Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Quinn - Grade 4 - not a walk in the park!

As you may or may not know the decision whether or not to send Quinn to school in the year that he started, was quite a major one. He was born (2 weeks over due) on 3 Jan 2000. Those 3 days into the new year basically meant that technically he was meant to start school a year later than he did...

I wrote about it at the time:
Quinn - to go to school or not to go to school...?
Time for school - and therapy
Quinn's going to big school!
Big School!
Right at home
Appointment with Quinn's teacher
Term 1 in the bucket
Quinn got the merit badge!
Quinn (proud mom alert)

The bottom line is that Quinn started school as the very YOUNGEST child in the entire school. He remains the youngest in his grade each year. From an intellectual and academic point of view this has worked well, as he responds well to pressure and a challenge. He gets bored easily and loses interest if he is not challenged, so for him it helps to need a bit of a push. Emotionally he copes well too, and almost always befriends people older than himself. So even as the youngest in his grade he seems to befriend kids in even higher grades. He is confident in social situations with both adults and children and has no problem speaking up for himself.

The only area where it is a problem is physically. Not only does it give him a sporting disadvantage (although the school does accommodate this by insisting that all learners compete in their AGE group rather than their grade) as well as struggling slightly to keep up with the physical volume of work he is required to do.

There has always been the 'risk' (for want of a better word) that the gap might widen to the point that he can't keep up and may need to repeat a year. If that happens we will deal with it. My stance has always been though that there was simply no point in repeating Grade R - a year he coped well with the first time and had no issues with - JUST for the sake of repeating it and then being chronologically older. It didn't seem to make sense at all, and I was concerned it could actually cause more problems if he got too bored and was not really stimulated at all. I'd rather he repeat a year he didn't cope well in, and can actually benefit from repeating. The possible social/emotional impact not-withstanding. However Quinn is a rational and level headed child and I am sure he would/will be ok with that if or when it happens. We have discussed it a lot and quite often.

So anyway he has completed 3 years of school now. Each year seeing me meeting with his teachers a couple of times to discuss his progress and performance. It is always acknowledged that he is bright and capable, but just needs a bit of a push to perform. They always tell me that he is not naughty, but he likes to chat and go off at tangents rather than focusing on the required task at hand. They always also admit that this is a result of his personality though, and not his age, and if he was a year older he would still be like this. He had OT (occupational therapy) for a term or 2 in Grade 2 to help him with his hand writing - speed and presentation, and that helped a lot. To the point that his hand writing went from his worst to his best mark during the course of the year.

But last year (Grade 3) was a VERY tough year for us all, but particularly for Quinn. I am actually not sure how he coped as well as he has with the whole break-up and divorce and all the drama and upheaval that came along with it all, because he has endured things no child should have to. :( I am surprised he is as happy go lucky and fun and playful as he is actually. The poor boy must have really hurt at times. Still, with support from a play therapist, his teacher and myself he managed to pass Grade 3, and is therefore in Grade 4 this year.

We were warned repeatedly that the leap from Grade 3 to Grade 4 (from Foundation Phase to Intermediate Phase) is vast. In FP they learn to read & write, and thereafter there is a major shift to writing and reading to learn. You are now expected to know and use the basics without thinking and now it becomes about the subject matter. They now have multiple teachers and separate subjects, many work books and a pile of text books too. They do proper formal tests now too with work to revise and they have speeches and projects to complete in between their other work. It really is a whole new ball game.

As a single mum trying to find my own footing and take care of all and everything on my own I also battle to find time to get everything we want and need done. So Grade 4 has been a bit of a shock to the system after the fun and games of the holidays.

A couple of weeks back, on 11 February, I wrote the following after being called in to see Quinn's teacher after her indicating that she was 'very concerned about Quinn':

11 Feb:
So it looks like the time has come to address the issue of Quinn and his ability to cope at school.

He is LOVING grade 4, as in really enjoying the change from 'Learning to Read' to 'Reading to Learn'. They have several 'projects' now where he has to do research and get info and write it down and do practical work too. Stuff on African beads, and planets etc. He researches, reads, types up stuff on his PC, made a cool knotted friendship bracelet, read me his facts, told me a bunch of stuff etc etc.

Last night he went on and on about incredible space info, as in a LOT. Some of which I didn't even now. (Number of rings Saturn has, speed of the winds on the surface of the planets etc etc).

BUT he is just not performing ON PAPER in class. The work he puts down when it counts is shocking. His handwriting looks like crap and it looks like he can't do the work. I know it's a case of being shoddy, but I have told him it looks like grade 2 work.

I don't know what to do. I spoke to him about it yesterday morning and yet he came home yesterday and the writing in his homework diary was terrible and barely readable even by himself.

I met with his teacher yesterday, and she is very concerned. To the point of thinking he needs to possibly be getting remedial assistance...

I have told him I am not fighting with him, or going to be driving him or pushing him though. And if it comes down to it, which frankly it very well might at this rate he is going back to Grade 3.

Although he is a maths whiz (really) he has been identified as one of the bottom 8 of the grade (of over 100) from what he has demonstrated at school . Yet at home he flew through the worksheets perfectly.

Obviously I can not make this decision lightly, but my gut feel is not to push him and have him on the back foot and not coping each year, yet I know he is loving the learning aspect change this year. I suppose the obvious answer would be home school, but it's just not an option.

He seems to want to stay in Grade 4, but unless he really pulls his finger and applies himself I can't see how he can.

Quinn and I started focussing on spending time doing extra work at home (over and above his aftercare homework). It also seems a lot of the boys and parents were battling to adjust to all the new challenges of Grade 4. T
he much increased work load and all the additional subjects and things to remember etc. Quinn's teacher is pretty tech savvy and she has the first implementation of interactive white board in her class which she teaches with, and she has a PC in her class which she uses a lot, in fact she encourages parents to email rather than write to her. And you get a response within a few hours. She is now emailing us the homework for the day every day.

It is so cool knowing way before I collect Q what we are going to have to do, so I can schedule and prepare myself accordingly to make sure Quinn can do it each day. It
has helped so much!

Then a week or so later I wrote this update.

Update 19 Feb:
Whoop Whoop! Smile

Quinn and I have been sitting for 30-60 minutes at home each evening since last week (over and above what he does at after-care) focusing on his work. He has done a lot of writing, maths and reading practise. He also worked hard on his speech - which was for today.

We are also doing mental arithmetic sums in the car while we drive around. Mixing in plus, minus, multiply and divide.

He started OT again on Monday, and she is going to help him to press more lightly and write more quickly. The Play Therapist said he seems settled and happy and that he mentioned that he is enjoying being in Grade 4.

I just got this email from his teacher:

He has been far more organised and responsible. His handwriting is also much better. Thank you for all your extra effort as it is paying off at the moment.

Yay, now we just need to keep this up!

And then:

Update 25 Feb:
Quinn came home with his Maths test from Friday yesterday and he got... 35.5/40!!!! The teacher's comment was 'a GREAT effort Quinn!!!' and he got 15 merits.
Very Happy Cool Very Happy Cool

He did his speech last week Thursday too and by all accounts it went very well. They were marked out of 4 for 5 different categories; Sticking to the topic, Speaking clearly, Interesting etc. He got at least 3/4 for each category and got a 3.5 and a 4 too. He said a couple of boys did better than him, but then told me about a boy who cracked and did really badly. But instead of being chuffed that he did better than this boy he showed a lot of empathy for the poor boy who was evidently very distressed by having to make the speech and fumbling so badly. I felt very proud of him for that too.

It's awesome that this work has paid off so well and so quickly. When I fetch him on Mondays he is always working quietly in the library now, and at home when I say it is time to do homework he comes and does it without a fuss. Previously he'd stall and mess around and drive me mad. Now he does what he needs to and then I let him go. YAY!


Update 26 Feb:
He seems to have suddenly matured as well and is being really helpful and even keeled at home. Really helping G with his reading, rather than blurting the words out for him or being disruptive or taunting. It's great.

Then yesterday he came home with his 'Afrikaans Aksie Woorde Toets' which they did yesterday and he got 19/20! (He actually did get 20/20 but they write in cursif now and he wrote wys with the joiner at the bottom not the top of the w so she marked it as wrong. Hrm, not really fair I don't think... but anyway). WOW.

I actually feel a bit bad that I wasn't giving him this much input and attention before. He clearly responds well to it. But we are in a good habit of getting into the homework as SOON as we get home now and generally get it sorted in 30 mins or so now that he is cooperating so well. He is also wanting to read independently for interest now too.

The Book People are in town and he desperately wants a book which costs R120. I had said no. But then in talking to him last night it sounds like a good book. It is about Egypt and is full of facts and interesting learning activities like deciphering hieroglyphic messages etc etc. I have made a deal with him that he can buy it today and bring it home and I'll keep it until the end of the term and if he keeps doing his best as he has been he'll get the book as a reward. He was happy to accept those terms which again shows progress and maturity, and also just how much he really wants the book if he will gladly wait a whole month if that's the only way he'll get it.

Well done Quinn, I am very proud of you!


  1. yay Quinn

    yay Mum

    yay teacher

  2. That is fantastic news!
    Well done!

  3. That is GREAT Jane!!! Totally awesome! Well done to you both!!

  4. This is such a feel good story!!! You are a fantastic mother Jane!!

  5. oh how awesomely fantastic, and what a bonus to have a teacher who actually communicates!
    super stoked for you and q!!

  6. That is awesome Jane. I'm already stressed about the change to Grade 4. You are doing well