Friday, November 30, 2001

Don't know much about history

I'm failing fourth-grade social studies.

My daughter managed to eke out a C on her report card, no help from me (though probably considerable help from her aide), but me -- let's just say it's good I'm not graded. These last two chapters in her social studies textbook have seemed beyond obtuse to me. It's as though the textbook authors did research to discover the most learning-preventive, confusing, counter-intuitive way to present material and then followed those techniques exactly. Man, I don't get it.

At least my daughter has an excuse, with her learning disabilities, for struggling here. I'm supposed to be the wise mom gently guiding her through the material. How can I do that when I'm getting lost myself? The two chapters she's done so far were on the Northeast, which should have been easy because we actually live there. We read a chapter on the geography of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Switzerland. We read a chapter on the history of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Buenos Aires. The Northeast is way bigger than I thought.

The history chapter, I gave up on completely. It included lessons on the Iroquois Confederacy, the Revolutionary War, and immigration in the early 1900s, each with its full complement of facts, figures, names and places. The flash cards my daughter's aide made up looked like the World Book Encyclopedia writ small. The very thought of going over them with her exhausted me. Helping her find the answers to her nightly homework exhausted me. Her, too. Is there such a thing as PSSSS -- Post-Social Studies Stress Syndrome?

The chapter she's starting now seems considerably less stressful -- it's on the relatively tiny subject of Our Country's Environment -- and I'm going to try a new technique recommended by a book on inclusion I've been reading. It suggests that, with subjects like science and social studies, if the child has anxiety about reading the textbook, then don't read it. Sounds good to me!

Actually, what they recommend is skimming, and calling it skimming, not reading. My daughter was pretty happy with the idea. I'm trying to train her to look at a) lesson titles; b) section headings; and c) the boldfaced vocabulary words as a way to get the main points of a chapter and also find where the answers to questions may lie. Using those elements, we mapped out the chapter on a graphic organizer, and it looks pretty good. Maybe this time, I won't be scared. At least, until we get to the chapter on the Southwest and its most famous region, Nigeria.

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