacher and explained Lily’s worries. I suggested that it might be a good idea for someone on the team to meet with Lily and talk with her about the big picture plan for her in math. Both teachers emailed back and said it sounded like a great idea.

Lily’s difficulty with math at school began in approximately 1st grade, when, because she was now in the Gifted and Talented program, the class moved ahead to 2nd grade math.  Lily instantly had trouble with abstract concepts such as money and time.  

Her difficulties became more apparent in 2nd grade, when Lily was moved on to 3rd grade math.  At this level she was expected to begin to learn multiplication when she could barely add and subtract single digits.  She brought home worksheets from the math program the school was using, Everyday Math, and Lily seemingly had no idea how to do the work.  

Her struggles continued in 3rd grade, when working on 4th grade math. By this time, I knew that as a visual-learner and twice exceptional, Lily was going to have trouble with rote memorization.  

In 4th grade, doing 5th grade math, I began to suspect that the Everyday Math program was not ideal for a learner like Lily.  It teaches on a spiral, so it touches on a math concept and then moves on, assuming that if the student doesn’t get it this time, they’ll grasp it the next time.  But moving from topic to topic so quickly left Lily feeling like she had not mastered anything and it was very frustrating to her.  Everyday Math also teaches the students several ways to solve a problem, but Lily just needed the comfort of really knowing the steps to solve the problem ONE way.  

I researched different math programs, and after meeting with the school, they agreed to let Lily try an online math program called ALEKS.  I seemed to work great at home.  Lily loved the pie chart on ALEKS that gives kids instant feedback.  At first, at school, ALEKS seemed to work well.  During math time, Lily would work on ALEKS on a laptop, but it wasn’t long before the material became more challenging and Lily started getting frustrated.  At home it was fine and I realized that it was because I was there to walk her through the steps when she was stuck.  At school, there was an aide who could help Lily, but not someone trained to offer math instruction to a kid like Lily.  

It was in the second half of 5th grade when we had a Learning Evaluation done on Lily.  Lily was gifted in math, especially quantitative reasoning.  When she was tested verbally, Lily was able to calculate math problems in her head to an 8th or 9th grade level.  It was the rote arithmetic facts and her ability to calculate on paper that were causing her such difficulty.  

In the meantime, we had Lily’s CSAP results back, which showed a decrease in math from 3rd to 4th grade.  In meetings with school officials, I stressed that we needed to find out why Lily was struggling so much with math and come up with some solutions for her.  

The school district finally sent in one of their secret weapons, a visual-spatial guy who specializes in figuring out visual-spatial learners, especially in math.  He observed Lily in class.  Mr. Visual-Spatial noticed that Lily seemed bored in class and hadn’t done any of her work, but when the teacher called on her she knew the answer.  Later, when he met one-on-one with Lily and he asked her how she knew the answer, she had no idea.  In a report, he explained that this is typical of a learner like this… always in trouble for not showing their work because they have no idea what steps they took… they just know they got the answer.  In Lily’s IEP Transition mtg, he explained that drilling Lily on arithmetic facts will never work.  She should just use a calculator.  Learners like Lily like to have context for math facts; they have a hard time just memorizing them.  In this meeting, Lily’s middle school teachers felt like she should go into the 7th grade math program and that this program is actually good for learners like Lily.  It gives them a specific steps for solving math problems but within that framework allows them to use their quantitative reasoning skills.

Shortly after my email to Lily’s middle school team, both the Special Ed teacher and her math teacher met with her and Lily seemed fine.  It feels like Lily is starting to trust the team and in exchange she’s really trying to be open and flexible.

I got a nice email after her meeting.  The Special Ed teacher told me that she had also gone over some of the IEP supports with Lily and that Lily was informative and insightful about what supports help her and which she doesn’t feel she needs.  The teacher said she was very impressed because most kids don’t have that insight at that age.

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Piano Problems

I have to decide what to do about piano lessons.  It’s important to me that my girls learn to read music.  I know it’s good for them.  I come from a musical family and I know that they both have some natural musical talent.  The problem is… piano lessons are a major stress for the whole family and I’m wondering if, especially with all we have going on with school this fall, we should take a break.

First of all, they’re on Saturday, which my husband doesn’t like because he wants to be able to take the girls and do fun things on the weekend.  But they have to be on Saturday because when he’s working, I can’t get home from work in time to take them on a school night.

Another reason is that it’s difficult enough for me, coming home from work and getting homework, dinner and baths done before bed, but then I have to also force them to practice piano.  Lily freaks out if she doesn’t feel like she’s ready for her lesson and gets worried that her teacher will be upset with her.  Zoolander just hates piano lessons in general.  She plays slowly and hesitates as she plays, which her teacher feels is a bad attitude, but I really don’t think so.

I feel like whatever issue Zoolander is having at school is also affecting her ability to learn to read music and play piano.  She has a very hard time learning the notes.  We do flash cards over and over, but when you point to a note on the staff, it’s like she’s never seen it before.  I’ve been googling Dysgraphia & Dyslexia to see if there’s any relation to difficulty reading music.  After seeing how hard it was for Zoolander to copy those words and how she got lost on the page, I can see how reading music would be very confusing for her.  The problem is, I don’t know how to help her, but I don’t want to give up on music.  She has a beautiful singing voice, just like her aunt.

Maybe a different method?  Suzuki?  I’m hoping the learning evaluation will help shed some light on my twice exceptional daughter #2, but in the meantime, I’ve got to discuss this with their piano teacher and decide what to do.

Trouble in Zoolander Land

While Lily has been having such great success at middle school, her little sister has been having a hard time at the start of school.  I’m afraid that Zoolander’s learning difficulties I’ve been waiting for have finally arrived.

Lily’s hit about 2nd grade, but for a lot of twice exceptional kids it’s 3rd grade, when the work in school gets a little more demanding.  I suspected last year in 2nd grade that something was up with Zoolander.  She’s never enjoyed school and she does fine, but she doesn’t respond like a gifted kid in the 99th percentile might respond.  Her verbal output far exceeds any of her written output.

She could barely read at the start of 2nd grade, but I didn’t worry because Lily was a late reader too and now she reads at least a grade level ahead.  Zoolander was having the most trouble with writing and math.  

She was well behind in her math facts.  The other kids has stacks of ice cream scoops on their Addition Cones.  Zoolander had two.  She had/has an especially hard time with time and money, especially money.  No matter how many times she practiced and it seemed like she was getting it, if we’d take a 10 minute break and come back to it, she’d have a look on her face like she’d never seen a quarter before in her life.  She was that way learning her numbers in preschool.  We would work on them, work on them, work on them and we would think she was getting it and then 2 minutes later she wouldn’t recognize a thing.

Zoolander’s handwriting is rough and inconsistent but actually somewhat better than her older sister’s so I didn’t worry about that.  What made me start to wonder was some of her writing and spelling assignments she brought home.  She was spelling words in crazy ways and reversing letters.  By the end of second grade she had become a pretty good reader and was reading above grade level.  She did prefer graphic novels and pretty much only read non-fiction books about the human body, but that seemed fine.  It was her spelling that didn’t seem right.

In 5th grade, Lily had had a learning evaluation done by a woman I’ll call Dr. P.  Dr. P discovered that Lily had slight dyslexia but that she was such a visual learner that she was able to compensate for it and had no trouble reading.  But it was showing up somewhat in Lily’s writing.  She had trouble with encoding… or taking a word that she heard and figuring out how it might be spelled.  This seemed to be what I was seeing with Zoolander.

I had mentioned these concerns to Zoolander’s teacher throughout 2nd grade, but she assured me that it was just typical gifted kid asynchronous development.  But after my experiences advocating for Lily, I was ready to rumble.  I insisted that something was up and I didn’t care who thought I was crazy.  The teacher finally agreed that I might be right and we began an RTI for Zoolander.

So, back to this week, 3rd grade and the first day of school Zoolander has homework.  She tries to avoid it and says she doesn’t know what to do.  I explained that all she had to do was copy her 20 spelling words from a vertical list to a horizontal list with 4 columns.  I came back to check on her and found her crying.  I was impatient.  It’s just copying spelling words.  I sat with her and suddenly realized that she was really struggling.  She was writing words on the wrong lines and leaving some words out.  I asked her what was wrong and she said, “There are just so many ways to go wrong.”  

She finally had the great idea to get a blank piece of paper and use it to try to block out the other words and keep track of her place in the list.  That helped, but as I watched her copy the words, I noticed that even though she was looking at the words and silently spelling them as she wrote, what she actually wrote was misspelled.  She spelled strawberry, s-t-r-a-b-a-r-y.  I was stunned to realize that her difficulty might be more severe than I thought.  I decided then that I need to make another appointment for a learning evaluation.  I’ve got another 2E on my hands.

Walkin’ on Sunshine

One full week of school down and Lily is walking on sunshine. Seriously.  She’s elated.  I’ve never seen her this happy about school…. ever.  She’s feeling confident and she’s proud of herself. We’re proud of her.  She’s really working hard on handling this transition well.  I’m amazed.  This is how I always imagined my kid would be… if I’d had a plain ol’ boring, ordinary kid.  I keep asking myself… why exactly IS it going so well?  I don’t know. It’s not the meds ‘cause I never got that that prescription filled and now it seems like she doesn’t need it.  Her anxiety seems manageable.  She still has a mini-freakout every morning when it’s time to get out of the car and walk into school.  But it’s 5 seconds and she recovers quickly.  Is it a fresh start without all the bad feelings she associated with elementary school?  Has her frontal lobe developed just enough so that she can handle the new demands on her executive functioning?  Maybe all of it. What I really suspect, is that we finally have enough supports in place to allow her feel safe and confident at school.

Thanks to her IEP, Lily can wear a hat, chew gum and sit on a exercise ball, all of which help her focus.  The fluorescent lights are filtered so that the flicker doesn’t give her a headache and make her irritable.  She has a system in place, using index cards, so that she can ask her teacher for sensory breaks without drawing attention to herself.  She can eat lunch outside if the cafeteria is too loud.  She brings her lunch so she doesn’t have to wait in line where it’s noisy.

As far as organization goes, one of the 6th grade Special Ed teachers has been heading up the Lily containment effort.  I’ve been keeping her in the loop on any issues Lily tells me about and then she helps Lily on that end.  I let her know that Lily was scared of the power tools in Tech Ed (aka Shop) and that Lily was worried about being able to keep up in typing class.  She reassured Lily about both things.  I told her that Lily had some signed papers in her backpack that I thought might need to be turned in.  She helped Lily take care of that.  It’s been wonderful having that liaison at school.

Now, I know there are going to be ups and downs in all this.  In fact, the downs will probably start as soon as they start really getting to work in the classroom.  When Lily has to begin keeping track of assignments and start on them herself, I’m expecting some challenges.  But that’s where her Behavior Support Plan or BSP comes in. 

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