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Friday, June 7, 2013

An Extraordinary Child

I met a most extraordinary Primary 4 (i.e., 9 to 10 years old) child this week. Let's call him Clarence. He is a GEP (Gifted Education Program) child that had enrolled in the June Compo Workshop. Since we practise differentiated teaching, I always ask for a Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Composition for analysis and lesson planning. This way, I have a separate lesson plan for each student.

When I received Clarence's horrendously written composition, I called the Mother to ascertain whether there had been any mistake in communication. I wanted to know...

(1) Is the boy really in GEP?
(2) Did the boy put due diligence into the compo?

It turned out that the boy was really from the GEP, and he DID put in reasonable effort to do his composition. This was his horrendous Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Compo below...

"The next day, as Jim was taking another boring english lesson, the friend seated in front of him secretly took out her handphone to show of. Jim spotted this immediately and told his teacher about it. The English teacher then pulled both of them to the discipline office, this moment, the class captain seated beside him was alarmed by the second of the afternoon bell and ran off to go for the training. Jim, being very grumpy that day, thought of the incident and a bad idea crossed his mind…"

Strings of perfectly spelled words that perfectly obscured meaning. The Mother agreed that after Day 1, if I should assess her child unsuited to the demands of my workshop, she would pull him out. Never had I been so wrong in my assessment of a child. At the end of 3 hours on Day 1, the child produced the following text. All his mistakes are in there. I changed nothing. I copied this whole chunk from his Word document and pasted it here.

The intolerable stress of being summarily expelled hung like the Sword Of Damocles over me. The Sword Of Damocles frighteningly threatened to drop if I did anything slightly wrong. I started merely by pretending to be dreamy. I looked out the frosted window. I faked looking awkwardly dreamy. But unfortunately, it only made Mr E even angrier. He shouted angrily at me, “JOHN! STOP DREAMING!” “One failure so far” I thought miserably to myself. I dragged my miniature foot steps towards the clear whiteboard. I started the debate by saying, “I did not copy any work. I did it all on my own. He is lying.” My partner continued, “You liar! Then why is your work the same as mine!” I could nearly feel the Sword Of Damocles above me drop. “One more mistake, then I will be doomed” I thought again. I continued to argue, “WHAT RUBBISH! I can pick out a person that has the exact same answers as you. Why must that person be me? It can be anyone!” this moment I quickly erased my working. I did not want Mr E to suspect me. Mr E got restless after sometime. He brought us both to the principal.

He had not only mastered the skills I had to teach (in half the time other children needed)... he mastered them well too! On Day 2, I planned extra skills into his Skills Analytics Grid. This was the same lesson plan I gave the other GEP children in my class on Day 2. The other GEP children had fairly good Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Compositions. Nothing too shocking.

Clarence sort of munched and chewed his way through all the skills like some famished rat which hadn't seen food for a week. I would give him an instruction, turn my back for a while and then he was there waiting to be taught the next skill. It was all very cartoon. I gave the rat something to eat and then in no time, the rat was back, tongue out, waiting for the next morsel.

If you have ever walked my dog Milo, then you know how I felt. I felt like this boy was dragging me onwards and forwards along the paths of creative writing. I had a sense that he was thinking "Why are you so slow in teaching me these skills? Mooooove it!!"

 On Day 3, he produced the following text... Again, all his mistakes are left in.

I crept down the dark and gloomy stairway. The stairway had been locked up for a month. The stairway smelt like it had all the nastiest odours in the land. It tasted exceedingly bitter and sour both at the same time. My hands turned cold and clammy. I could hear the malicious vermin scatter all over the room. Some were blissfully nibbling on leftover pieces of mouldy bread. Cobwebs wedged to the cracked walls around the room. My imagination erratically morphed a ghost out of the door. I did not care if my colleagues called me a scared cat. I did not care whether I was going to be teased everyday by my mischievous brother. I just hopped down the stairs petrified. I hooked the white handbag with my last finger. I sprinted up the stairs. I knocked the imaginary ghost away from me. I felt I did a good job. I thought my ungrateful colleagues would laugh at me after that.

The mother explained to me that her son had failed English in GEP. I am perplexed. This boy is so smart and so HUNGRY for learning that he is excellent raw material to work with. If I were a seamstress, I would be pleased and honoured to work with rare and expensive material like silk. If I were a chef, I would be thrilled to work with material like white truffle or heirloom tomatoes. How was his English teacher in GEP so dismissive of such latent talent that she dissed him by saying to the Mother ... "Your boy can't cope with the GEP curriculum"?

Can't cope? Wow! Did she not recognise a diamond in the rough? I have children who do compositions for me week after week... and I reinforce the same lessons week after week... and they can only do half of what Clarence did for me after 9 hours of class.

Maybe the GEP standards are really really high... I wonder how those GEP Primary 4 children who ARE gifted in the English Language, actually do write. Hmmmmm.... 

Yup... it so happens that this child's name starts with C too... like this one and these two... How very very odd!


My Sinfonia said...

How very interesting. I am amazed by his work. If only every child meets somebody who sees and knows how to develop his potential.

Petunia Lee said...

I'm surprised the GEP English teacher missed his potential. There are only 25 in a class in GEP... and the program is SUPPOSED to be able to identify this talent and groom it. That's what GEP was designed for. Instead, this poor child is told that he has no talent at all.... and made to feel stupider than he is because "He can't cope".

Not even our brightest are exempt from caveman barbaric blows to their academic self-concept.

Celine said...

*grin* how very fortuitous for Clarence that he met you. Like how fortunate for me that I met my JC GP tutor too.... I must say that I like your approach to English better though. My GP tutor made me flounder through logic, coherence in English until he thought I was good enough. The grid would have helped me tremendously!!

PS. My name starts with C too.

Petunia Lee said...

Celine - LOL

monlim said...

Hi Petunia, I'm just wondering if there could be another side of the story. In the time my daughter was in GEP, I found the teachers generally bent backwards to understand the unique talents of each child, much more so than for mainstream kids. Eg if a mainstream child wrote about aliens, he probably would just be given a fail grade but if a GEP kid wrote about it, they often try to work around the kid's creativity.

During that time, I saw lots of pushy GEP parents who told the teachers off for not making a greater effort with their darlings when in reality, this was not true. Eg. one parent said the GEP sucked cos the teachers didn't bother with her son but actually, I heard from many other parents that her son was a bully and v disruptive influence in class despite teachers' efforts, prob doesn't help by the mother's backing.

Long story short, not saying that it's definitely true in your case but I usually take what parents tell me their teachers said abt their kids with a pinch of salt, unless I know the parent v well.

Petunia Lee said...

Hey Mon... Mommy did not say much. When I proposed that she withdraw her son from my class she was most understanding too. Only after seeing what her son had written for me did she say that her son had been assessed as "unable to cope in GEP". The Mommy even warned me that her son could be disruptive.

I expected to teach a difficult child and arranged with Mommy to perhaps withdraw him.He was not difficult at all.

I can't tell what went wrong except that this child is very talented and CAN write... but was assessed as unable to cope in GEP. Maybe my standards of good writing are too low.

monlim said...

Oic. Well, it's true that GEP is v rigorous and it's not enough to just know how to write. Maybe the teacher meant that he couldn't cope with the other aspects? Eg. the projects, analytical work, or other subjects etc.

Incidentally, my daughter could write pretty well but she always did rather badly in the English papers right up till p6. Still, the teachers never said anything terribly discouraging. From what I know, the teachers would not "condemn" a child esp as early as p4, when they're just starting the curriculum.

Anyway, just guessing lah :) I'm prob not the best person to comment since my kid has been out of pri schl gep for 4 years now.

Petunia Lee said...

Weeeeeell... Clarence's first piece was the worst I had seen in a while even compared to mainstream kids. If he wrote like that in school I'm not surprised he failed. What I am perplexed about is that the comment "cannot cope in GEP was passed" without further investigation and based on a test result.

I was very very surprised at how FAST he learnt. I have children who cannot get the skills even after 10 weeks of practice. He got it within 9 hours with minimal explanation. This child's cognitive processing ability was quite exciting to observe.

Petunia Lee said...

Basically he started the course writing worse than many of my mainstream kids. At the end of 9 hours... he had surpassed all of them.

monlim said...

Yeah, well, that's why I suspect the "cannot cope with GEP" comment was related to other areas, not specifically regarding his writing. From my experience, the teachers don't decide someone is not suitable for the programme just based on one area, even more so for writing cos that's just one portion of one subject.

Petunia Lee said...

Ummmm... my bad. His English is his worse subject. He's a whiz in Math and Science. The cannot cope comment was about English.

Petunia Lee said...

And it was his writing that failed. His main paper and projects pulled him up to a pass in English.

Petunia Lee said...

Oops. .. worsT subject. Not worse. Teehee!