Since my last post on this topic I've met with Andrea, a friend of a friend who is an expert on special education and works at the TDSB. She very kindly allowed me to pick her brain, and I learned plenty. Apart from lots of advice and insight on how gifted education is handled in the TDSB, she had two concrete suggestions: to seriously consider the TDSB gifted program, and to ask Delphine’s teacher specifically how he is differentiating for her.
(Differentiated education is something they ask teachers to do these days, where basically every child gets their own special curriculum. It’s how they justify combining ages and abilities within one classroom: the teacher is supposed to assess the ability of each child in their class and provide each and every one of them with assignments and materials that suit their level. You might infer that I am skeptical as to the practicality of this system.)
We had every intention of getting Delphine assessed for giftedness, because you basically can’t ask for anything without having that rubber stamp. But from talking to other parents I got the impression that the gifted program, which is at a school a few neighbourhoods away, would not be suitable for Delphine. So we had written off the possibility of the gifted program and hoped that the rubber stamp could be put to use some other way. But Andrea urged me to be open-minded and check out the program ourselves. And she’s absolutely right; neither Delphine nor I know what the program is really like nor whether it will suit her in ways that she can’t even articulate. So we’re going to, at least, go and visit.
We met with Delphine’s teacher in November as part of the regular parent-teacher interviews, and I did ask him how he’s differentiating the program for her. He said something like, “I’m not going to offer her anything different until I’ve seen that she can do the assigned work to a better standard.” He doesn’t like the quality of her work — it’s messy and she doesn’t go the extra mile to produce really great work. She meets the requirement of the assignments without adding flair.
Of course this decision on the part of the teacher is deeply unsatisfying to me. An education that is suited to your ability is a not a carrot to be dangled in front of you as a reward for jumping through arbitrary hoops of the teacher's devising: tidy handwriting, sitting still, completing assignments to a level beyond that asked.
I guess it does make a certain, superficial sense; I've mentioned this to a few people and they've said it seems fair. But it isn't really, when you think about it. There's no real connection between being tidy, or putting a great deal of effort into an arbitrary tast, and needing (or deserving) to be challenged intellectually. Both of those are useful skills to have (the first probably more than the second) but neither of them have to do with being smart, and it doesn't make sense to connect one to the other. Just because she's not particularly strong in these areas is no reason to deprive her of stimulation in other areas.
And besides, an education suited to the student’s level is a legal entitlement in Ontario.
(We haven't even considered that she might not be completing the assignments to the teacher's standard because she's not really very interested in them — because they're too easy or because they're on a topic that doesn't interest her, or because she wants to save her limited energy for an endeavor that's of more interest to her. Of course the question of whether she can apply focus and determination and effort to a project which is important to her is another matter, and one which doesn't seem to be resolved within the traditional school system.)
This is one of the reasons we are interested in an IEP; because it's a document which requires that teachers offer her an education that suits her ability level, without having to adhere to the teacher's idea of what's suitable for a gifted child, or what should be required of a child before they get the education that they need. Of course this leads to the question of whether we want to establish an adversarial relationship with our teachers before we've even established any other kind of relationship.
The story continues but this post has been sitting on my hard drive for a while. More to come...
Gold ring, halfling,
Man gone, but for song,
Wizard fell, into hell,
Mirror of elf, see the south,
Forest bent, met an Ent,
Isengard strong, soon to be gone.
Into the black land, they will stand.
Gold ring, halfling.
Back in November I got a call from one of the special education teachers at the school — Delphine's teacher this year and her grade two teacher had both flagged her to be assessed for the gifted program.
There's no gifted program at the girls' school — the program for gifted kids is hosted at another school, so attending would require a daily bus ride. The special ed teacher said that Delphine was eligible for the gifted assessment, but that if we wouldn't consider sending her to the gifted program we shouldn't have her assessed, since the assessment is "resource-intensive".
We really like our neighbourhood school, Delphine loves her friends, and she gets carsick, so I declined the assessment.
I had heard from a friend who works for the school board that if your child is assessed as gifted you can get an IEP (individual education plan), which seemed to be the best solution. An IEP provides specific guidance to the classroom teacher, so Delphine could stay at her school while still getting the extra enrichment she needs to thrive.
I've been talking with Delphine's teacher about this all year, and a few weeks ago she finally arranged a team meeting to discuss Delphine's case. The team meeting was supposed to involve us, Delphine's teacher, the principal and vice-principal, the special ed teacher, and a psychologist from the school board. That seemed like a bit of overkill to me, and apparently everyone else agreed because only the vice principal, a special ed teacher and Delphine's classroom teacher ended up attending.
I wasn't sure what would come of this meeting; I wanted to get the lay of the land, see what our options were, and talk about an IEP.
The IEP idea was shot down immediately. Apparently gifted students used to be eligible for IEPs, but no longer. That leaves the bus-in gifted program, or, as the special ed teacher said, we can "cross our fingers" and "hope" that next year Delphine gets a teacher who understands the needs of gifted children.
I don't know how parents of other kids with special needs would feel if their team meeting included the words "cross our fingers" and "hope", but I'm not particularly happy about it. It's as irresponsible to neglect gifted kids as it is to neglect kids with other special needs.
I'm not sure what our next move is. I'm reading up on gifted children because I'm woefully uneducated in this matter, so hopefully next time I meet with the "team" I'll be able to advocate more intelligently for my girl. We might consider the bus-in program, since Delphine's very best friend is thinking about going to another school for Extended French, which releases one of her ties to the neighbourhood school. (At least we can visit the gifted program so Delphine has an idea of the possibilities.) We're contemplating other specialised programs, like the TDSB Vocal Academy; that would be valuable and enriching in some ways but still wouldn't directly address Delphine's needs as a gifted learner.
This isn't one of those satisfying blog posts with a useful conclusion. I have no idea where we're going from here, I just know I'm not satisfied with the path we're on.
Delphine, her friend Darina and I invented a word game. It goes like this:
- The first player says a letter.
- The next player says that letter and then another letter to start spelling a word.
- The first player says the first two letters then continues spelling the word – maybe the same word as the second player, maybe not.
- The players continue to take turns spelling, adding a letter each time.
You win if:
- you finish spelling a word and the other player can't think of a way to make it longer.
- you stump the other player - they can't think of a word which starts with the letters so far.
So we just did:
Delphine: ... (she didn't know "awesome" has an "e")
I was going for "junior" but Cordelia reminded me about "juniper".
Then Cordelia gave us "G" as a start letter, and Delphine lead with:
So I won that round because I got to the end of the word and Delphine couldn't make it longer. But then we decided (when we did "zamboni") that if you're both obviously working on the same word you should both get a point. (We're not much for points, anyway.) It works best if you're playing with someone with about the same vocaulary as you; I kept stumping Delphine with ridiculous words but Delphine and Darina were well-matched.
Anyway, I don't know if it's a brilliant game but we almost never come up with good games so we're pretty pleased with ourselves.
A recipe by Delphine. [Spelling and capitalization hers. -AB]
Small fruit [Like strawberries or blueberries. -AB]
- Spread peanut butter on crackers
- Cut Banana and place on crakers with peanut butter
- Spread Jam on three Differet crakers [That is, not the crackers with the peanut butter. -AB]
- Cut cheese. Hee Hee Hee!
How to place
- Put crakers Around edge of a plate.
- place small fruit in middle.
- fill cracks with cheese.
...on Tuesday May 10. But her party was on Saturday, a perfect day for a party. Delphine invited four friends: Ursa, Darina, Amelia and Rosebella.
The day was sunny and warm, and almost all the guessts arrived on time. We started the fun as we usually do, decorating brown paper lunch bags for loot bags. This is a pretty good way to keep everybody busy while all the guests arrive, although it's surprising how quickly a child can coat a paper bag with glitter and stickers. The girls spent a good eight to ten minutes on their bags before disappearing upstairs to "visit" the cat. I don't like parties to go upstairs because it creates far too much mess, so I called them down and sent them outside to play while we waited for the one straggler to arrive.
After the final guest appeared, we rounded up the whole gang and walked up to a nearby parkette to terrorize unsuspecting dog walkers with a series of silly races. We did a traditional speed race, then a hopping race, a egg and spoon race, a three-legged race and a sack race. It was a pretty nice combination: the speediest kid was totally hamstrung by the sack race, the least athletic kid turned out to have nerves of steel and totally shellacked everyone in the egg and spoon race. Delphine won the sack race because most of the big kids collapsed in exhaustion and the little kids just kept falling over.
After everyone was worn out and sweaty we headed back to the house — curiously, the children managed to muster enough energy to run most of the way there — for sub sandwiches and cheesies and apple juice. Everyone was happy with lunch. Even the children who don't like sandwiches (seriously?! Who doesn't like sandwiches?) were convinced to disassemble their sandwiches and enjoyed all the ingredients thereof.
Delphine once again designed an awesome and original cake: lemon cake sandwiching a thick layer of rainbow sherbet, with blue buttercream icing. I decorated it with kosher jelly candy shaped like slices of citrus fruit. (On sale after Passover.) The cake was a hit with everyone; some kids ate just the cake, some kids ate just the sherbet — no-one ate just the icing, I guess that stops at about five or six — and some kids ate the whole thing and had seconds.
Next Delphine opened her presents, slowly, paying great attention to each gift, much to the irritation of those children whose gifts she hadn't opened yet. She got a Geronimo Stilton book which she was very gracious about even though she has been openly scornful of Geronimo Stilton lately. (It's come up because Cordelia likes Geronimo Stilton — they read them at daycare.) From the same child she also got Happy Birthday Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, which is a fairly witty comic/novel hybrid. From her school bestie she got the puzzle game Rush Hour. From her friend down the street she got a big sketchpad, a box of bright, gorgeous oil pastels and a book called The Sisters 8.
The best present was from Ursa, or rather her mother Tanya. Tanya snuck all through the house and hid a series of clues leading Delphine to her gift, a set of stilts. Delphine loves a treasure hunt, and she was thrilled with the treasure, too. The girls spent a good part of the rest of the party trying them out.
Gradually all the kids except Ursa left (Ursa's a semi-permanent addition to our household and doesn't count as company). I was just about to collapse into well-earned slumber (did I mention the day before the party I published a book? Well, I did. More about that soon.) when my friends Kat and Joel arrived. Kat had been away in Asia for weeks so I peeled myself off the couch to give her a hug and make some tea.
The party finally came to an end when Ursa and Kat and Joel went home. Delphine went to bed happy and exhausted.
In case you're real, this is my Christmas list.
- I would like a name necklace—a coloured one.
- I would like a cat buddy. (That's a stuffie.)
- I would like some chapter books.
- I would like some long-sleeve shirts,
- a butterfly net,
- and binoculars.
- I would like a little Pokémon stuffy,
- and a toy Pokéball.
- A craft set.
[Typed by Amy.]
My name is Delphine. There’s another Delphine in the school I go to. I go to a K-6 school in Toronto. My friend at my school’s name is Darina. She really likes bugs. She’s going to dress up as a moth for Halloween. I’m dressing up as an elf.
Yesterday, me and my dad cooked dinner. We had sandwiches, soup, and mini pizzas. It was fun to make dinner with Dad. I liked making the sandwiches. I made five sandwiches. They were tomato, mayonnaise and cheese sandwiches. Dad made the soup, and it was very good. The mini pizzas were kind of hard to make, because they took a long time.
My friend Ursa has gone to Winnipeg. We feed her cats. Her cats’ names are Hebi-Chan and Columbus. Here’s a joke: What do you call a locomotive with a cold? An achoo-choo train! One more: Where would you weigh a whale? At the whale-weigh station!
Tomorrow is Monday. I’m going to go to school. I like art. I do not like math. The end.
Delphine loves to read. We've recently been reading time travel books: we read The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn, and now we're reading A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson. She also loves mysteries (like her mother, her aunt, her great-aunt, her grandmother, her other grandmother...) and is working on a Trixie Belden novel by herself.
Delphine also loves to watch TV. She loves WordGirl but she loves Kim Possible more, which I'm kind of bummed about. Blake introduced her to Kim Possible because she liked WordGirl and y'know, female superhero. But Kim Possible is a teenage character, and well into that "kids are cool and parents are lame" stage, and I wish Delphine wasn't being exposed to that already. Unfortunately the horse is out of the barn now; failing another hard disk crash (hmmmm) we're going to be watching Kim Possible until Delphine goes onto another thing or I ban TV altogether.
Delphine is no great fan of hard work. At school she goes to great pains to make sure she's not at the beginning of the line, so she doesn't have to hold the door. She loves the idea of having lots of responsibilities, but she hates the reality of dropping whatever fun activity she's doing in order to do the job.
She has a few jobs lately: she cleans the cat litter every other time (I alternate with her); she helps clear the table; she's in charge of her own morning routine and I'm trying to get her to help Cordelia, too; she is in charge of her own bedroom, including putting away laundry (which in effect means her room is a mess and her laundry stays on her desk). The doing of all these jobs is prefaced by a great deal of moaning and whining. I feel somehow responsible for that because I hated housework and it took me years to understand that if I wanted my house to be nice I had to do the work of making it so. I also have trouble understanding that things that are worth doing take effort and time, and aren't always fun. I would like Delphine to learn that before she's, like, twenty-five. Maybe then she won't be a big old quitter like I was.
Delphine is in gymnastics, trampoline and swimming this term. I didn't mean for her to be an overscheduled child, but I happened to check the city swimming classes and there were classes available at the right time and the right level, which never happens, so I had to pounce. She likes the classes in this order: swimming first, then trampoline, then gymnastics. This is interesting because swimming is, like, $90, trampoline is $35 and gymnastics is $225.
Swimming is going very well: she does front crawl and jumps in and puts her head under water, all of which she couldn't do at the beginning of the session. With gymnastics she's hit a bit of a roadblock because she doesn't like to be upside down. More than that, she absolutely refuses to be upside down. This rules out such cornerstones of gymnastics as somersaults, cartwheels, and anything interesting on the bars. So either she has to bust through that or I don't think she'll be having any more $200 gymnastics classes.
I think school is going well. It's hard to tell, on account of she's always in a bad mood on the way home, so she regales me with complaints about how boring it is and how she hates everyone. Later in the day, when she's rested and fed, I hear about the interesting things she did and the fun she had. I suppose both angles could be true.
She seems much older lately; she's moody and critical and opinionated and complicated. And she's clever and insightful and interesting and passionate. She's, I think, like me: she's going to have to grow into her personality. It definitely isn't a little girl's personality. She's a tiny grown-up.