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Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Little Enigma

Parent-Teacher conferences were last week. After last fall’s performance, I should have insisted Bruce attend with me. He must be sufficiently confident in our two oldest children that he doesn’t feel the need to bother. But, I tell you, never again will I face a teacher alone.

Really, both conferences went well. But Sabrina’s revealed certain idiosyncrasies that I’m still processing.

In Kindergarten, certain tests are administered to measure a child’s learning style and aptitude. Two of the areas these tests measure are whether a child is an auditory or visual learner.

I can’t remember how Jack scored on these tests. I’m assuming it was fairly well, because their results don’t haunt me one year later. (Hard to believe Jack was taking those same tests only a year ago, and now we’re faced with putting him in a school for “highly gifted” students.)

Anyway, Sabrina’s test scores were high on the auditory scale and erratic on the visual scale. This basically means that she’s a strong auditory learner, and weaker in the visual areas; which means areas of difficulty could involve symbolic reasoning (math) and reading.

This made some sense to me. Bruce and I often joke that if you want to get Sabrina to learn something, make a song out of it. (That’s how Bruce ultimately pushed her over the edge with potty training.) She’s always loved music and sings very well.

But, Mrs. Kruse said, the visual thing was strange. If you showed Sabrina a symbol, and then asked her to draw it from memory, she had a hard time. Sabrina, however, has a fantastic memory, almost photographic. Furthermore, Mrs. Kruse noted, despite the test scores indicating she should be doing otherwise, she is one of the best readers in the class. As a student who struggles with visual clues and symbols, she shouldn’t be reading as well as she does.

Hmmmm. An enigma. It makes me wonder.

I sat down with Sabrina tonight and we talked about reading. I had the same talk with her that I had with Jack a year-and-a-half ago. I indicated my thousands of books, and said, “Sabrina, you know how to read. You could read any one of these books [with a little help]. The world is your oyster. Reading is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.”

Her eyes widened and she became very excited. She insisted on trying to read a bit of an adult book. We looked at the preface to “Two in the Far North” by Margaret Murie. She read two paragraphs slowly, but amazingly well.

I think back to when Jack learned how to read just over a year ago. He was at a fourth grade level by the end of Kindergarten. He was a wunderkind to his teachers. And though I’ll be the first to admit that he has an above-average intelligence, he was also almost a year older than many of his classmates. When most of his classmates had just turned six, he was going on seven.

In contrast, Sabrina is just turned six, and she is already reading better at six-plus-three-months, than Jack was at the same age.

I’m not sure why I’m even writing this. I know I shouldn’t compare my kids. Jack’s academic abilities are a hard act to follow, especially for his girly-girl, uber-fashion-conscious, blond-haired, blue-eyed sister.

I admit to feeling a bit defensive of Sabrina. I have worried about her academic abilities. I worry about her self-image. Secretly, I think she's a genius.

I can’t help but think that many of the tests used in schools these days only go so far in measuring innate ability. Clearly, there is more to Sabrina’s current reading level than test scores can begin to measure. There is more to intelligence than copying symbols and seeing letters point in the right direction.

What test measures a child’s ability to manipulate his or her environment in new and unusual ways; to think outside the box? What test measures emotional intelligence, or creativity? What test measures technological aptitude?

I don’t mean to criticize the school system at all. They can only do so much. And it is true, Sabrina is an obviously auditory learner. This is essential information. But if, as a mother, I confined my opinion of my daughter’s abilities to an aptitude test, I would be sorely short-sighted. As her parent, it is my duty to see these test scores as merely a piece to a much bigger puzzle.

Yes, Jack is a genius. Yes, Evan is talking earlier than all my other kids did, and already displays an unusually quick, sophisticated wit for a 2-year-old. Yes, Ellie still has that “wizened soul” that she emerged with from the womb. But Sabrina, as unconventional as she is, is the one I watch. More than all the others, I believe in her and her ability to do great things. Why? Because she is truly different than her siblings. She has her head in the clouds, and yet sees and hears the minutiae of life. She inspires me.

Tonight, she read to me “Guess How Much I Love You?”, and I watched her not only know most of the words, but follow the meaning of the story, and, as she read, affect different voices for the different characters.

My Sabrina is made of moonlight, rainbows, and unicorns. She has challenged her father and I. When she was a toddler, we used to lay in bed and wonder how we were going to love her. We used to sing our own adaptation of a familiar “Sound of Music” song: How do you solve a problem like Sabrina? We have endured goofy comments, clumsy motor skills, and a great deal of screaming and crying. But in the end, Sabrina continues to blossom and amaze.

As she read the last page of “Guess How Much I Love You?”, I silently echoed back to her the words she read to me: “Then [Big Nutbrown Hare] lay down close by [Little Nutbrown Hare] and whispered with a smile, ‘I love you right up to the moon – and back.’”

Yes, yes I do, my darling girl.


At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure she's not one of OUR kids? (I'd take her in a heartbeat, BTW). Honestly, some of the learning style stuff sounds exactly like Brendan.


At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.... sounds very familiar to much of my angst. At least you're not alone and it's all good. Sabrina is wonderful. Keep me posted as you solve the puzzle. You know how I've struggled with mine.


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