Today the Sealion and Cheetah Keeper finish school for the May half term holiday. When they return there will be a mere 7 weeks and 3 days until they complete this academic year. As much as the beginning of 2013 has been, shall we say, “tough” for us, that time has flown and the plans for “transitioning” to the next class are beginning to bleep on my radar of “must do” jobs. Transitioning being moving up to the next class in old money – for my two it’s about planning, explaining and implementing the changes that occur as you move to a new teacher and a new classroom. It also requires the handover of all the medical files, details and plans. My heart is sinking as I type – I have yet to find it the straightforward process that it suggests itself to be.
This week the Sealion Keeper made it onto the “Excellent Writing Board” for the first time. Her name will get mentioned in the class newsletter. She is very proud. I am very proud. She has made massive progress this year (although has also been having extra literacy and maths support out of school for a year and her improvement has been marked since starting that) – her writing is pretty legible, joined up most of the time and on the line. I cannot emphasise how much of an achievement this is for her – the girl who had “failed to make any progress” between Easter in Year 1 and Easter in Year 2. That time has passed and I have to let the bitterness that this causes me go, but it goes to show (to me at least) that with the correct input and awareness of what her Ehlers Danlos Syndrome was doing to her ability to write, she wouldn’t have essentially written off a year of her early education in terms of literacy.
She still struggles processing it all, to be able to sit, hold her pen correctly, get her other hand to hold the paper, think of the ideas, apply the grammar (the girl knows more about grammar now than I did when I got to secondary school), remember the spellings and then get it all onto the paper in the right order is often beyond her. She has the ideas, the messages leave her head correctly but by the time they get to the paper it can all be one big jumble. She will get there but it’s taking so much effort at the moment she can barely speak when she gets home, the exhaustion is so great.
The target in Year 3 in writing is to ‘earn’/be awarded a pen license. This little bit of card with the child’s name on means that they have graduated from having to use a pencil for everything to being allowed to use a handwriting pen. The criteria for the award seem to be a little hazy – but as far as I can work out are very much based on achievement. At a recent SEN meeting I was told, at great lengths, about how important it is for the effort of a child to be recognised, over and above the achievement. So, if on a ‘pre-test’ of spellings a child gets 1/10 and then, after a week of learning, comes back and gets 7/10, that is ‘better’ than a child who got 9/10 on the ‘pre-test’ and improved to 10/10 at the proper test. I get that – I’m not sure the business world will, but I get it. I can see the advantages of rewarding and praising effort – it means that once you get to the point that education does become a challenge it won’t be a crashing shock and instil feelings of failure. Putting in 100% effort to be the best you can is a very healthy mentality.
However, if you are going to preach/deliver that ethos it needs to be consistent. The Sealion Keeper has worked her hardest all year – she is known and loved for the amount of effort she puts in to everything. She is so tired she has fallen every day at school for a week in the playground. She still doesn’t have a pen license because she has not achieved the correct requirements in her writing – her additional needs and the amount of effort she is putting in have been completely ignored. She feels a failure because she hasn’t got her pen license and is cross with herself for having the syndrome that means that she’s not in the same ‘gang’ as her friends. That does not help me in the slightest. She needs to accept herself for who she is, complete with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and what it brings. Not have the point emphasised that it makes her different.
As for the spellings, thankfully this year the ‘super spellers’ boards have been removed from the classroom windows. Those who achieved 10/10 (or indeed 20/20) each week were on the boards as recognition of their score. In Year 2, the Sealion Keeper would be rewarded with a treat from the teacher after a set number of 10/10 scores had been achieved.
This again, completely ignores the effort part of the equation. When you have spellings that include ‘opaque’, ‘translucent’ ‘iridescence’ and ‘transparent’ (aged 7) and you have difficultly sequencing, writing, have speech and language issues that mean phonics has been a complete waste of time (shall I go on?) and you’re tired, getting anything out of 10 is an achievement. To go from perhaps being able to spell 1 word to 5 words in a week is a massive achievement and yet you would never make it to be a ‘super speller’, despite working your backside off. Is that a harsh lesson in reality or is that really not making the effort to see that not just the education but the physical and emotional well being of every child matters?
I’ve written this post to support Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month and am linking up with Mummy Barrow’s Ranty Friday too.