By Suji Rajagopal
“S is very gifted too”, she says. “We are happy using Gifted Math Curriculum because it is designed by Name Brand University. It is arguably, the best university in the world right now! Are you sure you placed your A at the correct grade level?”
I try to change the subject. My friend and I talk about other things and eat yummy pizza then I drive home, feeling more like a failure than ever, trying not to cry because Gifted Math Curriculum is just not working for my child despite the promise of proven results and the ability to accelerate with its adaptive technology. I’ve reached my wit’s end. How do I explain that the only joy A finds with Gifted Math Curriculum is figuring out the bugs in the oddly primitive (for an expensive curriculum) interface? There goes the discounted group-buy subscription.
That curriculum was just one of the many other math programs that failed my kid (but brought joy to others we know). The whole car ride home, I feel the tears pricking my eyes. Am I only imagining that A is advanced? Maybe I was making a mistake? What was I doing wrong?
I look at all the math materials I’ve strewn around our home…the books, the printables, the games, the very popular balance-beam based system that promises a whole-brain learning approach and elicits delighted laughter from every kid we know but mine.
I left A alone with the system once for a few minutes to grab a drink of water and I came back to find him sobbing silently, wanting to please mom but hating every minute of using it.
“Is it too hard?” I ask gently.
My child shakes his head.
“Is it difficult for you to understand how to balance these equations?” I insist.
Another shake of the head.
“Mom, can I stop now?”
He hates writing out the math, I tell myself. It’s still too sequential for him. It must be that.
Advanced though he is, he is like so many his age: a very reluctant writer. My gut knows it is not due to difficulty understanding the math but a part of me worries there’s something else going on.
Two days later, balance beam algebra program heads to a happy used curriculum buyer in North Carolina…unused. At least I will get some of my money back!
In a few weeks, I have a clue. It hits me as I watch my son working diligently on a self-created math problem on the whiteboard. He sketches rectangles to compute area using variables as dimensions and then creates equations of his own, discovering successes with an excited fist pump and “aha!” or frowning to himself in concentration when he stumbles. He even happily proves a previous result wrong. “I made a mistake there yesterday!” he turns to me, eyes shining while he points with the marker to a binomial multiplication error, “but now I know why! I thought about it in my sleep!”. The writing on the wall, err…whiteboard, erases all those days of worry. He has taught himself somehow. He needs a bigger-picture program! I realize that I should seek something or someone who connects math into more meaningful dots than Gifted Math Curriculum and balance beam program can!
I should slap my forehead but I am quite wimpy about pain.
A few months later, my newly turned 8-year-old starts working with a math mentor using an online whiteboard-based classroom. A’s frustrations drop away as his learning soars. My fears are now of a different sort. “Is his handwriting too sloping and uneven? Is he making spelling errors?” I ask the mentor on the phone one day who very kindly answers, “Suji, A and I share a language of math…don’t worry about spelling or handwriting.” Finally, someone who gets an asynchronous child!
I sell many of our math curricula and use the money for living math literature and math biographies instead. From then on, we will use only mentors and community college professors. My child will supplement his learning with curriculum…but these curricula will not be the ones developed by math educators. They will be programs developed by pure mathematicians. The kind of big-picture math people that my son will aspire to be.
Since that experience 7 years ago, I’ve learned so much about why some programs fit gifted learners and other don’t. I’ve learned how two kids can have similar IQ scores but be very different in the way (and timelines in which) they receive, process, digest, and synthesize information. Although my son is not twice exceptional, I’ve learned how he masks some learning issues by focusing on other abilities. And I’ve learned that giftedness can suck. Big time. What’s usually hard is too easy and what’s easy is preposterously difficult for some kids to surmount, be it from processing difficulties, boredom, asynchronous development, learning style, or plain but paralyzing perfectionism.
Perhaps homeschooling your gifted kid with mainstream gifted curriculum works well for you. Power to you! But if it doesn’t, then you know what I’m talking about. Even with homeschooling, your gifted kid might not fit where other gifted kids do. It’s definitely not because you are imagining things.
You can do something about it. Ask us how.