Saturday, November 22, 2008

how do you get to grade five unable to count without using your fingers? you go to a public school in Buffalo, of course.

ask the five kids I've been tutoring for a couple of hours every afternoon. they participate in an afterschool program targeted at helping kids who are unlikely to get help elsewhere with reading and math skills. to qualify for the 65 free hours of tutoring, a child must receive free or reduced lunch and attend one of the schools in Buffalo designated as 'in need of improvement'.

my kids range from fourth to seventh grade. one boy and four girls. the girls' names all end in 'a'. they're not really in as bad shape as they might be. I mean, they can read. sort of. they know they should be able to divide 432 by 9 even if they can't actually do it. four of the five read fluently, more or less, though slowly. one can't read words like 'think' or 'stare'. the same one can't add 2+3 without using fingers. some don't know the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus. some can't name a single planet.

they're bright enough kids. I can tell from the directions their animated dinnertable conversations take. my sixth grader is really very good at math. yesterday I had them sit down and solve arithmetic problems as I called them out (353-274=?, 23x63=?, etc.). she jumped up and down as she did them and was first to throw her hand in the air and wave her correct answer in my face every time. she even managed to solve the brain teaser I gave her in about 5 minutes flat. they're barely literate, but they loved the chapters from one of the wayside school books I had them read, and they told me so. "where's the rest of the book? can we read more of this? do we get to keep this copy?"

the first thing we do when they arrive is homework. a couple days ago, one of my kids said she had none because her teacher had missed lunch - she spent their class time eating and they wound up doing nothing. shouldn't less work done at school mean more to do at home? shouldn't you be getting more than just a short worksheet for homework by grade six or seven anyway?

well, I think so. unluckily - or luckily - for my kids. so goal #1: addition facts and times tables.

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