Planet of the As

Like most schools, September is when we all start to schedule our first parent-teacher conferences of the year. We began this process when the girls started kindergarten, eagerly awaiting the conference, and hoping to hear those words every parent (thinks they) want to hear: she’s smart, she’s wonderfully behaved, she’s doing just great.

Our first conference for the girls was a shock: we’re not sure what to do with them. 

Then we moved into the full-time GT program, and the discussion at the conference began: so we think she needs to skip a grade.

I’m sure some parents react calmly to these sorts of discussions. I was not one of them. My doctor’s mind wanted to know: where is the data about what we should do? Hasn’t this been studied? So I launched myself into learning everything I could about gifted children and gifted education in general. Thanks to Hoagies, I found the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the studies behind it, and research from Leta Hollingworth and Miraca Gross on profoundly gifted kids. I listened to psychologists who specialized in gifted children, and got our kids tested to find out what we were dealing with. Dave did just as much exhaustive research as I did.

The result is that we are not typical GT parents at the conferences. Last year, at our son’s conference, his teacher was explaining her grading on an assignment, and what the kids had to produce to get a 3 (like a B) or a 4 (like an A). I could hear Dave and I sucking in our breath as she got ready to show us what our son received.

But not for the reasons you’d think. See, what we’d learned along the way is that any of our kids getting all 4s in school meant we needed to move them up another grade (or more). All 4s was bad; we call it the “Planet of the As”, where children evolved from grades, rather than the other way around. Continued life on the Planet of the As would mean that we hadn’t reached the ceiling of their potential and ability, and ahead lay much more work in trying to figure out what that ceiling was. In the end, she showed us his paper, and we were overjoyed to see the 3 in red marker at the top. It meant he was in the right place, for now. The teacher looked a little confused, but she’s dealt with us long enough to know that we’re somewhat alien.

I can hear all of you saying now: why push your kids? Let them be a kid! Let them be the best in the class, what a great feeling for them!

For some kids, this is actually the right thing to do. Some kids are happiest when they are killing it, so to speak. They thrive on getting the A+, being the best, and creating perfection. There are times when every kid needs this, regardless of circumstances. E has found the Talent Search to be this for her: she is reminded that she is intellectually amazing compared to peers her age. Parents should encourage their kids to find their wonderful time in the sun.

But the data would say we parents should do otherwise when it comes to school. Accelerate our kids to the point that they don’t know the answer, and have to work to find it. Force them to learn how to learn – and not allow them to coast along. (As I was finalizing this blog post, I found an excellent blog post from today on this very topic – So Your Gifted Child Gets All A’s…So What?)

Both Dave and I remember essentially coasting through high school, despite taking all AP classes and entering college at age 17. We also both remember the first time in college (and graduate school) where we realized we had no idea how to study. Everything had come so easy for us all the way through, that when we were confronted with actually having to work at it, we (almost) couldn’t do it. We had no study skills to speak of, and didn’t know how to work hard to accomplish something. A hard lesson to learn at age 19 or 20, and we both squeaked by with a few C+ grades until we figured it out. Grades, mind you, that we had paid several thousand dollars to obtain.

So, we’ve taken the other path. We launched our rocket off the “Planet of the As” into unknown territory. We have finally, finally, reached that ceiling with E this year. She started an online algebra class for GT kids this August. E blazed through the first chapter and the test. For the second chapter, she cruised through the lessons and then decided to take the test without studying. The online tests are timed, meaning after you start them, you have 90 minutes to complete them. All was well until 30 minutes later, when she started commenting loudly at her computer. By 60 minutes in, she was close to tears. She didn’t know some of the answers right away, and wasn’t sure what to do. In the end, E wasn’t able to finish the test in time.

After she was done crying, we talked to her about what this meant. We had found the place where she didn’t already know everything, she actually had to work to learn, and learn how to study. We told her the stories of our lives, and why we thought this was important. We stressed to her that it was awesome to learn this lesson at age 9 rather than at age 20.

Later that day, as luck would have it, the framing store called to say our project was ready. We went and picked up a copy of her Talent Search certificate and medal, which we had framed. E had the highest English score for her grade in the state, and she happily displayed this in her room. At dinner that night, she took a deep breath and said, “I need a study plan for algebra.” E made a plan, had an online chat session with her teacher, studied, studied some more, and retook the test later that week. When she finished, she was confident and proud of all the work she had done.

And then we celebrated our landing on the “Planet of Life.”   Where you might not get all As, but whatever you got, you really worked for it.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] Planet of the As « Chasing Hollyfeld "If there were only 10 problems on a page, I could do them all. […]

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