Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Joy of Proficiency

For past two springs, the mailman has brought a copy of a copy of a copy of a letter from the local school system.

The original names and dates on it are always whited out and the new ones are scrawled in by hand, but each time the message is always the same:

Your daughter needs to go to summer school.

That letter won't come this year, though, because according to Thing 1's last report card her reading skills are now, and I quote, "proficient."

It's been a long struggle for my little girl. It's been even more of a struggle for me.

Reading and writing, for whatever reason, came quite easily for me as a child (though poor typing, lazy spelling and the difficulty of proofing my own work continue to do me in as an adult). It shouldn't have, according to today's parenting experts, because I seem to recall spending most of my preschool days watching Gilligan and Maxwell Smart, wearing knees out on my pants from playing Hot Wheels and sitting in a beauty parlor for hours every week, drinking tea with too much Coffee-Mate in it while my Mom got her hair done.

So flash forward three decades or so and there's me, lying in bed next to Thing 1, getting verbally and physically exasperated. We'd read the same book every night for a week and every night, she'd read some word like "going" on the first line of a page, then struggle to pronounce it the next six times it appeared in the story.

We tried flash cards. Hit and miss.

We tried Hooked on Phonics. This drove us both nuts with the annoying repetitive songs and whatnot. After a few tries, we hide it in the living room closet. (However, it may work for you! Buy it used from me now on Amazon -- kindergarten and first-grade editions!)

Eventually, she was sent to summer school. Three hours a day for four weeks. Thing 1 told me that they talked a lot about feelings and civic responsibility in class. The school assures me that was part of the curriculum and that she was not accidentally mixed into a juvenile delinquent rehab class. I still have doubts.

The turning point came last year in second grade, for several reasons I think.

One, she had a couple of her best buds in class to share the pain of learning. For whatever reason, she ended up with only one of the 25 kids from her kindergarten class in first grade. Given her shyness around new people, that just added to battle. The bully who wouldn't assign her a role in the playground pretend games didn't help either. (Ed. Note: Thing 1 says she now handles this boy by chasing him around the playground threatening to kiss him.)

Two, her second-grade teacher was a good one who had a firm hand on the class. She needed it with a couple of those kids, whom I had to physically stop from trying to maim a squirrel with their bare hands on a field trip once.

Third, we hired one of the other teachers at school to tutor Thing 1 once a week. I think the extra attention -- alone with an adult who knows how to teach as opposed to a dad who, at this point, knows mostly how to go "Aarrrrrrgh! Why don't you get this?" -- helped her turn the corner.

And now, she is "proficient."

Papa's proud of you, girl.

Though he's also glad you're not that much better at reading, given the incident I'm posting about Tuesday on See y'all there.


  1. You go, girl!

    My son went to summmer school a couple of years in Junior High mainly because he wouldn't do homework. He would ace the tests and finals, but wouldn't do homework.

    A couple summers of summer school cured that little problem...

  2. How wonderful for Thing 1! What a relief it has to be for all of you. We're still battling this matter in our house, and tomorrow, my (very young) sixth grader starts a reading program in school that (pardon me while I yell a moment) WE WERE JUST TOLD OF FOUR WEEKS AGO DESPITE BEGGING FOR HELP FOR HIM EVERY YEAR SINCE FOURTH GRADE!!!

    deep breath...

    He's proficient to a degree, but then he takes four steps back. As a reader and writer who can't seem to help him, I want him to 'get this' so much.

    I won't go on and on. This is your blog. Just know I'm delighted for your girl, and imagine this will help open up whole new worlds for her.

  3. Very nice story. Reminds me of when I was trying to teach my husand how to drive stick shift. It took 2 years, and he still couldn't do it. Finally, we brought in a disinterested third party, who taught him in 2 afternoons!

  4. Congratulations to Thing 1! So glad that all of her hard work paid off.

    Ahhh, those first grade days of Kissing Cooties........Brings back playground memories.

  5. CarolNab - He aced everything and still sent him to summer school? Hard-ass school system you have.

    Teahouse - Another man who can't drive stick learns the ropes. I'm an endangered species, right?

    Mom of 2 - He obviously isn't aware of the power of "circle, circle, dot dot dot."

  6. Relief is just a tutor away. I don't know if there is anything to this - my kids are grown and gone and I still wonder about this - but for some reason, no matter how hard I tried to teach them stuff, they only "got it" from someone else.

    I taught ice skating for years to probably hundreds of kids before I had them. Do you think I could teach either one of them? Nope. I had to sign them up for a class. Aha, magically they learned from someone else. I could write a list of things, including reading, that followed this same scenario. I was perfectly qualified, had taught many others, but despite experience and the patience of Job, I couldn't teach my own kids. I had to continue teaching others just to pay for the tutors for my own!

  7. My son's been pretty good with learning to fact, he's been AWESOME...but even with him, having the patience for him to learn his letters and the sounds of his letters so that he could read was HARD for me.

    Mind you, I was a Nazi pushing him at the age of 2 1/2! Oops?

    I feel the fact that you are so aware of it and tried all your means that you could...puts you up there as a pretty great parent! :)

    So good for her to find a way that makes it work for her! :)

    And glad she found out the universal way for women to get mens attention! :) Threaten to kiss them!

  8. I feel your pain - our 11 yr old had the same issues, except with math. She's been in math support since second grade. She fell so far behind that she did not make goal in the 3rd grade CMT's, so she went to Sylvan for most of 4th grade (major $$$$!) and was tutored for the last two summers. She made goal for 5th grade CMT's, and actually consistently got C's this year. Believe me, we're happy!

  9. good for her! some things just don't come easily for some people. and not everyone is academically inclined. and everyone learns so differently.

    my older daughter has a lot of trouble with this. yet my youngest came out of me reading; no one even taught her.

    glad you were able to find a way to help her. it can be very frustrating on all sides.

  10. Glad things are going well!

    However, if such a problem ever comes up again (for you or any of your readers), I recommend "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". Sig will teach you how to teach while teaching the kids how to read. I love his premise that while developing the program, if there was something that didn't work it was *his* fault or the lesson's fault, not the kid's fault.

  11. My second grade daughter is way better at math than I am, so now I am finally getting to learn something.

  12. Whoo Hooooooo!!! Way to go. I have never been that great of a reader so I can empathize. Way to rock it out.

  13. if there were so many kids from Kindergarten and 1st grade in summer school with less than proficient skills, does that say something , perhaps, about the teacher and not the kids??

    oh well, whatever has past has past - as long as she is where she needs to be now, I guess that's all that matters.

  14. HOORAY!! That's a big relief, I'm sure. Does your school do special pull-out reading groups with volunteers? My daughter's been reading in one of these all years and her progress has been unbelievable.

  15. LIZ - It does. Thing 1 was getting some of that extra help last year, too. Thanks for reminding me.

  16. Not that I want to nitpick, but the special group is for kids who are proficient or better, but who would benefit from extra reading time or extra attention. My needy kid happens to need both. What's nice about the group is that the volunteer is trained to use the strategies and techniques that the teachers are using, so it's consistent. It appears to be highly motivating and rewarding and if there is such a thing at your school, T1 should definitely participate.

    Anyway, methinks it's time you forked over the DS. And maybe some diamonds :). It's a big deal and should be celebrated grandly. IMO.

  17. It so often comes down to the right person for the right job. I'm really glad for Thing 1 that it all worked out.

  18. The reading thing is tough. My five year old is already working his way through Dostoevsky but I can tell my 3 year old will prefer using books as building blocks or lighting them on fire. What do you do?

  19. Congrats on your hard work paying off! Now Thing 1 will fully experience the thing called "boredom" that all other kids get to experience come summer.

  20. Awesome! I'm proficient too! And I'm 36! How cool! And I use too many exclamation marks!

  21. Congratulations to Thing 1!

    Language has always come easily to me, too, so I think I'm in for the same kind of frustration in teaching my children, even if they keep doing as well as they have so far.

    What can I say? I'm an impatient S.O.B.

  22. We had to send Hippie to Sylvan at the end of 1st grade because she was reading below grade level even though she was considered a gifted child by the school system. When she was tested last year in 7th grade she was reading at a 12+ level. She just needed that extra help to get started, and no matter how hard Yankee and I tried, we couldn't give it to her. It took paying someone else to do it.

  23. Congrats to you both!

    Sometimes it doesn't matter how you get someplace, as long as you get there.

  24. Oh, reading. Well first, we homeschool, so I've spent the better part of 2 years banging my head into a wall convinced that I suck at this and I've doomed my daughter to a life flipping burgers b/c she can't read. She is also ending 2nd grade and it has seemed to 'click' this year---she isn't curling up with 300 page books like one of her closest friends, but she is doing ok. I think it just takes longer to 'click' for some kids.

    I'm glad it's 'clicked' for your daughter too.

  25. Yay for Thing 1! I will remember this in 6 or 7 years when little BBF is having issues and HB and I can't understand how our smart little kid doesn't "get it."

  26. Good for her and for you in realizing the need for a tutor. Our youngest struggled as well and a one on one with a teacher helped imensely.

    Proficent is the word for the day...

  27. I'm happy for you all...but, I have to say, you should have let those little deliquents maim the squirrel.


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