Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Frustrations with school and sympathy from a dyslexic mother

Well, the school year has started and it's been a bit of an adjustment for us all. My girls decided to go back to M-F full time school (vs the home school hybrid). This has meant longer days and actually more work at home. My older girl is dyslexic and school can be very hard for her. She works very hard and wants to do well.  This year she's at a small academic charter middle school, which she picked. I'm still not sure if it's the right school for her.

The second week of school I went to back to school night and met her teachers. Not one knew about her dyslexia or that she had a 504 plan. I was surprised. I really didn't expect them to know the details of the plan, but I did expect them to know it existed and that she was dyslexic. There are 60 children in a grade level. Twenty in each class. So, I informed them and scheduled a meeting with the director. We had the meeting and all seemed well. All her teachers signed off on the 504, which is pretty simple. Her main accommodation is extra time.

My girl came home from school and was a little concerned that she'll never get to eat lunch with her friends again. Naturally, I took this to be normal 6th grade pre-teen drama. When I asked her about it, she told me that they were doing multiplication time tests and had to get 85/100 in two minutes or less and the students will have to stay in for lunch detention until they reach the goal. For an average student, this may be eventually doable, but I am pretty sure this goal will take more than a year for my girl to meet. She has been practicing her times tables almost every day since last December. The first time she took the test she got 22. The next time 27. The time after that 33. She's very proud of this 33 and quick to point out how much of an improvement this is.

In English class they are having spelling tests. Her first test she got 3/15. When I had met with the director, I mentioned that I was forseeing spelling tests as an issue and she didn't think that it would be an issue. I wanted the teacher to have my girl do vocabulary tests in place of spelling tests. The response I got from her teacher was pretty much a "no". She would have to continue to do the tests like everyone else. When she got below 60% correct, she would have to do spelling practice (extra homework) and then lunch detention on Thursday to try to retake the test (the regular tests are every Friday, so this will mean two spelling tests in a row).
X did not do too well on this first test. I talked with any student that scored 12 or below. I have asked these students to practice the words (examples: 5x each, copy/cover/write/check, pyramid writing, practice tests, or rainbow writing) and then come and retake the test by tutorial on Thursday. (With the new spelling words being tested on Friday, I don't want the lists to overlap.) If X doesn't know which way she should practice the words, I can help her during tutorial. Students can retake the test during lunch or tutorial. Students can also retake the test as many times as they need to get a score that they are pleased with.
I will hand grade X's spelling tests, as outlined in her 504, but she will continue take the tests with her class on Fridays. At any point during the school year, X can practice her words over the weekend and retake the test as many times as she needs or wants to the following week.
This is a website students can use to practice spelling words. We will continue to post the spelling words to this website throughout the year. 

I find this all so frustrating and I feel for my child. At the end of 4th grade, she was convinced that she would have to repeat the grade because she was stupid. At that point we found out she was dyslexic and started tutoring and took her out of the public school system. She was doing so well and felt that she could do anything... I don't want her to loose that feeling.

All this brings flash backs to my childhood and the struggles I went through. I remember practicing my multiplication tables for hours and hours - for years. Being rewarded with various things - even money. Being punished with detention and extra homework. I remember being stuck on the same spelling list for half a year in 6th grade, having friends practice the words with me before school so I'd be able to play at lunch time. I remember hating the fact that I could read above grade level, I could barely write well enough to pass a writing assignment. I remember being so frustrated in 7th grade English that spelling tests were bringing down my grade that I cheated on a test (and then felt so guilty that I was literally sick)... and I remember giving up. Knowing that I would never be able to spell like other kids and that there must be something wrong with my brain that made it impossible for me to do math in my head or memorize numbers, like my younger brother.

Eventually I learned ways to cope with my disability. I understood math concepts very well and could do the work. I just had to work out each of the multiplication facts as I did them and learned to write them on my scratch paper as I went along. I was an instant lover of Word programs when they came out because spell check is my best friend. I graduated with ok grades in high school. At the university level, I did really well. The way classes were taught and tested seemed to work pretty well for me. I graduated with two degrees and a 3.8 GPA (I even had a 4.0 a few semesters).... I never knew I was dyslexic until I tried to figure out why my girl struggled so much with school. My mother could see the similarities. We don't struggle exactly the same way, but many things are the same. I still don't know all my multiplication tables. I can't memorize phone numbers or addresses very easily (after a few years of frequent use I can usually get it). I can't spell very well and have to laugh when I misspell a word so bad that not even spell check and figure out what I want to say. Reading out loud is very difficult and slow for me, but I somehow taught myself to speed read along the way. Reading on a computer screen is very hard and I have to print almost everything longer than a paragraph or I'll totally miss the point. I sometimes just have to laugh at my word mistakes when I'm talking to others.

I keep hoping that my girl will struggle less than I did and she'll be able to learn how to make school work for her. She's so smart and a very positive person and I don't want her perspective to change. Her teachers always tell me that she is one of the hardest working students in their classes. She wants to do well and works hard. I know it's frustrating to her when she gets a low score on a test. I am working on encouraging her to keep trying and to keep looking at the positive side of things. I don't want her to loose her optimism.

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