Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Poem: Priceless

Our venture into virtual school with Caden this year has been chock full of learning experiences for Caden and for us as his learning coaches.  I think the fact we are both educators makes it a bit easier for us to hold the line when we know the answer he is about to click is wrong.  It was a struggle early in the school year, though, to let educator rationality overrule parental instinct to protect him from disappointment.  Early on, he didn’t understand why we let him pick the wrong answer, and there were a lot of “learning” conversations.  A few months into the school year, though, I think we all found our groove, and we all realized that we had made the correct educational choice for Caden.

Along with the content material he has learned, he has also learned that sometimes you get the right answer and sometimes you get the wrong answer.  Sometimes you are allowed to correct your mistakes and sometimes you just have to accept the grade that you have rightfully earned.  We love the concept of correcting mistakes, and whenever that option is given to either of our children by their teachers, there usually isn’t an option---they need to make the best of the opportunity given to them.  This is non-negotiable; well, usually.

In Language Arts, Caden had to write a poem.  I admit that Dan and I were sweating bullets wondering how Caden would handle this particular assignment.  He is a black and white completely literal child; adjectives and adverbs have little place in his vocabulary.  A flower is a flower---state the obvious and move on.  Caden really wanted to try the assignment, though, and several days later after much blood, sweat, and tears he had a 4 line poem that he couldn’t wait to read to grandma and grandpa on the phone.  He showed it to every therapist who walked in the house, and he even memorized the poem that he had written.

I’m sure he was more excited to submit this poem than any other assignment this year, and he asked every-single-day if it was graded yet.  When the grade came back, though, his grade was disappointing.  In fact, it was one of the lowest grades he earned all year.

During his next teacher phone call, his teacher explained that he hadn’t included enough description and he needed to include more rhyming words.  Her criteria were clearly explained, and for all practical purposes he didn’t meet the standard that she had set.  From our perspective, it wasn’t an IEP violation as we didn’t request an assignment modification before he began the assignment.  There wasn’t anything unfair or discriminatory about the grade; he simply hadn’t been able to demonstrate the skills his teacher needed to evaluate.  His teacher, however, knew how much the poem meant to him, and she offered to let him re-do the assignment and she would re-evaluate his grade.  As I said before, we have never turned down this type of opportunity for either child before.

And yet this time, with this assignment, we chose not to have Caden rewrite his work nor did we even tell him that it was an option.


Caden willingly shared his poem with anyone who would listen to it; he even memorized it.  He worked so hard copying it for the final version because the poem was special to him.  In fact, when I complimented him on the poem, he responded by saying, “I am proud of me too mommy.”  That statement is worth more than any grade ever will be because it was said with complete genuineness.  I think it is hard for anyone to admit that they are proud of something they have created, and it is even harder to maintain that pride when criticized by those around them.  Now add to the equation a child who struggles with esteem and anxiety, a child who can’t handle compliments and often sees grades as indicators of academic self-worth.  That same child said he was proud of himself and that he liked his poem.  Not to sound like a cheesy commercial, but that statement is priceless and represents so much more about this last year than a single grade ever will.

Don’t get me wrong---we get that he needs to work on descriptive language and it is a new school support goal for his therapists to work on this summer.  We also realize that at some point we may have to start asking for assignment modifications as he moves into more complex subjects that require a type of thinking that is different from the way his brain operates.  But for now, I can’t help but think that possessing those seeds of self-confidence is something so much bigger than any educational or therapy goal that we have ever written or asked for. 

[caption id="attachment_328" align="aligncenter" width="300"]This poem is shared with Caden's explicit consent (and he only charged me one dollar).  This poem is shared with Caden's explicit consent (and he only charged me one dollar).[/caption]