Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Hard is Too Hard

Let me start this by saying something I think is pretty obvious: I have smart kids, specifically, today, we are discussing the smartness of Brynna.

Brynna is a smart kid. She can pick up and read just about anything, and given ten minutes with nothing going on and she probably will. She's blown her first term reading goal out of the water and she's still got about 40% of the term to go.

She routinely gets perfect and near perfect scores on spelling, which is, to this day, the bane of my existence. Seriously, I am constantly trying to spell something and when I was her age, I considered it a banner day if I only missed a quarter of the words.

Science and social studies are non issues. She's never floundered even slightly in those subjects (because they are amazingly compelling to her and you don't get to do much with them in the early years around here).

And then there's math. I sucked at math. Until algebra. When I started doing algebra, suddenly things made sense and I never really struggled with math again. (As a non-math person. High school calculus was as far as I went, so you know, take that with a grain of salt.) But Brynna doesn't. She's good at math. She gets it, she doesn't struggle, she understands.

She is slow as molasses in a snowstorm in January.

This year, a great deal of emphasis is being put on speed and memorization in math. They have timed tests once a week on "math facts." I'm pretty sure math facts wasn't even a thing when I was in school. And the only thing I was ever asked to memorize was multiplication tables.

But once a week, Brynna has five minutes to answer 100 questions. Right now they are subtraction questions.

And she is really struggling with this.

And I'm working at making it better. From flash cards to cell phone games to car quizzes, I'm trying to give her the foundation to do this thing. Last night, as she got slower and slower and slower (and this is after like 5 minutes, not an hour and a half or anything), I heard her mutter, "Eight minus 6 is... is... nine? Yeah. Nine." My head went splodey.

I was trying to maintain my calm and explain to her that this is important.* She needs to get this. This is foundation and getting left behind now means always being a step behind. And she said, "You're pushing me too hard, mom."

And I stopped. I still haven't decided for how long.

Because when she was really working at reading and just not getting it, I pushed and I pushed and then I quit. And when I quit? She suddenly got it. All of it. In a big fat rush of getting.

And what is pushing too hard? Is it pushing too hard making her play math games every night? Is it pushing too hard giving her big scary goals (like getting 1/4 of the test done in the allotted time)? Is it pushing too hard to put the expectation out there that she's going to kill this and I won't take no for an answer? I don't know.

I try not to push her for two reasons. First, I know she's going to get it. And second, I know that she doesn't push well. She's a feet digger-inner.

So, what do you think? How hard is too hard?

*And I'm not at all convinced that it is. I get that having this stuff memorized now makes the more complicated stuff go quicker and smoother. I understand the purpose. I also know that I memorized this stuff through trial and error and doing it over and over again. I'm not sure that I "buy" the importance of memorizing math facts any more than I buy "sight words." But I have decided that as long as we are stuck in this system, we are going to make it work. Whether it means bending to the system or bending the system to us.


Strangeite said...

I sympathize.

Right now Sophie is struggling with math. Reading: no problem. Spelling: piece of cake.

But math: Takes about 5 seconds before her eyes cloud over and she wants to crawl under the table. We are working with her every night on stupid number bonds. She has finally mastered the addition number bonds but the subtraction ones are a big hurdle.

I struggle because it is clearly frustrating her and I don't want to push too hard, but unfortunately there are larger issues at play.

Right now she is in a wonderful elementary school but our districts middle school and high school leave MUCH to be desired. If she qualifies for the Quest program, she is then placed on a track that will have her attend a wonderful middle school and a terrific high school.

The problem is, she would need to qualify for the Quest program in 2nd grade. That's right, she will either be attending two of the worst schools in the state or two of the best schools in the state based on how well she does on standardized tests in 2nd grade. That is insane. The girl just turned 6 years old.

It also makes the issue of helping her with math that much more frustrating. On one hand, I don't want to push too hard, but on the other hand, I am acutely aware how damn important it is that she gets this.


Jessi said...

It's a complete headache. This is the stuff no one told me about before I had kids. The heart on your sleeve miserable fear of screwing them up forever.