Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Re-Forming Gifted Education

Karen B. Rogers' Re-Forming Gifted Education: How Parents and Teachers Can Match the Program to the Child (2002) is one of my favorites. The thing that I like best about it is that the book gives one a sense of possibilities and wide open spaces. I'm going to try to be very sparing about quotes to keep this from turning into another monster book review, but Re-forming Gifted Education offers many delicious recipes that can be combined to create a nutritious and well-balanced educational diet. It avoids the "your precious little snowflake" tone that can be a turnoff in gifted literature. I'll highlight some sections as I go along:
  • Here are some guidelines for setting priorities in educational planning. Guideline 1. Does it Provide for Academic Progress? [...] Guideline 2. Does it Remediate Academic Weakness? [...] Guideline 3. Does it Enhance Psychological Adjustment? [...]Guideline 4. Does it Provide for Socialization? [...] [I like the balance here a lot. Note how academics are the first item Rogers lists, but not the only one. She's really thinking about the "whole child," as they say.]


More later.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 6

I finished up my post on Chapter 5, but am having HTML trouble (all that bold and those blockquotes are giving Blogger indigestion), so it may take a while to get it up. My tech support guy is at the children's museum with the kids right now, so you will have to wait. On to Chapter 6, "How to Change Right-Brain Attitudes: Useful Talking Points." In this chapter, Beals provides 16 canned answers to deploy against conventional wisdom. I like her answer to CW #8: "Students learn best through integrated, interdisciplinary projects." Beals' suggested reply begins like this: "My child currently lacks the organizational skills that interdisciplinary projects demand." She continues with a discussion of executive function, which "is not fully developed until people hit their thirties."

Projects challenge, in particular, not just the linear, one-thing-at-a-time thinkers, but also the many children with suspected or diagnosed ADD, ADHD, and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, who struggle to stay focused on tasks that are broad in focus. They challenge, as well, the many others, some of whom labeled with OCD, who get stuck in a subtask and can't move on, or who struggle with transitions from subtask to subtask, or who have trouble putting it all together. A 2007 brain-imaging study by the National Institutes of Health and McGill University found that children with ADHD are simply delayed relative to their peers.

In a nutshell, multi-step interdisciplinary projects are often developmentally inappropriate for the children to whom they are assigned.

I also like the reply to number 11: "Students who can't explain their thinking don't really know what they are doing." Beals points out that this standard creates a very uneven playing field.
Also, requiring verbal explanations disadvantages those with autism and
other language impairments, as well as nonnative English speakers and students
with penmanship problems. Requiring pictographic explanations, meanwhile, disadvantages nonvisual thinkers and children with poor drawing or draftmanship skills.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quick and Easy Thai, p. 73

Tonight's dinner was the recipe on p. 73 of Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai. The name of the recipe is "panaeng beef in red curry peanut sauce," but we took many liberties. Here's what we did:
  • doubled the original recipe, which calls for only 1/2 lb. beef for 4-6 people
  • switched from beef to chicken
  • served with brown rice and microwaved frozen veggies and a dish of fresh cilantro, green onions and mint for self-serve garnishing (rather than the recommended Thai or Italian basil--ours died a couple of weeks ago)
  • replaced some of the coconut milk with cow's milk
  • replaced the recommended red or panaeng curry with yellow curry (we have an open container we're working through)
  • cut down the curry slightly to avoid saltiness
  • grated some frozen ginger in to the curry (practically any Thai recipe is better with ginger)

The kids liked it! This is our first effort that really tasted like restaurant Thai food. My husband and I both worked on dinner and it was pretty fast as a four-handed job. We still have wild lime leaves in freezer and lots of yellow curry paste in the fridge. We have just used up our first 60 ML bottle of fish sauce, a major landmark. That's a tiny bottle, but a little goes a long way.

For dessert, my husband and D made bread pudding with 50% whole wheat bread that was baked a day or so ago at home and left to go stale. I made the vanilla sauce, and boy howdy, I used a lot of vanilla.

It was an excellent dinner, but the dishes are going to be epic.

C and Hammurabi

Yesterday, C's father was rebuking C for carrying out an unauthorized tit-for-tat on D.

C's daddy: We are not under the code of Hammurabi. You know what that means?

C [tweenishly]: I knooooooow.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas

We had snow fall (but not stick) for Christmas Eve. My husband and the kids have all enjoyed the Wii, and even I tried slaloming. The Pleo (a robotic baby dinosaur) is a general favorite, although my husband is trying to get a replacement battery from the company. We got the DVDs for Life of Birds and Life in Cold Blood (that's a documentary on reptiles and amphibians). D was watching the latter with the Pleo on his lap today. The kids really liked Auntie K's gifts, the Thomas stuff and the mirror/bulletin board DIY kit. C is working hard on Jumpstart 2nd grade computer games. She is reading Many Waters, the fourth Madeline L'Engle book. C is less averse to library books now. She normally shies away from them, wary of the awful responsibility of taking care of them and getting them back on time. Daddy checked these out for C from the college library, and he has assured her that he will make sure they get back in time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

The tree is in and up (and it is definitely recycled), the lights are on, and the kids are decorating the tree. Our tree is divided between drugstore ornaments and the kids' efforts. This year alone, the kids made about 8 ornaments, including C's blue glass ornament from her class trip to the glassblower's.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thai meatballs

We made Thai meatballs with yellow curry tonight from a recipe in Quick and Easy Thai. The meatballs were made from ground turkey and the curry contained coconut milk, yellow curry paste, brown sugar, fish sauce (fish sauce!) and kaffir lime leaves. We ate the meatballs with brown rice and mixed vegetables. C was very negative about the meatballs before dinner, but eventually liked them. She asked for a serving of them as part of her bedtime snack. The curry was good but somehow turned out salty. I'm thinking we should eliminate the salt from the recipe, since there seems to be more than enough salt in the other ingredients.

We generally have salmon for Christmas Eve dinner, but I bought catfish today. The question is what to do with it. Around here, we like fish baked in aluminum foil with rosemary, but I also have a number of Thai options.

UPDATE: On Christmas Eve, we wimped out and had fish sticks. It was just the four of us, so we can get away with it. The catfish turned out to be not a fillet and was very fishy smelling, so we passed. The moral of the story is that we need to go to the hotsy-totsy suburban HEB (the one where they disinfect the conveyor belt after meat sits on it) for meat and fish for major holidays, rather than sticking with our wrong-side-of-the-tracks HEB.

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 5

Chapter 5 of Katharine Beals' Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World is "Helping Our Most Extreme Left-Brainers: Understanding and Supporting the Mildly Autistic Child."

UPDATE 12/28: I finished a post for Chapter 5 earlier today, but due to excessive bolding and blockquotes, it didn't post and I wasn't able to save it. I'm not even going to try to reconstitute the whole thing, but I will say that Chapter 5 is a must-read for anyone who works with or parents neurologically unusual children. As usual, Beals' dramatic vignette crackles with energy:

Rebecca is attending a math-placement meeting for her six-year-old son Ethan, diagnosed with HFA, or high-functioning autism. Though many subjects stump him, he excels in math and does multidigit arithmetic in his head.
"Just because he can do the calculations doesn't mean that he understands the underlying concepts," the principal says, widening her eyes at Rebecca.
"Actually, he does understand the underlying concepts," Rebecca says. She explains how Ethan uses math at home, doubling the cookie recipe with all the right proportions, calculating how to set the breadmachine timer to have bread ready at 7:15 the next morning.
"But remember his performance on the word problems," the principal says, retrieving a test booklet from her stack of documents and handing it across the table. "He hardly got any of these right, and he never shows his work."
Rebecca knows the problems; she's tried to work through them with Ethan: "Mary and John share the apples. How many does each one get?" Or: "John pays a dollar for a pretzel that costs 50 cents. How much money does the cashier give him back?" For an autistic child, it's not the math that's hard; it's the social concepts of sharing, paying, and giving back.
[...]
It is concluded that Ethan is not ready for multidigit arithmetic.

Craigslist

We're in the middle of an epic Craigslisting: toys, children's books and grownup odds and ends. I thought we should try very hard to do this before Christmas. I priced everything at $1 and under (10 cents for paper back kids' books). I was expecting to have a hard time getting rid of plush items and a Raggedy Ann doll, but all of those items are gone now (not counting the Big Bird and the Minnie Mouse that were reclaimed by the kids after a last minute change of heart). There's a fair amount of interest in children's books. Two people called for used women's slippers, which is also unexpected. I'm devoting much of today to being home and dealing with people. Whatever's left over will eventually get taken to Salvation Army or Goodwill.

It's also unseasonably warm (nearly 70 degrees) and I've got the window open to keep from overheating.

UPDATE: I always find Craigslisting very chastening. There is such an enormous gap between what I paid for stuff and what it fetches on the market that it at least temporarily suppresses the acquisitive urge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas break

C is reading Oz books on a PDA. She's read 2 or 3 so far during spring break. She's also just finished the second Earthsea book by Ursula Le Guin. The four of us finished an overhaul of her room this afternoon. A number of stuffed animals and books have been sent into exile, either to D's room or to a Craigslist basket. Normally, it's very difficult to find someone to take used stuffed animals off your hands, but I'm hoping that someone will want a Big Bird. C's room looks great. She and her dad were painting some pine cones gold this evening. He bagged a Christmas tree at Walmart today for $10, marked down from $45. We are beginning to suspect that it was a recycled tree--it bears traces of decoration.

D, my husband, and I also worked on D's room. D is turning into a bit of a packrat. Every scrap of paper with any markings on it turns into a treasure in D's opinion. I'm beginning to regret the two new sets of plastic drawers I just got for his room, and I'm thinking that I may need to stealthily deal with his papers while he's at school. The question is, how much can I get away with? D also has a thing for cardboard boxes. I've removed some of them from his room because we have cleaners coming tomorrow morning, but that still leaves his three-cardboard-box dragon villa.

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of Katharine Beals' Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World is "All-Absorbing Interests and Other Quirks: The Analytic Child at Home." This chapter covers homework, additional academic supplementation at home, dealing with the lawyerly child, encouraging the young lecturer to be more responsive to listeners, difficulty with everyday tasks, obsessive interests, learning social graces, inflexibility, and reluctance to go on outings. Here are some quotes:
  • The worst of this [difficulty with everyday tasks] sometimes seems not like a cognitive deficit or immaturity in big-picture thinking but a willful obtuseness, or a failure to be sufficiently emotionally invested in the task at hand, and it can be difficult for us not to start snapping at our children. We must constantly remind ourselves that our child's sluggishness in properly busing his plate, cup, and silverware ("Put the small plate on top of the big one, hold it all with two hands...") is akin to his sluggishness in designing that game board for math class: many analytic children need specific, clear, step-by-step instructions in order to complete a multistep task.
  • So readily do the popular purveyors of parenting advice read emotional needs into every act of misbehavior that we may forget that for analytic children unmet intellectual needs are the more likely culprit. [....] And there is, perhaps, no cause of misbehavior that is more underappreciated than restless boredom.

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is entitled "Hindered by Reform Math and Other Major Trends in K-12 Education: The Analytic Child at School." Katharine Beals opens with a vignette of Josh (a middle schooler) announcing, "I hate school!" to his dad, Ben.

"Take a look at the projects they just assigned us," Josh scoots the folder across the table. Ben takes it and peers inside. "There's a sheet for each subject," Josh says. "Take a look." Ben pulls out several sheets and pages through: "Design a Playground," "Decorate a Tissue Box," "Construct a Diorama."
"That's a lot of art homework," remarks Ben. "What about your other subjects?"
"Dad, that's the point," yells Josh. "These are for my other subjects."
"Which ones?" Ben pages back through. Everywhere the same phrases keep popping up: "Be colorful." "Be creative."

Finally, we get to a non-art assignment:

"Write a three-page paper that includes a description of a movie, television show, or a book that involves a scientific concept, a summary of the scientific concept, and an explanation of the actual concept and how it is used in the movie, television show, or book."

Hello, Google, my friend!

Ben and his wife enrolled Josh at the math and science magnet not only because their son excels in math and science but because he's never been
that motivated about writing, and is even less inspired by the arts-and-crafts activities that dominated his elementary school classes.


Much of the third chapter is devoted to the gospel according to Kitchen Table Math, with special emphasis on the confusion and exasperation of a left-brain child dealing with art-and-math and English-and-science, particularly when the proportions are 3 parts art or composition to one part math or science. Actual math-y and science-y kids like to take those subjects straight up, no ice. As a former (and perhaps future) language teacher, I think Beals may be downplaying too much the importance of vocabulary, culture, and communication in foreign language study. However, her description of a French textbook where the verbs are presented without the conjugation pattern gives me the pedagogical shivers. I'd have to see the book to judge for myself. I'd add that we have had a brush with foreign language issues ourselves. C was doing very, very well in Spanish last year during 1st grade. She was absolutely nailing the vocabulary. I was so pleased. Then, unfortunately, in the spring, the class's focus switched to practicing a Mexican folk dance for a big end-of-the-year performance. C had a very hard time learning the steps. At some point in the midst of all the drama, her interest in Spanish ebbed away. That was so sad, especially considering that the dancing was probably meant to kindle interest in the subject.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Katharine Beals' book is "Playdates, Friends, and Family Life: The Unsocial Child at Home." The opening of this one is a tear-jerker. Alice is on the playground with 3-year-old Miranda. Alice would like to go socialize with the other mothers, but Miranda is wandering off by herself, so Alice has to follow her. "Everyone else always seemed to know one another already, and know how to be with one another, and seemed to have so many ready things to chat about." "Alice wonders whether, once Miranda is finally interested in other children, she'll struggle as much to connect with them as Alice once did."



"How much did my own young self compromise my own social future?" This is something Alice had wondered about well into her young adulthood. Since having had Miranda, she's revisited those early years with a vengeance. But nowhere do they lurk closer than here at the playground, with her daughter off with dogs in the distance, and herself once again cut
off--way off--from a peer group of her own.


As I said, have your Kleenex ready. Here are some other quotes that struck me (Beals in bold, my comments in normal type):

  • One mother reports spending weeks arranging a playdate with a neighborhood boy she'd hoped would become "the best friend across the street," only to hear her son announce as the boys headed upstairs, that he was going to count up to a thousand. Ten minutes later, they were back downstairs, her son pacing from room to room, intoning "Two hundred ninety-seven, two hundred ninety-eight, two hundred ninety-nine, three hundred," while the other boy trailed after him, trying to interest him in a boardgame. Unable to halt her son's counting, she ended up playing Candy Land in the kitchen with his would-be-playmate, who never came back. [Ouch, ouch, ouch.]

  • We look on in distress as our child inadvertently alienates one potential friend after another, or sets himself or herself up for bullying or exclusion.

  • Like many of our peers in parenthood, we have shifted our focus away from the worlds of work and adult-centered activities and toward the worlds of our children. If we are stay-at-homes, this shift is complete. And when the new world we face is that of an unsocial child, when it doesn't embrace other children and activities that groups of children so often engage in (soccer, Scouts, ballet, theater), the normal social bonds, not just between our children and their peers but also between us and other parents, simply don't form.

  • [Beals recommends structuring the "first dozen playdates" around planned activities: "board games, ball games, construction projects, science experiments, cookie baking" that will engage the guest "even when our child ignores her." Beals also advises "formal, structured" organized activities (chess club, etc.) to fill in during social dry spells.]
  • [Beals encourages non-traditional playdates with older and younger children and children of the opposite sex.]
  • [Beals advises that left-brain children will learn social skills best not through "informal rap sessions and cooperative group activities" but through "explicit rules and structured practice." She gives a very nice list of books for building conversation skills.]
  • It's important for us parents to remember that, for most left-brain children, the hardest years are those of primary and secondary school, when they spend so many hours so inescapably surrounded by the teeming life of their classmates.
  • We parents can also take heart in the probability that our left-brain children will become ever more socially engaged as life goes on.

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 1 (continued)

I haven't quite finished Chapter 1. Here we go.

Beals suggests that parents exploit the currently popular idea of "learning styles" to help their left-brain child escape from group work and socially-mediated learning. Unfortunately, as Joanne Jacobs posted yesterday, research is beginning to turn on learning styles, but nevermind that. Learning styles will probably linger on in some form for the foreseeable future. But this goes against the grain.
  • Many [teachers] are convinced that working in groups, practicing social skills, and expressing emotions all prepare students for life. "Aren't these precisely what your unsocial child needs to practice with?" our teacher may therefore counter. And indeed, aren't they? Because educators care so much about social skills, it's important to stress that we do, too. But we should point out, gently, working in classroom groups and being asked to share personal feelings have so intimidated and confused our child that he's been withdrawing in annoyance or discomfort.
  • Given all her vulnerabilities, she needs to learn her social skills explicitly and systematically in a safer environment--in ways that we will discuss in the following chapter--run by someone who specialized in helping unsocial children become more sociable. [Very good.]
  • The second thing to ask for is an alternative way, other than speaking up during classroom discussions, for our child to meet the participation requirement. [Possible options include formal oral presentations, email, blogs, etc.]
  • As we saw, another strike against some of our children is when teachers view them as willfully inconsiderate or unkind. To forestall this, we must explain, often repeatedly and at length, that when our child refuses to look her teacher in the eye, or to share with her partner, or to speak loud enough for her classmates to hear her, or to cooperate in her group, it's not out of a deliberate lack of consideration but because of her shyness, social anxiety, and difficulty grasping group dynamics.
  • [Beals finishes up the chapter with a couple of stories of children with Asperger's whose parents held back diagnoses of Asperger's from school, including a kindergartener who engaged in hissing, clicking, fidgeting, and seemed "more in need of an exorcist than an IEP". Everyone lives happily ever after after the parents finally share the information with school.] We should never underestimate the importance of open communication with a talented and dedicated teacher.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Casters

I just bought two sets of Sterilite plastic drawers for D's room. C spontaneously decided to installed the casters. She succeeded with the first set, but has been having trouble with the second. She finished Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea earlier today.

This was the kids' first full day of vacation as well as closing day for the campus gym, the campus Starbucks and the last open cafeteria. I went to Starbucks about half an hour before closing tonight, hoping to score some free throw-away pastries, but they had closed early. It's very, very quiet on campus now. We will need to make a couple weeks of dinners for ourselves. It is a daunting prospect, and I am turning to my Quick and Easy Thai cookbook.

Clementines

D thinks that "unpeel" means "remove the peel of."

Columns

They were studying different styles of Greek columns in art class at school, so C has been instructing all of us on doric, ionic and Corinthian columns and pointing them out to us on campus. I think I finally get it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Raising a Left-Brain Child, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 ("Adrift in Today's Classroom: The Unsocial Child at School") opens with the story of five-year-old Monica's interview for kindergarten at a private school. Monica refuses to speak to the kindly interviewer, despite the fact that at home she produces reams of writing with "intricate illustrations." "We are a very social, verbal school," the director of admissions tells Angela, Monica's mother, explaining why Monica cannot be admitted.

Sadly, Angela knows of no schools, public or private, that don't demand sociability from kids; she'd applied to this private school because she
thought its smaller classes might take the edge off. Ever since becoming a mother, she'd look back on her own past as an unsocial child in an
impersonal public school system--adrift and disengaged--and swear that she would somehow avoid inflicting all this on her unsocial daughter. But how?

The second example Beals gives is nine-year-old Benjamin, who hates group work, gets frustrated by not being able to explain his ideas to group members and watches the clock during Circle Time. Lastly, ninth-grader Janet writes excellent English papers but has a hard time following class discussion and panics when called on during class. All three children are alienated by the social demands of school.

  • [The unsocial child] has particular difficulty interacting with peers, adjusting to new people and situations, and working collaboratively, and tends to be withdrawn in public. In discussing the characteristics and needs of each type of left-brain child, we'll begin by looking at their experiences at school, because it's here where our kids are first measured against other kids and begin to stand out as different [...]
  • At school, as we'll see in this chapter, our unsocial children face new classroom practices, grading standards, and social expectations that particularly ill-suit, marginalize, and pathologize them.
  • What are we to make, however, of the persistent claims--by educators, by pop psychologists, and by best-selling books like Emotional Intelligence--that today's world is different and that, individual geniuses aside, most jobs require social skills? Even mathematicians and scientists, teachers insist, now primarily work in groups. Those of us with ties to mathematicians and scientists know otherwise. [...] Yes, many modern mathematical puzzles are large enough that multiple scholars attack them simultaneously. But they do so by divvying up the pieces, working independently, and only reconvening to present and tweak one another's solutions. [My husband had a short but productive career as a mathematician before switching fields, so I asked his opinion on this paragraph. My husband says Beals is essentially correct, and how else would you do the work? If you try as a group to sit and work together at the same thing at the same time, that's a committee, and we know how productive those are.]

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

With my assigned chapters of Different Minds out of the way, I can finally get to Katharine Beals' Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School. Beals previously blogged under the pseudonym "Lefty" at Out in Left Field, but has surfaced under her own name with the appearance of her book. Beals is an energetic crusader against the current tendency of all subjects to turn into arts and crafts or English composition exercises. Beals believes that many children who would shine in traditional math and science find the new style confusing and demoralizing. She uses the term "left-brain" as a "fresh, non-judgmental label" to describe "a type of bright, quirky, child who is often misunderstood and under-appreciated in today's world." This umbrella term can cover Asperger's and high-functioning autism spectrum kids, as well as non-labeled children. I'll start pulling out quotes (mainly in bold) and commenting (mainly in brackets) from the introduction:



  • But I don't intend this term literally; that is, I don't wish to imply anything about the activity of brain hemispheres. Rather, I'm using the term left-brain in the everyday sense, to convey a specific collection of traits that involve thinking abstractly and logically; analyzing and systematizing; processing things linearly (one at a time); attending much more to verbal than to nonverbal communication; preferring to work independently; and being shy, socially awkward, and/or introverted.
  • How large is this group? Perhaps the best evidence comes from the thousands of people who have taken Baron-Cohen's online Systematizer Test. Approximately 17 percent of male respondents and 8 percent of females score as "very high" Systematizers.
  • Other characteristics of left-brain children are: "interact more easily with adults than with peers," "Have trouble reading facial expressions and body language," "easily distracted by sensory clutter," "detail-oriented," "Learn better from abstract symbols and concepts than from hands-on activities," Good at math, science, verbal argumentation, and foreign language grammar," "Weak in handwriting, graphic arts, and/or visual representations," "Highly critical, skeptical, and argumentative," "Difficulty adjusting to new situations," "Deep, all-absorbing interests," "A tendency to lecture," "Not susceptible to peer pressure," "Sometimes suspected of having selected mutism, social phobia, Nonverbal Learning Disability, or Asperger's Syndrome."
  • Group work and oral class participation, as chapter 1 will show, are neither how left-brain children prefer to learn nor how they learn best.
  • In order to fully explore the characteristics, challenges, and needs of left-brain children, I'll be dividing them into three categories: the unsocial child, the analytic child, and the mildly autistic child. These categories are not mutually exclusive.
  • The most extreme left-brain child might lie somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Why we love living here

There are disadvantages to renting a house from the college, namely the fact that the college has ambitious building plans and has been leveling low-rise apartment complexes and houses left and right. Some of our neighbors will have to leave in the spring, but we will have until spring 2011. There's one empty house on our street and something like half a dozen on the neighboring street, judging by all the houses that are dark when I take my evening walks. On the other hand, I just noticed that somebody was leafblowing our front porch. Sure that this was a mistake of some kind, I went out to tell the person that they had the wrong house. When I opened the door, I saw about three guys in college facilities uniform blasting leaves away, with another team of about the same size working on a neighbor's lawn. Woohoo!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10,000

C was thinking out loud a couple days ago, "What is 100 times 100?" She thought a bit and said, "10,000." I don't know who or what to thank, but C is very comfortable with place value. Big numbers don't scare her.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas cards and photobooks

We finally started doing Christmas cards last night and I finished my last 5 this morning. The last three needed to be in Russian, which is why they got put off until last. My husband packed up the photobooks and took everything to the post office this afternoon. Our major Christmas work is done for now. We'll get a tree at the last minute (I hope) and decorate on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Different Minds Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is the final chapter of Deirdre Lovecky's Different Minds. It covers "Issues in the Assessment of Gifted Children with Attention Deficits." As usual, I'll pull out quotes in bold and put my thoughts in brackets. This is not a summary. It's a very dense book, but very worthwhile reading.

  • Generally, it is gifted boys from ages 8 to 14 who are referred [for AD/HD]. In earlier years, they were seen as good students who may not have finished assignments but did well anyway. At the time of referral, the gifted boy seems unmotivated. Grades are erratic and are related to how well the boy likes the subject, the teacher, the time of year, and other external factors since performance waxes and wanes.
  • Procrastination is a big piece of the problem as well [for gifted boys with AD/HD].
  • On the whole, gifted girls with AD/HD often present differently than gifted boys. Gifted girls are less likely to be hyperactive in elementary years, and more likely to compensate because they are so bright. They are less likely to be noticed as having difficulties. In worst-case scenarios, very gifted girls who are not hyperactive, but have AD/HD Inattentive Type, may appear average in achievement. Sometimes, symptoms appear minimal in gifted girls until they reach puberty. At that time, symptoms of AD/HD may increase (Nadeau et al. 1999). Certainly, as school work becomes more complex in upper grades, deficits in executive functions may be more of a problem for girls who have previously relied on their memory and rapid learning without having to study.
  • Gifted girls with AD/HD may initially present with symptoms of vague unhappiness and lack of stimulation in school, but they also can present symptoms that mask the AD/HD, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Gifted girls who have AD/HD Combined Type do show hyperactivity but may show less disruptiveness than boys.
  • Presenting symptoms [for gifted Asperger's kids] often include uncooperative behavior at home and at school, rigid thinking, need for sameness and routine, rigid adherence to routines, peculiar or narrow interests, and difficulty going with the flow of things at home or school. Presenting symptoms of children with AS focus on poor interpersonal skills, preoccupation with particular interests, motor clumsiness, and sensory integration deficits, in addition to deficits in executive function.
  • The brighter the child, the more likely it is that it will be difficult to diagnose the underlying causes of problems at school and home. Thus, gifted children often do require more assessment than more average children.
  • Because gifted children know so much, their evaluations will include more material: that is, they will reach material normally only administered to older children.
  • Gifted children with attention deficits may miss many easier items but get more difficult ones correct. [Lovecky suggests that test-givers should use different stopping procedures for these children when doing testing to make sure the child isn't just bored with easy problems.]
  • Many young, exceptionally bright children feel insulted by being asked very easy material. Some don't understand that the material is easy and look for a trick.
  • [...] on intelligence tests that break down tasks into domains, Borland and Wright (1994) suggested that the highest score is most likely the best estimate of ability. On tests that include factor scores, the highest factor score is the best estimate. This is especially important to bear in mind with gifted children with AD/HD, AS, and other learning and behavioral problems.
  • [Lovecky discusses the pros and cons of various tests at length.]
  • Gifted children with AS are more likely to be diagnosed with AS [than gifted kids with AD/HD are likely to to be diagnosed with AD/HD] if their symptoms are even moderate, but the emphasis is on their deficits and less on their strengths as gifted learners. Thus, children with AS with IQs as high as 200 can have significant special needs, yet also need advanced programming. On the other hand, gifted children with mild AS may not be diagnosed at all and may miss needed services for both social deficits and cognitive weaknesses.
  • A child with an IQ of 165, who scores average on a test of mental flexibility or planning and organization, has a huge deficit in these skills, and will likely have trouble in taking courses geared for older students who can perform at higher levels on those skills.
  • The gifted child [with AD/HD] may be very inattentive [at school] but the work is so easy that it can be completed with almost no effort, so inattention is not noted by teachers. It is only when the work becomes more challenging that the child's difficulties may come more into focus. However, some gifted children with AD/HD are able to function until high school, college, or even graduate school years.
  • Don't assume in middle school that children whose grades drop are suffering from poor motivation or too much social interest. That may be so, but poorer performance may also be the result of a learning or attention problem that has gone undetected because up to now the child could compensate.

Christmas party

Last night, all four of us went out to a Christmas-y grad potluck. The connections between the university and the kids' school are pretty close and complicated, as many things are in a medium-sized college town, and a number of grad students have wives who teach at the school or themselves teach there part-time. Our hostess was D's pre-K teacher (who was also his babysitter when we first moved to Texas). Also in attendance was a 1st grade teacher from the kids' school, as well as the grades 4-6 science teacher. I had the marvelous opportunity of chatting up the science teacher at length and hearing about the science program. The school being fairly young, the science curriculum is still in formation, and there's a lot of stuff to work out. I'm somewhat aware of science curriculum issues from having followed discussions at Kitchen Table Math, but it was very interesting to hear from the horse's mouth. There seem to be at least two major problems. First of all, you need lots of upper level math to be able to do real physics, and that math comes very late in a child's elementary career, but you'd still like to introduce physics concepts in the earlier grades. Secondly, the sequence of science courses is a major problem. Traditionally, American students do biology before chemistry. Unfortunately, as Katharine Beals discusses, this has the potential for turning biology into an exercise in rote vocabulary memorization. A third problem is the difficulty of finding rigorous yet grade-appropriate materials to use with 4-6 graders. I think they're going to do a good job on this, but it sounds really hard.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Different Minds Chapter 8

It's been a long time since I've done an installment of Deirdre Lovecky's Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndrome, and Other Learning Deficits but as I see that it is either that, my Christmas cards, or the gym, I'd best post a bit. Chapter 8 is on "Moral Development: Moral Reasoning and Compassion". Unfortunately, this chapter did not really grab me right away. Paging through the first half of the chapter, I see very few underlinings. Probably that's because I suspect that in real life, I wouldn't actually like the kids who are presented as being exquisitely sensitive little moral prodigies. Take for example Emily, who got dubbed "The Fairness Person" at her house. "If there was any issue about fairness, Emily was sure to be there giving her opinion about the best thing to do." Ugh. I am reminded of P. J. O'Rourke's words to his daughter:

I've got a 10-year-old at home. She's always saying, "That's not
fair." When she says this, I say, "Honey, you're cute. That's not fair. Your
family is pretty well off. That's not fair. You were born in America. That's not
fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don't start getting fair
for you."


Things get much more interesting in the sections on AD/HD and Asperger's children. As usual, I'm just pulling out the stuff that interests me. Quotes are in bold, my thoughts will generally be in brackets. Here we go:
  • The rapid responding of some gifted children with AD/HD can result in meeting challenges spontaneously and with great passion. This may be the best thing to do, and many such actions have benefited others, but it may also be a disaster if the action does not really suit the problem and is more the result of impulsivity. For example, Martha was saving her allowance to go on a school trip. She also heard about a campaign to raise money for the local food bank, so she donated all her money to the food bank. When it came time for the trip, Martha had too little money to go. What she had not considered in her generosity was how she'd feel being the only one not going on the trip. Martha hadn't intended to miss the trip, and she didn't really make the choice to give the money rather than go. She just had not considered the consequences.
  • Many gifted children with AD/HD are like Martha. They are compassionate and generous to a fault...It can also mean they are just as generous in early years with others' possessions as they are with their own.
  • Some gifted children with AD/HD suffer from a real deficit in being able to understand and apply the language of feelings either to themselves or others, and only intense affect is felt or noticed.
  • [Lovecky is concerned that violent video games desensitize AD/HD boys and make them even less empathetic. She worries that AS kids will never learn to be empathetic if they immerse themselves in violent games.]
  • Gifted children with AS have difficulty with empathy, especially in the immediate moment. Attwood (1998) suggested that the diagnostic criteria that people with AS lack empathy should not be taken to mean that they lack completely the ability to care for others; rather, they are confused by the emotions of others and have trouble expressing their own emotions.
  • While the literature does offer many examples of lack of empathy in children and adolescents with AS, it is important to recognize that some gifted children with AS are compassionate and want to help others, relieve suffering, and work for causes to aid animals and the environment just like other gifted children. [I suspect that many of the peculiarities of PETA's tactics are explained by the presence of many Aspie members with limited Theory of Mind abilities when dealing with human beings. Aspies not infrequently excel in forming an empathetic bond with animals.]
  • Separate the teaching of empathy skills from the teaching of compassion. This will enable the gifted child with AS to focus more readily on the goal of caring about suffering. [Very good. While eventually these two strands should come together, teaching a gifted AS child abstract ethics and moral rules is quite different from teaching interpersonal empathy, where the child will need to learn to monitor interlocutors' non-verbal communication.]
  • Because of their problems with intensity, behavioral and emotional reactivity, impulsivity, and sensitivity, gifted children with AD/HD have more difficulty than gifted children without AD/HD in learning to be tactful. To be tactful requires being able to put a feeling on hold, wait for an opportunity to act, think ahead about how to say something and think about the ramifications. With an impulsive style, this is almost impossible for the child.
  • The literature suggests that children with AS have the ability to respond to moral precepts. Gillberg (2002) suggested that people with AS can appear quite undisturbed by the suffering of those near to them, but can be deeply involved in ethical, moral, and philosophical issues. Some also fight for particular causes. However, while these children have high moral standards, they can be rather rigid about their beliefs, and then make decisions based on these beliefs which may not fit the situation.
  • Ozonoff et al. (2002) suggested that because adolescence is a time of ambiguity, especially in social situations, children with AS tend to develop rigid moral and religious beliefs as a way of coping.
  • On the whole, people with AS are very much guided by rules. Once they know a rule, they will follow it.
  • However, gifted children with AS may disregard rules they think are silly or that they cannot follow.
  • [Asperger's kids are generally extremely honest and scrupulously avoid lying, cheating and stealing, although there is a subgroup of mostly high-IQ, impulsive Asperger's/AD/HD kids who are less honest and rule-oriented.]
  • Some gifted children with AS have long memories for negative events that occur. They can obsess over the incident, bringing it up over and over and asking the same question each time.

Laundry

I have (very temporarily, I'm sure) got to the bottom of my laundry baskets (I generally have at least three heaping baskets waiting for my attention).

Today is the first day in about a week that the kids have both gone to school. Counting today, they have 5.5 days until Christmas break.

North/South Pole confusion

D says: If Santa was real, his sleigh would be pulled by penguins.

In other news, my husband and the kids made green jello unicorns, reindeer heads, and a T-rex skeleton last night. We weren't able to get the molded jello out in good order, but a good time was had by all.

I've finally finished listening to The Two Towers and am just starting Return of the King. The Frodo-Sam-and-Gollum sections of LOTR are not my favorite, so I was having motivation problems with going to the gym.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

C's closets

C and I cleaned her both her closets today (yes, it's a pretty big room). The kids have been home mildly sick a bunch lately and yesterday they went on an Inspector Gadget cartoon binge on Hulu. I'm not sure exactly how this happened, but by the end of yesterday, C had watched 15 or so 22 minute episodes. I'm not that wily, but I am slowly learning that whenever the kids ask for something, I need to make sure there is a quid pro quo. This morning C and I cleaned one closet (lots of necklace and rosary detangling) and then she got to watch Inspector Gadget. This evening after dinner we did the same thing with her other closet. This time, C was able to sort out a number of items (Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, a doctor kit, an inflatable globe ball and a pink doll stroller) for D. C's closets are now immaculate. That leaves a number of other problem areas in her room, but I'm hoping we'll finish work over the next week or two. And then there's D's room...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tropical muffins

Last night my husband made some muffins based on a tropical muffin recipe from the October/November issue of Mother Earth News. The muffins contain some whole wheat flour, coconut milk, shredded coconut, applesauce and pineapple chunks. They were slightly dry, but we big people liked them. The kids mainly objected to the pineapple chunks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chair lift

C and I were talking about our Christmas ski trip last night and I was describing the maneuvering necessary to ride and get off a chair lift safely. C wanted to know if there are seat belts and got worried when told there aren't. Now I'm a bit worried, too. Not so much about C falling out of the chair, but more about her dropping mittens and rented ski poles all over the mountain while she's in all-day ski school.

D spells

D just came up to me with some magnetic letters arranged on a cookie sheet. "Does this spell 'daughter'?" he asked, displaying the word "dodr".

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hansel and Gretel cooky playhouse

Yes, dear readers, that is how they spell "cookie" in our reprint of the 1955 Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book for the Hostess & Host of tomorrow. C and I went grocery shopping this afternoon. C's primary mission was to get supplies for making the "Hansel and Gretel cooky playhouse". We chose Goya mango wafers for the walls, lemon frosting, Oreos and fig bars for the roof, and gum drops, sprinkles, and jelly beans for decoration. C was very eager to get to work. I let her work by herself initially, but after a major collapse, I appointed myself building inspector. We used the mango wafers very much as if they were LEGOS or Lincoln Logs, taking care to use lots of lemon frosting to glue everything together. The house was small enough that we were able to use mango wafers as the first layer of roofing, followed by the Oreos, then the fig bars. I plastered the house with lemon frosting and then C decorated it with the jelly beans, sprinkles, and gum drops. My husband and D were out for an astronomy trip, so we put the house straight in the fridge. We'll be eating it tomorrow, hopefully.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kumon critique

I've written before how much I like Kumon's Geometry & Measurement workbook series. I still like it, but I think they need to spell things out a bit more clearly. Take for example p. 65, exercise 4 in the 2nd grade Geometry & Measurement workbook. This section deals with triangles and quadrilaterals and is the fourth page in the geometry section. This is not super challenging material, except for the fact that they nowhere give a definition of what a triangle or a quadrilateral is. So, when in exercise 4 C encountered figures with three or four points, but with curved lines or incomplete sides, she didn't have the background information to know that they were not in fact triangles or quadrilaterals. Bad, bad Kumon!

Cookout

We all went down the street tonight to a cookout (mainly for students) run by our neighbors. We had a chance to admire our neighbors' outdoor decorations (large inflatable penguin, un-Martha-Stewartish colored lights, red candy canes marking the sidewalk, etc.) on the way there. At our hosts' house, burgers were grilled, guitars were played (both carols and Freebird), and Smores were made in the backyard. Our kids socialized with the host kids and all the kids were very good. The temperature was in the low 30s--we had real, unmistakable snow earlier today, much to the delight of undergraduate Texans. Our family left to put D to bed after C's first Smore (D is generally suspicious of gooey white things).

37 degrees

Last night there was a fraternity and sorority sponsored outdoor Christmas party on campus with a petting zoo, pony rides, carriage rides, a living nativity with actual camels and a donkey, bell ringers, and a hot chocolate pavilion. The kids did the petting zoo and got pony rides, but we scooted home because it was pretty cold (OK, cold for Texas).

This morning, my outdoor thermometer read 36.9 degrees. The kids' usual fleece was not going to do the job. I pulled out the kids' ski parkas out of my ski trip box and sent them to school in parkas and fleece mittens, along with warnings to keep track of their mittens (truth be told, I actually have a large drawer packed with fleece and knit mittens from our years up north). I probably wouldn't have bought parkas this year if it weren't for the big ski trip to British Columbia after Christmas, so that worked out well. D hasn't been to school for two weeks and was actually pretty eager. C's class is getting slushies from Sonic today as a reward for good behavior. I hope that gets commuted to hot chocolate. In fact, I think I'm going to email C's teacher right now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stitches

We all went to the pediatrician's after school. D had his stitches out and both kids got their H1N1 nasal mist vaccine. We need to do a follow up dose in a month. I'm supposed to continue with antibiotic creme on D's scar for another week and then start using either Vitamin E oil or Mederma, in the hope that the scar will gradually fade.

Canned good collection

We just got a visit from some caroling canned good collectors. It was a dozen or so fraternity and sorority members, belting out Joy to the World.

Mornings

For whatever reason, C has been hard to budge the past couple mornings. Yesterday I was trying to feed the kids breakfast when the following conversation took place:

Me (to C): You don't want to be late to school!

[C leaves for her room to get dressed.]

D (to me from high chair): I suspect she does want to be late.

Hummingbirds

After watching and rewatching a Nature video on birds, the kids (especially C) have been playing hummingbird. Playing hummingbird requires sticking a straw in your mouth and flitting about. It also requires sugar water, which is why I've been putting my foot down.

The photobooks are ordered

Last night, my husband set me up on the Walgreen's site and I got to work formatting the photobook that we will be giving to the family. I got so into it that when it got time for dinner, I sent my husband to the cafeteria with the kids so I could finish up. It went much faster than expected. I really like being able to type in captions, the formatting options, and the choice of backgrounds. It's scrapbooking for the non-crafty. We ordered 10 copies, including one for us. We have decided to wait to do video work until next year, when we will have more material to choose from.

This leaves Christmas cards, a few individual gifts, and then a massive packing and mailing operation to get all of this stuff to the right people.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blue dog

Yesterday, I got a rather desperate letter from my popular blue dog congressman, reminding his Texas constituents that he voted against the healthcare reform bill. That was news to me. The last I heard, he was using the clever stalling tactic of telling constituents that he was still reading the bill. Today, I got a flyer from him (which I did not open) with some stuff on the front about strengthening the economy and lowering the deficit. People around here love the guy (our elderly neighbors on both sides of us had yard signs up for him last year), but I suspect this has been a rough year for our blue dog.