A letter I'm not going to send. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 19 Old 05-04-2012, 05:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I typed up this email to my son's school principle. I'm not going to send it, at least not right now. My son is in 4th grade in a full time gifted program. He skipped 1st grade so is young for grade. My son's grades have been horrible this year due to a number of late and missing assignments. The 1st 3/4th of the year my son missed 20+ days of school due to stomach issues (probably an ulcer caused by dealing with bullying. We have addressed the bullying and the issue has been resolved).

 

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Mrs. XXXXXX,

 
We have been seriously considering removing DS from the XXXX. As your aware he has had issues these past three years in this program with focus and with executive function skills such as organization and and keeping track of things. The focus has improved significantly. However, the XXXXXX has higher expectation of independent organization from the kids than other schools and DS simply has lower than normal ability to do these sorts of tasks resulting in a very wide gulf between the expectation and his ability. 
 
I think some of it is maturity. Though I'm pretty sure, at age 35, I couldn't manage the level of ability to keep myself on task, organized, and prepared that the school expects of these kids. The XXXXX clearly caters to a population of "high achievers" rather than simply a gifted population and clearly the majority of kids can manage these skills. Though having trouble with these sorts of things is quite common in gifted learners, some people are better at these skills than others. I would expect a school that specializes in gifted learner to be able to teach these skills as issues with it is so common in this demography.

I, personally, am not great at these skill. As an adult I am able to structure my own day and my own environment at work and home for my success. He doesn't have those options and I clearly lack the skills to teach him some of these executive function skills he needs or he would have learned them by now. I can give him support while he tries to learn these skills within the confines of the school structure and can help him with lots of things at home. But that's not enough without support and instruction from the school.Clearly the XXXXXXX is unable to provide him the support he needs to be successful.
 
I hesitate to remove him from the XXXXXX for several reasons. One is mainly social. He has many good friends and enjoys his peers at the XXXXX. The other is academic. He is quite capable of doing the academics required of him. For a matter of fact he is often under-challenged at the XXXXXXX as the issues he has keep him out of learning things at his level at times (An example would be being placed in a lower Math group in 3rd not because he wasn't getting the Math, but instead because he wasn't focusing well. And I suspect subsequently being placed in a lower Math group this year dispute the ability to do more. He's coasted through Math this year, and has for his entire academic career.) It's also not reasonable to make a decision about next year based on this year due to the fact that he has been ill so very often this year. Additionally this is the last year before middle school and I hate to make him adjust to a change in school twice in two years.
 
Every year I start out thinking that this is the year it will all come together. This is the year that DS will be successful. We never seem to get there.
 
Since this is an issue we are still torn on, we have decided to work with DS over the summer and send him to 5th grade at the XXXXXX despite our reservations. We are going to reevaluate this decision at conference time next year. If he's not  successful in school at that point in time we will be looking at if a different academic environment would be a better choice.
 
I thought it was only fair to let you know where we were at and what our thoughts were as DS's grades this year may be making you question the appropriate placement for him next year as well.
 
Sincerely,
 
JollyGG and husband

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#2 of 19 Old 05-04-2012, 07:16 PM
 
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I could have written this letter to every school my two kids have ever attended!  It can be so frustrating to try to figure out how best to meet their needs, huh?


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#3 of 19 Old 05-05-2012, 05:57 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

 

If we end up pulling him next year I may send an amended version of it. His best friends at the school's parents are also thinking of pulling him. They are hesitantly going to give it a try next year as well. If they end up pulling him, we will likely go with.

 

I think just really anxious about next year. The two options for teachers he could get make me nervous. One he had for science this year. He was not very understanding when DS was ill and wouldn't send work home, his assignments tend to be overly complex and confusing (the reason is best friend is not doing well), and the two or three times I've asked him to meet with me has told me he doesn't have time. The other is the teacher he had in third grade. She was sweet as can be but didn't seem to know quite what to do with him. She's the one who moved him to too low a math group because she didn't know how to help him keep focused.

 

We also just had a miserable week at home trying to get caught up on work. He had two big long term projects due last week and had problems getting everything organized, kept track of, and together, and didn't get them handed in. We made it through the big assignments last weekend with me helping him keep organized. But despite staying in from recess every recess every day all week he's still not completed a simple swelling assignment that is two weeks over due.

 

Sigh.

 

Don't you wish parenting gifted kids was as easy as the rest of the world seems to think it is?

 

My husband is getting a new phone later this month and we are thinking or putting some organization apps on his old Droid phone and letting DS use it as a planner. Put reminders for things like turn in homework at 8:05 every morning. Anyone have any good apps they suggest?


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#4 of 19 Old 05-05-2012, 05:58 AM - Thread Starter
 
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What are your best tips for helping a kid who has a really hard time with executive function skills?


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#5 of 19 Old 05-05-2012, 01:29 PM
 
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What are your best tips for helping a kid who has a really hard time with executive function skills?

Heavy reliance on external organization -- daily, weekly, monthly planners for assignments and projects. And a daily routine for schoolwork. And break down big projects into smaller steps, and schedule the smaller steps.

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#6 of 19 Old 05-05-2012, 03:28 PM
 
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Are you sure the other kids are really so much better at all this than your son is, doing it all by themselves? And that it isn't mostly the parents behind them keeping track of everything? And really, isn't reminding 9yo kids to turn in their homework every morning the teacher's job?

 

I can't remember having to do long-term projects on my own before high school. I still struggle with executive skills and focus in my home and my job, badly. I compensated with intelligence all the way up to law school, then I almost folded. I almost folded, again, in my first "real" job  - other than research assistant in university which I guess is a place where a lot of people with high IQs and low executive skills end up and may get stuck without ever going anywhere; I am glad I got out when I realized I was never going to be organized and motivated enough to finish my PhD and joined the "real world" with "real" assignments and deadlines, but God was I ever overwhelmed at first. I kinda muddle through now, sort of like you have described, trying to adjust my workplace as much as possible to my needs.

 

Not sure what my point is actually but I just wanted to give you some support -  your child is not alone, you are not alone. I am sure that you are giving him all the props he needs to develop these skills but he may just need more help as in doing what you can for him at home, and hope he'll somehow muddle his way through school until middle school and the new challenges that transition brings (I understand this school only goes up to 5th or 6th grade?) It isn't fair to expect the same maturity of him that you expect of kids who are two years older, but they are expecting it so you may have to work around it, and help as much as you can, even if the school tells you not to, ie cheat if you have to.

I seem to remember that you were worried that even though by academic standards your son isn't even challenged, he might be asked to leave due to bad grades resulting from his lack of organization, was that in another thread or forum maybe? Wouldn't they just let him muddle through as long as he wasn't actually failing exams or tests?

I think you are putting too much pressure on yourself and your child to expect every year that this year, things are going to fall magically into place. THey probably won't. It'll just get better, slowly and incrementally, and it might keep him from working at his level for a while. Frankly, I still think it keeps me from working at my level and I wish someone had made me work on my executive skills before I was 30. Or that the public sector I work in hadn't cut down so much on their support staff, making even the executive positions keep track of everything themselves. Actually, now that they have introduced electronic workflow systems I actually manage much better, because electronic systems correspond much better to the order I keep in my head - the transition time was probably worst for people like us. I just can't keep order in real life, so my desk is a mess, but my electronic filing is all right. I still wish I had a super efficient secretary but I make do.

 

He will find his way.


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#7 of 19 Old 05-05-2012, 05:56 PM
 
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Originally Posted by JollyGG View Post

What are your best tips for helping a kid who has a really hard time with executive function skills?

 

Ha!  I still haven't learned the secret.  It seems like every year since ds1 (now finishing junior year in HS) was in about 3rd grade or so, I have the same conversation with the teacher:

 

Me:  "Ds has a great deal of difficulty with executive function.  How can we work together to help him develop these skills?"

 

Teacher:  "By 3rd grade/4th grade/7th grade, etc..., we expect kids to have already developed these skills.  He needs to just do it on his own."

 

Me:  "Yeah, ok, but he hasn't and he can't, so..."

 

Repeat each August, now with ds2 bc ds1 is too old for me to argue with his teachers anymore.  :(


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#8 of 19 Old 05-06-2012, 03:18 PM
 
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Smart but Scattered is a good books for these issues. It will convince you (even more) that the expectations for executive function are too high,but will also point out why the way they've been taught didn't work (supports were withdrawn too soon.)

More constructive than that letter might be to write the principal a significantly more brief letter. In it outline your DS' weaknesses (*gently* explaining the consequences of these weaknesses on math placement -- without blaming the current teacher) and outline your goals for him next year, and ask that he be placed with a teacher with experience successfully building executive function skills in kids.
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#9 of 19 Old 05-06-2012, 03:51 PM
 
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I wouldn't send any letter at all.  It will be perceived as an attack, possibly personal.  Just have a face to face meeting if you need to talk about a specific issue. 


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#10 of 19 Old 05-06-2012, 04:48 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I wouldn't send any letter at all.  It will be perceived as an attack, possibly personal.  Just have a face to face meeting if you need to talk about a specific issue. 

The title of my thread clearly mentioned that I don't intend to actually send the letter. I'm just frustrated. Both that my son doesn't have these skills and that the school that claims to work with a gifted population has no patience with this common issue among gifted kids. I'm anxious about next year and I'm trying to figure out what I can do for my son over the summer to better prepare my son for 5th grade in the fall. Plus, I just want my son to learn these skills and need to figure out how to give him the tools to succeed.

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Smart but Scattered is a good books for these issues. It will convince you (even more) that the expectations for executive function are too high,but will also point out why the way they've been taught didn't work (supports were withdrawn too soon.)

I have this book in my Amazon wish list. Next payday I'll actually get it purchased. I may see if our library has it in the meantime. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Ha!  I still haven't learned the secret.  It seems like every year since ds1 (now finishing junior year in HS) was in about 3rd grade or so, I have the same conversation with the teacher:

 

Me:  "Ds has a great deal of difficulty with executive function.  How can we work together to help him develop these skills?"

 

Teacher:  "By 3rd grade/4th grade/7th grade, etc..., we expect kids to have already developed these skills.  He needs to just do it on his own."

 

Me:  "Yeah, OK, but he hasn't and he can't, so..."

 

Repeat each August, now with ds2 bc ds1 is too old for me to argue with his teachers anymore.  :(

This made me smile. Probably, because I'm already familiar with the conversation. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone in this. Sometimes it seems like everyone else's gifted kids are doing amazing things, and I can't even get mine to turn in his homework. It helps to know others have the same issues.

 

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He will find his way.

I need the reassurance and to know that we aren't alone. I really identified with being a somewhat scattered adult raising a somewhat scattered kid. I rely heavily on my calendars and planners and on the good nature of my ADHD boss who is understanding of my occasional slips as long as they are only occasional because he struggles with these skills as well. I have figured out how to make it work for the most part (ignore the Christmas presents in my living room I still haven't mailed). I just have to use a lot of external tools to make my life work. Now I just need to figure out how to better outfit him with the tools he needs. Your post also made me realize that DS has made improvements. It's just the expectations keep improving faster than his skills are. But he is really getting better at these things. Thanks.

 

 

I think we are going to try getting him a cheap tablet and putting calengoo to track tasks and events from his google calendar on it over the summer and see if we can't get him used to using a checklist and such. Using google tools allows his father and I check up, and add tasks and events as needed from wherever we are as well. If it works out we may ask his teacher in the fall to allow him to keep it in class as an electronic organizer (with no games on it). He needs a new ereader and it will function as that as well. He had a cheap ereader my parents gave him and I accidentally knocked it off of his desk and the dogs ate it. So I promised to replace it.

 

We are also going to work on handwriting over the summer for a couple of reasons. One - it will keep him in the habit of doing homework, hopefully making the transition in the fall easier. Two - he has been resistant to doing assignments when the teacher requires it to be in cursive and this will help him get over that hurdle. Three - writing in general is his weakest area and if we can shore that up it will help him have an easier time doing all his other work.

 

I think I'm just really anxious because I'm not thrilled about ether teacher he might get in the fall. One is his science teacher this year and has proven to be a bit of a hard a**. He's rather strict and seems to expect the kids to just magically have skills such as note taking without teaching these skills to them, then gets upset and sends out an email to all the parents blaming the classes poor grades on the 1st test on the fact that the students didn't take good notes, or study well enough from their notes for the test.The few times I've tried to set up meetings with him he's been unavailable to meet with me (once to discuss how I can help in the classroom as a scientist, once to discuss how to get my son caught up from a lot of missing classes, and once to discuss issues I had with an assignment). The other teacher is very nice. DS had her in 3rd grade. She recognizes the issues he has but doesn't seem to know what to do to help. She's also the teacher who tended to mistake executive function problems with lack of ability and kept moving him to easier groups when his focus wondered (when he actually needed more challenge to keep his attention). So he didn't get much academically out of 3rd in her classroom.

 

I'm also frustrated because dealing with a kid with poor executive function skills is simply frustrating. Dealing with getting work caught up. Frequent reminders. Constant follow up...........


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#11 of 19 Old 05-06-2012, 05:00 PM
 
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Our library has a copy of the book. The request list was 12 deep. With a 4 week loan period, I bought the book. I'm glad to have it as it's one of the only parenting books I've ever encountered that seem to apply to my kid. It's worth buying.
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#12 of 19 Old 05-07-2012, 02:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think we are also going to send our son to a tutoring center to work on writing over the summer. His teachers biggest complaint this year has been that he won't just put pencil to paper and get started when he has an assignment. He's on grade level with writing, but it always has been his weakest area. My reading says that this is an issue of executive function as much as the disorganization, follow through, and forgetting things. But hopefully they can help him get the steps to writing down well enough to help past the issue.

 

We thought about doing this tutoring center last year in the fall, but decided not to, mostly due to the cost of it. I think it's time to move forward with it. Luckily we recently paid a bunch of stuff off, and will pay still more off this month. Hopefully we will have the money free in our budget by July.


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#13 of 19 Old 05-10-2012, 11:37 PM
 
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Not instead but in addition to, I really liked The Myth of Laziness. There is a short chapter on executive function that might be a good read to pass along to the teacher, if you get the sweet but mystified one. The attitude is, "Let's assume it really is hard for the child, that even behavioral problems are likely learning issues presenting as behavior, and, hey, while we're at it, let's try to see which specific pieces the child needs help with. Here are some strategies." Not a new idea to me, but refreshing to see it stated so unapologetically in a mainstream book.

 

Heather

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#14 of 19 Old 05-11-2012, 09:55 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Not instead but in addition to, I really liked The Myth of Laziness. There is a short chapter on executive function that might be a good read to pass along to the teacher, if you get the sweet but mystified one. The attitude is, "Let's assume it really is hard for the child, that even behavioral problems are likely learning issues presenting as behavior, and, hey, while we're at it, let's try to see which specific pieces the child needs help with. Here are some strategies." Not a new idea to me, but refreshing to see it stated so unapologetically in a mainstream book.

 

Heather

Thanks for this. I was searching for something short and sweet that summarized the issue and some simple tools to help in the classroom. I will get a hold of the book to take a look.


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#15 of 19 Old 05-12-2012, 08:08 AM
 
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Just trying to give you my honest opinion.  I would not send that letter either.  I think it's very cathartic and helpful for you to put it down on paper, but it reads like a threat but with no specific action items.  To me, it's confrontational and not clear what you are asking from the school.  It's clear that you are upset and trying to explain your son's grades to them so they are aware.  But what do you want from the school?  

 

sorry - now I re-read the title.  You're not planning to send this.  Still, it might be helpful to think about what you want the school to do to help you.  

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#16 of 19 Old 05-12-2012, 09:43 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I do appreciate all the posts about how to better support my child's executive function, reading suggestions, and suggestions for reading materials to share with his school and teacher. This board is often very good at getting to the heart of what someone really needs when they vent and I thank everyone who saw that I just really need to 1. Know I'm not alone, there are other families having similar issues. 2. Need ideas on how to better support my child. 3. Could use some ideas for how to constructively work with the school this fall.

 

Thanks to everyone who was constructive.

 

"Smart But Scattered" just became available from our library and I need to pick it up from on hold this afternoon. I also just placed "The Myth of Laziness" on hold and will hopefully have a chance to read it soon.


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#17 of 19 Old 05-17-2012, 12:29 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for the "Smart but Scattered" suggestion. I'm only two chapters in but love it already and have recommended it several times.

 

I also got "The Myth of Laziness". I haven't gotten terribly far in it, but it's on the reading list next. 


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#18 of 19 Old 05-17-2012, 03:35 PM
 
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Thank you for the "Smart but Scattered" suggestion. I'm only two chapters in but love it already and have recommended it several times.

 

Thanks also from me. I'm just barely in (I may or may not be "smart but scattered" myself redface.gif), but it's reassuring and, more importantly, helpful. DS1 is only four, but I see a lot of myself in him, and if I can help him get off the ground in some areas, he'll be able to do a whole lot more with his abilities than I could/can. love.gif


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#19 of 19 Old 11-08-2012, 01:58 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I was looking through my old posts and saw this. I thought I would update.

 

DS is doing great this year. I talked to a number of other parents and last year was just a really bad year all around for all of the kids. My son's teacher was ill and they had a mix of 1/2 day subs and full day subs, added to the fact that they had a different teacher for social studies, and another different one for science. It was just way to much for most of the kids. The kids were all struggling with increased executive function expectation, decreased structure (due to the teachers illness), and everything ended up as a mess. Basically, the expectation may have been realistically increased for the move to 4th grade. But they weren't realistically increased for the move to 4th grade and a revolving door of substitute teachers.

 

This year he is doing fantastic. There are a couple of things that have helped.

1. His teachers have realistic expectations. They see an occasional late assignment as something that is age appropriate and needs to be worked on. They interact really well with the kids and communicate expectation clearly. I was pretty nervous about his teacher. He got the one that was his science teacher last year. The other 5th grade teacher is new and he has her for social studies and math. His primary teacher still isn't great at the parental communication, but he's really good with DS.

2. He comes home from school after school every day. I decided he was finally old enough to come home after school alone (both my husband and I work). There are a couple of neighbors who keep an eye on him. This gives him a couple of hours to do his homework without distraction (or only the ones he himself makes). I check that it got done when we get home. It's working so much better. 

3. We did do some math and handwriting over the summer. It kept him just enough in the habit that he didn't have to get in the habit again once school started.

4. We designed a reward system for getting homework done and handed in. It's currently getting phased out, but seemed to motivate him long enough to establish good habits.

 

We just had conferences and while he's still not a perfect student it went well. 


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