Friday, November 16, 2012

Challenge Words

Every week, Luke brings home his homework packet. There are worksheets for each day, plus some other assignments, and a list of spelling words. There are actually two lists of 15 words, the official spelling words and the "challenge words." They take a spelling pre-test on Mondays. If the student misses 2 or fewer, they are assigned the challenge words for that week. Needless to say, given Luke's parents' lack of spelling ability (ahem) and his reading difficulties, he has never been assigned the challenge words. He has done well on his tests on Fridays, but that is because we have worked diligently on the words each night for 10-15 minutes. Usually by Fridays, he would have at least 90% of them down. That, to me, indicates that they are about the right level of difficulty. He has to work at them, but he does (generally) get it eventually.

However, we were informed last week that all of the Gifted students are now expected to do the challenge words each week. I have serious issues with such a sweeping declaration, especially when Luke did NOT qualify for Gifted based on his language ability. In fact, he barely squeaked in with the minimum requirement there (and I think part of that was luck). I can't even remember now what some of the words were (DH has handled most of the spelling practice since I've started back to work), but I know three of them were executive, archaic, and beautifying. Whoa!! I have trouble with those words; I can't imagine trying to learn them in second grade.

We decided to try it. Maybe he will surprise us? No, it was as bad as we thought. We were literally working with him 30-60 minutes a night, just on spelling (and in addition to his "Spelling Tic Tac Toe" activities that are already part of his homework). We were not making much progress, and by Wednesday night, Luke was in tears. It was awful. There's challenging a kid, and then there is crushing his soul; this was the latter. He made a 60 on his spelling test, which we actually thought wasn't too bad, all things considered. When he came home again this week having been assigned the challenge words, we decided to say something. DH spoke with the teacher. He explained how hard we were having to work, and that Luke was still really not getting/learning/knowing the words. "But he is in Gifted; he should be able to do this." Why? We explained that he qualified almost purely on math ability, and that we didn't feel he and his spelling grades should be punished because he is gifted in math. Especially when she *knows* he is in the below grade level reading class. How does this make sense? She asked that we try the challenge words for another week. Studying that week was just as bad, if not worse. It was painful and torturous for all of us. And guess what? He made another 60.

We're back to the regular words. I don't think the teacher is happy about it. I think she's just trying to keep us from raising a fuss (which we would). If he were making Bs on the tests, I'd say fine; at least he would be getting the vast majority of the words right. He's barely getting more than half. Like I said, if she wants to assign some words that are somewhat harder than the regular words, but are useful words that he might actually need one day, I'm fine with that. Computer, dinosaur, rectangle, etc. Archaic? Don't think he'll be needing that one for quite some time. I'm not saying he shouldn't have a good vocabulary or try to learn to spell. I'm just saying I think the words should be reasonable and appropriate. /end mom rant

Currently feeling: so frustrated


  1. I'm sorry :( - how frustrating that because Luke is talented in one area that he is expected to perform at the "gifted" level in other areas!

    I hope his teacher backs off some!

  2. Those are not only very hard words, but a lot of them.

    Marcus has just finished what I think is the equivalent of Grade 3 (fourth year at school, right?) and he had 10 words at his spelling level each week plus 5 "topical" words that the whole class got. We had to work at that, but not anything like as hard as you're saying. I was happy with the level, but what Luke's been given sounds like too much to me.

    I totally understand what you mean about homework becoming a negative spiral too. We had that happen this year, largely because Marcus' morning medication had worn off by home time and he couldn't concentrate. Homework was a nightmare for both of us.

    I discussed it with Marcus, who agreed, and we started giving him an after school top-up. It made an amazing difference. He started being able to focus and once he started getting things right the spiral went up instead of down. I'd hoped to avoid more medication for a bit longer, but it made such a positive difference I'm glad I did it.

    I know that doesn't actually relate to Luke's specific circumstances, but it showed me how important it is that our kids can feel some confidence doing their homework. It makes it easier to do emotionally as well as intellectually and makes for a much healthier home environment.


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