Monday, May 28, 2007

Conversations over fast food

A story from last week:

G and I are sitting at Carl's Jr. (worst restaurant ever for two vegetarians, by the way), eating dinner and killing time while waiting to pick up a package at the FedEx office.

"Only four weeks left to go till second grade is over," I say, "and then you'll be a third-grader."

"What if I fail second grade?" she asks.

What the heck? I wonder. Aloud, I say, "That's not going to happen."

"How do you know?"

"I know because you've done all your work and learned everything you need to know for third grade, plus you've gotten almost straight As on all your report cards."

"Even in math?"

"Yes, even in math."

"But I hate math!"

"Yes, I know, but you are aware that you're good at it, right? Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you can't do it."

"Oh," says G, looking surprised. "I guess I will be going to third grade after all, then."

I'm totally befuddled by this. Pretty much every paper she brings home has a 100 on it, so how could she think there was even a remote chance that she might flunk second grade? How does she even know you can get held back, for that matter? She didn't seem all that worried about it, but she'd clearly considered it as a possibility.

Now I'm starting to wonder whether I haven't done enough to let her know that she's a good student. I point out often that she's smart or has done an excellent job of figuring something out, but I've never made a big deal out of grades because a.) I don't want her to get hung up on them, and b.) I really don't think grades matter all that much in early elementary school. After a conference, I just tell her that she's doing well and her teacher likes having her in class, which is true.

I know she thinks of herself as intelligent (which is also true) because she describes herself that way. Maybe she's just not aware of the connection between doing well on assignments and tests and doing well in general, or maybe she's heard someone talk about failing a grade and assumed it could happen to her too. There's not a snowball's chance of this -- in fact, at the beginning of this year, her teacher consulted with last year's teacher about skipping her a grade -- but she doesn't seem to realize it. Apparently I need to rethink my strategy.


Well-heeled mom said...

I remember worrying about this as a child. I guess I didn't make the connection between passing and doing well.

Vanessa said...

It's an odd worry when you consider how hard it really is to get held back -- even students who would benefit from repeating a grade usually end up moving on. (Which I don't agree with, but that's another post altogether.) I guess kids at this age think that passing or failing is an arbitrary decision the teacher gets to make. I know by junior high I was very aware of what the grading system in each class was, and spent a lot of time making calculations like "Okay, I didn't turn that assignment in, but I got an A on this test, so if I get a B on the final then I'll have an 82.3333 percent in the class. Sweet!"

writermeeg said...

I think your strategy in not emphasizing grades is GREAT, as is telling her she does things well and is smart but not going nuts with the "you're so brilliant!", V. I just read The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins and it made me queasy how grade-driven and externally motivated many smart students are now (which I really saw teaching at UCSD, too!). I, myself, cared too much about grades, and am trying to think of ways NOT to pass that on to S. G is a real learner, and she'll stay that way with you as a mom.

FosterAbba said...

How does a kid manage to fail second grade? Not very likely, unless there's been plenty of warning. Hee...

I would definitely appreciate those books. Drop me a private e-mail so we can work something out...