Handling a primary school teacher- sorry quite long!

(68 Posts)
JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 15:59:28

Hello. I have a very bright Year 3 boy and we are having problems with the school's inability/lack of interest in extension activities.

I feel as if I have let my son down as I've not really made much fuss. Last year he could do the spelling test in his sleep so the school agreed to give him 2 additional spellings a week. These were pointless words such as 'Natasha' (phonetically regular) and seemed to be given with little thought.

This year I thought I'd be more pro active. I approached the teacher three weeks into term and as a start point said that my son knew all of the spellings for the entire term so could he have some different ones. She started (in a rather patronising fashion) telling me that it was important he knew the words in context, it wasn't just about spelling them correctly, etc. When I assured her that he knew the words in context, she then said well you won't have to worry about learning spellings this year will you.

I asked her how we as parents working with her could ensure he was challenged this year. Her response was that they were studying the Romans in class so if he was such a bright child then she'd expect him to be reading around that subject at home. Fair enough except he has hoovered up books on Romans and there was no mention of what she would do in class.

The last two weeks he has come home with Maths homework that he can complete verbally in 15 seconds (takes about 2 minutes of writing). I sent a polite note to the teacher telling her this and her response was: 'Sometimes the homework will be easy. Feel free yourself to download worksheets from the net for him.'

I feel that whether I 'download worksheets' from the Internet for my son is not the issue. My issue is that the homework she is setting is not appropriate.

I also am now feeling that I have been fobbed off regarding the spellings. Surely she could prepare a separate more challenging set of spellings for him. How can once size fit all?

Additionally the school is trialling a grammar/spelling/punctuation book but everyone in his class is on the same level book. How can this be appropriate when you've got some children who can't spell 'the' and others who find 'pseudonym' easy peasy?

Sorry about length of post.

I want to meet with the teacher and have these outcomes:
different spelling list
more challenging maths homework
different g/s/punctuation book

But the teacher is not very welcoming, quite patronising and dismissive. Feel as if I am failing my son because I'm the antithesis of Tiger Mother: I'm far too reticent and people pleasing. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for reading.

FriendlyLadybird Fri 04-Oct-13 16:24:07

Why do you need to get these things from the teacher/school? Learning spellings is not a particularly stimulating activity and I certainly wouldn't classify it as extension work. If your child is good at spelling -- hurrah. As the teacher said, he doesn't have to bother learning any for the rest of the year, giving him more time to do his own thing. You could always get him to learn more difficult words and test him at home, but I can't imagine that would be much fun for either of you. Equally, learning grammar and punctuation doesn't have to be delivered via a book and it's not a linear exercise. As long as he's reading and attempting complex and challenging prose he will be extending his skills. That, incidentally, is where his work in class will be differentiated. If they are doing the Romans, for example, they will be asked to write something. He will be expected to be writing at a higher level, with a more advanced vocabulary and mature structure, for example, than others in the class, though the actual task may appear to be the same.
Remember as well -- there is no statutory obligation for the school to set homework. Most teachers don't like doing it at this level and they do not have time to mark it properly. Her primary focus is going to be on what she does in class. So, yes, if you want him to be doing more difficult maths homework, download some worksheets from the internet. But why bother? If he's bright and self-motivated, it's going to be more beneficial to let him do his own thing.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 17:19:15

Hi Friendlyladybird. Thanks so much for your reply. I realise spellings aren't the most stimulating of activities but I want my child to have to learn them. His friends are writing them out/using look cover write check/ being tested at home, then feeling slightly anxious about whether they'll get them all right whilst my son is merrily pitching up and getting them all right without any effort whatsoever. It's not the spellings per se I'm worried about it's the cumulative effect of being given work that is so easy that he doesn't have to put in any effort whatsoever. Same story in Maths- his friends (close bunch of 4 of them) have to put in some effort and don't always get everything right. Of course I can challenge him at home but he's really busy with extra curricular stuff and I like him to have down time so he can mooch!

I've seen a couple of lessons the teacher has delivered on Romans and it's very much a case of give the information then tell the children to write about a day in the life of a Roman. There is no guidance provided at all. Children with little ability write one or two sentences. My son will write 4 or 5 sentences as the teacher will never tell him to write more. The other boys at his table are the same.I want the teacher to push him more. I'm a teacher myself (high school) and there are easy ways of managing a class with varying abilities.

Thank you for letting me know re no obligation on school to set homework- I hadn't realised that. I feel as if I'm not asking for special treatment just a curriculum that ensure he behaves like the other children ie learns his spellings, feels a little bit nervous in the test, feels happy if he does well; struggles a little bit with Maths homework, feels a sense of accomplishment when he does well. However, his experience of school is that it's all easy street.

Hmmm I feel that the teacher will refuse to give different spellings but having taught myself I don't understand this. I would give core spellings then dial it up or down for different ability level children/those with SEN/those with EAL, etc.

Thanks for taking the trouble to reply. My greatest fear is that my bright child is becoming unmotivated and is more than happy to go on cruise control!

FriendlyLadybird Fri 04-Oct-13 17:47:06

Why on earth do you want your child to have to learn spellings? I never have -- and I've never forced my children to learn them either. Learning 'stuff' such as spellings has nothing to do with ability: it's about forcing yourself to do something boring. If anything's going to demotivate him it's that!

If you want him to have to work at something, try music lessons. And/or make it clear to him that you expect him to produce something really good on Romans, seeing as he knows so much about them. Much better than worksheets or spellings!

Hulababy Fri 04-Oct-13 17:55:06

Spelling tests have no academic benefit, so feel pleased you can now avoid them and forget about them. They do not actually help a child learn to spell. Lots of research shows this.

I would forget official homework full stop. Let him do it 2 minutes and then move onto more interesting activities at home. Let him lead the way. He knows his school topics - let him explore them in his own way, and if he wants to.

Schools give out homework because the Government tells them they have to. Many schools, especially at primary, would rather not, as at this age they often have little benefit.

The grammar, etc book. You say it is a trial. Maybe they only have this one level as yet during the trial period and it will be extended further if and when school decide to take it up further. It is also not just about spelling by the sounds of it but a whole other loads of stuff too - maybe he will benefit from reiteration of grammatical rules.

Re school work. I assume the teacher knows how he is doing in class and is setting differentiated work. If not, this may be the thing that needs looking at.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 19:18:24

Oh God, I'm coming across as someone who's obsessed with spellings! Aaagh. I just want him to have the experience of being set a task at school that's a little bit challenging, working towards it and then achieving it. Spellings (and easy Maths) is the only homework that is set.

He does learn the violin Friendlyladybird and I can see the enormous benefits of doing this.

Hulababy, we hang out at the park after school and DS plays football with his friends three nights a week; other two nights he does swimming and more football. When we arrive home the last thing he wants to do is more work. That's my frustration really; he's not stretched at school and if I want to stretch him at home then hanging out with mates after school/playing with siblings will be compromised. I want him to be challenged during the day at school.

At home he does not want to do any school work and to be honest, I don't blame him. Don't think I'd want to come home after working and have to do more work (although obviously in teaching, you have to!).

Teacher favours differentiation by outcome so she'll for example set the class the task of drawing a map of local area and children approach this according to ability. But there's no expectation, no indication of what a bright child might put on the map and what a less bright child (sorry, not well phrased) might produce. When I was teaching I'd have offered some examples of things that might be included on the map, making sure my suggestions catered for whole ability range plus EAL students in my class. Then top students had an idea of my expectations and less able students still felt as if they could do well at the task.

Sorry, think I'm coming across really badly here (defensive? obsessed with spellings? mad?) but I feel really sorry for this little boy who is gradually trying less and less at school because no one demands anything more of him.

clairew74 Fri 04-Oct-13 20:17:00

Is this a problem that you are only having with his current teacher or is it something that has been building since he started school? Although My son is only in year 1 I have had some similar concerns since before he started school but have recently had a meeting with his teacher and the head and I feel so much better now. The problem with having a gifted child is that people,, even teachers, are not always aware of the extent of their abilities and you risk coming across as a pushy parent or even deluded. I have fortunately had the benefit of some very good advice from My mum who is a retired head teacher and from potential plus- check out their website. I'm sure with the right advice and support you will be able to communicate effectively with the school and come to a solution without upsetting his teacher!

keepsmiling12345 Fri 04-Oct-13 21:38:40

OP , you certainly don't come across as "reticent and people pleasing"! I can sympathise completely with your desire t see your able DC given extension work. But I'm surprised you think it should be spellings. Your point about the differentiation is interesting, in my experience, there is some onus put on able children to decide themselves how far they can take a task. Do you think there is a reason why your DS isn't demonstrating a desire to take on more challenging work?

BlissfullyIgnorant Fri 04-Oct-13 21:50:25

Have a read of this stuff
You might find some useful information on increasing breadth and depth of knowledge, way beyond being quick at maths or getting 100% in spellings.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 23:29:32

Ha ha Alien Attack-I think you are right about how I am coming across on this thread!

Can't ask for differentiated work except in spellings and maths hence why I've focused on them.
Yes Claire this has been building since he started school. I have three chidren (one of whom is a demanding one year old) and husband isn't around in week so have limited ability to extend son out of school.

I want him to be extended in school. Teacher last year said he'd achieved several levels above age but was making little effort. She then mused that maybe it's ok to go through school making little effort!

Thanks for replies and for website suggestions: really appreciate your time.

kitchendiner Sat 05-Oct-13 07:28:40

I don't think there is anything wrong with the way you are coming across. This forum can be very harsh and I personally do not feel comfortable posting here about my DS. I totally understand all your concerns - they all sound totally reasonable. I would phone Potential Plus and ask for advice - they have a helpline.

MissMalonex2 Sat 05-Oct-13 07:54:54

I have a similar child - DD - if she is not stretched, she'll coast along in school and focus intensely on sports. Becomes demotivated and bored.

However, her teachers have done what you would like done - the spellings are not difficult but she has to write a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare, a limerick, a science fiction story etc to use them in context as homework rather than learn them (some examples of things used in yrs 3-5). Maths - I said something in year 3, and in class teacher wd just give her extra problems to stretch her and encouraged risk taking (she can be a bit boundaried). The set she is in for maths (they stream at her jnrs) are working at level 6 + now - and it does stretch her, is her favourite topic.

So I think in short, your DS's teacher is not being helpful - I see the risk you are worrying about. Btw, DD is in a class of 30+ in a state school, 20% of class in yr 3 had SEN - the teacher who initiated all of this for her was definitely stretched in many directions, that isn't an excuse. I'm not sure what you do about it though! Aren't they supposed to differentiate? I would be surprised if your DS was the only child affected in the class.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 08:39:34

It is definitely not ok for him to go through school making little effort. He needs to learn how to work at things and to fail sometimes. I agree with kitchendiner potential plus are Fantastic!! I have used their advice service and My son took part in the pilot for their assessment service. It sounds like you really need some support and to feel you are not alone, they will provide this even if you dont join as a member!

keepsmiling12345 Sat 05-Oct-13 09:10:31

I didn't say there was anything wrong in how OP was coming across on this thread either. I think MissMalonex has it spot on in terms of differentiation and is what my DC is fortunate to get at her state school. It isn't just about more difficult spellings or harder maths, it is about taking the same task broader and/or deeper. This is eminently do-able, especially in YR, Y1 and Y2 when they often have topics. So children could be asked to describe their alien...some will write hardly anything, some a few simple sentences and some will explain in detail the look, personality and background of their alien! I think I would approach the teacher more along these lines. I fully agree that your DS should not coast but he will also have to demonstrate he takes advantage himself of opportunities to go further/deeper etc.

beatofthedrum Sat 05-Oct-13 09:17:03

My head teacher would be seriously displeased if any of her staff took such a disinterested and unhelpful approach towards parental concerns. Go to the head teacher if the class teacher is so unresponsive, homework should be differentiated just as class work is, and teachers should really not be presenting such a inflexible approach to parents.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 09:32:42

Well said beatofthedrum. My sons teacher has the exact opposite viewpoint in fact!

mummytime Sat 05-Oct-13 09:37:24

If you want him to become really good at Maths, try using Maths puzzles. eg. You need 4 L of water, but you only have a 5l and a 3 l jug, how do you do it?

I would be ecstatic that the homework was so easy, so we didn't waste time doing it. Read books, Watch films and critique them, join the RSPB and learn about and really observe nature, try crafts. Do at least one thing he finds tricky.

The less time you spend on homework the more time you can follow his interests and do real education.

Fragglewump Sat 05-Oct-13 09:39:17

Holy smoke if you're the 'antithesis of tiger mother' then the world has gone mad!

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 09:46:01

Actually I can understand your worry about him not learning how to apply himself and work. Does he have an interest you could help him pursue were he would have to apply himself? Doesn't have to be academic. Could be a competitive sport or learning a musical instrument. Because yes, I think children do need to learn how to apply themselves, and that not everything comes easily.

Actually I think you have an excellent point- he needs to learn to learn and if it is all too easy he will either switch off or have a god awful shock in the future. It isn't good for a child to find school too easy, and I would focus on that in your meeting, not the actual spellings- he should indeed have the experience of challenge, struggle, failure and persistence.

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 09:51:09

I was actually like your son. School work was very very easy for me for the first 3 years of school. I thought I was a genius <blush> It was a total shock to discover I wasn't.

hillyhilly Sat 05-Oct-13 10:04:40

I think that although the responses have been harsh they, and your very articulate response should give you your focus for further discussion with the school, starting with class teacher but then going to the head or governors if necessary. Your son is being let down currently, he needs to find work challenging as these early years set the scene for the rest of his schooling (IMO).
I have suspicions that my y4 dd has similar after a fantastic year last year, it's easy to focus on the spellings (I've been doing the same) as they are one of the few examples of their work that make it home.

claraschu Sat 05-Oct-13 10:08:05

I really agree with Kitchendiner!

My son had this problem all the way through A levels. I found that the schools were better or worse at dealing with it, but never really good. I always worried about coming across as a pushy mother, so I didn't discuss the issue with his teachers very much, unless I felt they were receptive. A few teachers were absolutely wonderful with him, but these were the exceptions.

Over the years my son had a lot of days off school, a lot of travelling and being "educated off site", a term of HE, and whatever else we could think of to keep him from "letting his schooling interfere with his education". I know that people on Mumsnet really disapprove of this approach, but I can only say that no school ever had a problem with his behaviour. He always did extremely well academically, and managed to fit in to the system well enough to slide under the radar.

It was a compromise, and definitely his enthusiasm was damaged at times.

Maybe you will be lucky enough to find teachers likeMissMalonex2's- what a star.

wearingatinhat Sat 05-Oct-13 14:09:57

Another vote for an excellent post by kitchendiner.

JackyJax - I do not think you come across as a tiger mother at all. Also, carrying more weight, is the fact that you too are a teacher; you simply come across, to me, as someone who is interested in education and the quality of teaching. All your points, regarding the work your DS is being given, sound perfectly valid, from where I am sitting.

The 'self-differentiation' of work is of course what all schools should strive for, but this does not always work and it takes willingness, thought and skill on the part of the teacher to make it work. It did work well at my DS's state school in literacy, but the teacher has to encourage and set targets in her marking and feedback, so the child knows what is expected. At his current school this is simply not happening. It is also not a substitute for some instruction at the correct level, for example, challenging a more able child to use more varied sentence openers in homework will not work if they have never been modelled in class

As a teacher, with the right type of approach, I think you are in a strong position to fight your DS's corner and I think you will feel more confident once you have spoken to potentialplusuk. Although it should not be necessary, many of us have found testing really helps, so that you are able to back up what you are saying.

I would also echo what other posters have said about the effects of coasting on work ethic and the damage caused to self esteem of knowing even when you achieve 100%, actually, the work was easy.

FriendlyLadybird Sat 05-Oct-13 15:03:50

Oh dear. I hope I didn't come across as harsh -- I didn't mean to. I get your problem now -- you do not feel that your son is pushing HIMSELF enough in school. In an effort to come up with solutions rather than problems, you appeared to focus on homework and asking for him to be set more difficult homework. In fact, I think a better approach would be to present the problem to the teacher. Say that you are concerned that, having looked through some of his workbooks, he does not appear to be working to his full potential. Engaging her that way might be a better way of handling her -- which is what your OP asked.

Just one thing to think about -- at that age, my DS's main personal focus was on length. He would write pages about a topic, doubtless full of fascinating facts but it was difficult to tell because he did not bother about legibility, punctuation etc. His teacher had to set him a limit in terms of length, to ensure that he concentrated on the quality of his writing. Any chance that's what your DS is doing?

claraschu Sat 05-Oct-13 15:15:31

What I found is that many teachers will pay lip service to differentiating the work, and make a few gestures. My son's teachers, in general, didn't follow up on things and make sure they were actually challenging him. It would have taken some real effort and thought to do this effectively in his case. I can understand that they might not have had the time or the interest, but schools are not honest about this.

ipadquietly Sat 05-Oct-13 16:21:49

If ds is a really good speller, why does he need spelling lists and spelling tests? IIWY I'd just ignore the list he brings home, heave a sigh of relief that he has to do less homework, and pick up new words to spell and learn from his reading books?

I don't see why people get so hung up on 'getting the right level of spelling' - spelling practice is something you can do anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 16:43:20

I have to say I agree with wearingatinhat about testing. Although it shouldn't be necessary, I have found it to be invaluable. I had evidence to back up what I was saying to the school and I have to say they have responded very positively. His teacher admitted that although she was aware My son was advanced she had no idea of the extent of his abilities especially in maths, she has completely altered Her planning for him as she realised what she originally had in mind was not going to stretch him. She also said that it would not have even occurred to her to assess a year 1 child to level 4 goals.I have been very lucky as he does have a fantastic teacher!

JackyJax Sat 05-Oct-13 17:04:41

Thanks so much to those who have posted: it's really helpful to have found this community.

Kitchendiner-thanks so much for your words of kindness
Miss Malonex- your child really sounds similar and some of those ideas eg using words in a limerick sound great.

My frustration is that I know how to extend him- my specialism is Special Needs children (I taught for last 13 years in Oz and this is the term we used- not sure if it's used over here). I'm really good at working with children on both ends of the spectrum. I can teach a class of 30 feisty students and ensure I tackle those of low ability, those in the middle and those who need extending.

However, with the best will in the world I don't have time to fully extend my child at home. I want him to be pushed in school.

Life at home is really busy (as I'm sure it is for everyone). We often don't get home until 5:30, then I make dinner, deal with screaming baby, sort out book bags, pe kits, etc for next day. By now it's 615, I listen to middle child read whilst bathing baby. At 645 (his reading takes a long time in between ensuring baby doesn't drown). Then I'll get baby down by 7:15, turn around clear up dinner dishes, sort out school notes, etc. Finally oldest child gets a look in. I supervise violin practise (20 minutes). We might play card games. Then all of us will read together for half an hour or so (we love reading). By now it's 8:45pm, boys are in bed and husband arrives home. I'm just not sure when I can extend him? I'm also up 3 or 4 times still in the night. Baby wakes at 5am and boys wake at 6am. I'm not complaining: I feel really blessed to have healthy children (have spent a lot of time working with children with very special needs).

So I am not sure when I can extend my child. Obviously at weekend there are opportunities but surely the biggest opportunity is during the school day?

Claire and kitchendiner- thanks so much for suggestion of potential plus. I'll give them a try on Monday.

Beatofthe drum- if I had responded as this teacher has responded I would have lost my job!

mummytime- love your suggestions but my issue is a severe lack of time. With 3 children it's a very busy (but lovely) househould.

Grennie- think you are right. Son loves chess. I can't play unfortunately and his dad isn't around to play but maybe I can find something online.

claraschu- lots of interesting points in your post, certainly food for thought.

Fragglewump- I don't know why you think I'm a tiger mother.

As I've said most afternoons after school my child plays footie with his friends. He loves this as he gets to let off lots of steam and hang out with his pals. If I was a tiger mum he'd be at chess club/at home doing extension activities/conjugating Latin verbs and writing iambic pentameters!

At home he spends lots of time on Match Attax (footie cards album in case you don't have boys) which again he gets a lot of pleasure out of but which doesn't really extend him. I read with him a lot- purely because we both love reading. And I wrestle with him a lot on the floor purely because he loves it- not because it teaches him about forces, weights or any other aspects of maths or science! The only pushing I really do is making him do violin. Otherwise he gets lots of chill out time.

Last year the only concession the teacher gave to his ability (upon which she always commented) was to give him 2 additional spellings a week. If I was a tiger mum surely I would have demanded more. As it was I only went to the teacher once as I didn't want to seem pushy.

And I do give back to the school by volunteering in both of my children's classrooms a couple of times a week which I love (really miss teaching!). I also help out in a remedial reading programme (sorry if terminology incorrect) which I really enjoy doing.

Friendlyladybird- umm I did find your comment a bit harsh but having re read my original post I can see why you wrote what you did! I think I'm really anxious about all of this and felt so dismissed by the teacher that I am possibly coming across badly. When I saw the teacher I tried to position it as 'what can we do' ie as a team. She just wasn't interested and said well in the classroom, everything is fine, don't worry about spellings and expect maths homework to be really easy for him. Then I was effectively dismissed. And even though I found your comment a bit harsh I figured that a) I deserved it b) you take that risk when on a public forum and c) you were genuinely trying to help me.

I've found all (well most!) of your comments really useful with lots of food for thought. I really do appreciate those of you who have responded and have taken on board suggestions.

Just wish there were more hours in the day!

You are right to want him stretched in school, otherwise he's not learning how to learn when things get difficult. One day, whether its in a levels or uni things will get tricky and unless he has developed strategies for keeping going when it is hard he is potentially going to find it difficult to cope.

Pistillate Sun 06-Oct-13 22:17:55

What the school needs to change is not his homework, but his targets. In our school these are reviewed once a term, agreed with child and parent at parent evening. If you think your child can already do the target set, challenge it.

Just ask teacher if she can talk you through this terms targets.

These targets are agreed with the child, so the teacher should have an opportunity to explain in detail the level of work required from the child.

If you want to teach self motivation to your child because he is happy to coast, there are ways of doing this with non- educational tasks.

You do sound extremely busy with three children.... Good luck balancing it all and making sure your children learn what they need to learn

Icantseeit Mon 07-Oct-13 16:23:15

Is there any way that he would be able to go into Yr4 on a regular basis for a few of his literacy and numeracy lessons. I requested this for my child and they now go up to the next year for extra support.

This obviously depends on the school's attitude etc.

hillian Tue 08-Oct-13 08:45:21

I know the conversation has moved on to what you can do about it, and unfortunately, I don't have any answers for you. However, I think it is very important that you do succeed in making a change because of my personal experience.

DS2 (now in year 5) was just like your son in year 2 and 3 wrt maths.. He'd had a very positive experience in year 1 where the teacher did not feel the need to hold him back and he just flourished as a result! He used to love going into school and he completely expected to find the work interesting and challenging.

Then in year 2, the teacher told me he was too advanced for her class, so he'd spend the year revising what he already knew and helping the other children.

We changed schools and in year 3, the teacher made some effort, although DS had to first spend time proving what he knew but had not been recorded by the year 2 teacher. he got about a term's worth of work though before it was back to the revising.

The year 4 teacher, incredibly, said the same thing as the year 2 teacher had said, except apologetically. I met with the HT who made sympathetic noises, promised a follow up and then did nothing except give DS a gold star at assembly for being so good at maths (which was nice but didn't address the problem).

I haven't even tried for a meeting with the year 5 teacher yet because she seems a bit unbalanced so I am worried that it will make things worse for DS! A recent homework though, was a revision on the 3x table (which he mastered in year 1).

What DS has learned though is that it doesn't matter how much you try to do everything well. Also it doesn't matter what you attain in tests etc or how often you put your hand up to give the right answer because you are just going to get the same work again and again. for most of year 4 (and some of year 3), DS tried to challenge himself to do the work in record time, beating his previous personal best. So, he was doing a 30 minute task in under 5 minutes. Sometimes, he makes silly mistakes but he doesn't care, because he knows that he knows it and every one else does too.

So DS has become lazy. He's lost the drive to learn and he has no idea what it is to struggle, never mind how to cope with failing sometimes.

I tried to extend him at home last year, but with all his clubs etc, and the fact that he was only 8 years old, it was like pulling teeth. He kept asking me if he couldn't do the work I was setting him during school time? I even asked the school but that was another suggestion the head ignored.

This year, I've had enough and he has to do 3 hours per week with me whether he likes it or not. He's going to learn how to lay out his work, rather than just jot down the answers and how to show workings. I'm going to teach him things from level 6, which seems to be where maths opens out.

cleoowen Tue 08-Oct-13 09:05:15

Get him to put his spellings in a sentence so he does know the context. Perhaps get a thesaurus and get him to find alternative words that mean the same as the ones he gets for spellings.

As a parent I would probably be worried about this too as you don't want your child to get disengaged and not bother putting effort in because he's not stretched. As a teacher I have seen this happen and a good teacher should stretch a child. When I taught year 1 we had several children who were learning year 2 words.

But also as a teacher it's very difficult to cater for all abilities and takes time to set separate homework for individual children which she probably doesn't have. Plus if she does it for your child she could end up doing it for more and more children until it becomes unmanageable.

Personally in her position I would add an extension task to the end of the homework. That way she's not setting individual homework for certain children

cleoowen Tue 08-Oct-13 09:07:35

Oops! pressed too early.

So ask her to do that and she might find it more manageable. Plus, rather than just taking your word for it perhaps she wants to check your ds can really do what you say.

wearingatinhat Tue 08-Oct-13 10:12:05

DS is at a fee paying school and is working several years ahead of the most able in his class (I'm told). When I asked for homework at his level I was told, rather as Cleoowen has said - 'it would take too long to differentiate DS's homework at his level; all children have to have the same homework'. As you can imagine, it did not go down too well (understatement), particularly as it is a 'prep' school which supposedly prepares some children for some of the most selective schools in the country. I think it is achieved through lots of personal tuition. The idea of letting some poor child plod through lots of work that they could do easily years ago, and then get an extension task 'on top' of that work, is not a solution; the bright kid gets to do extra homework. By that stage, the brain is in neutral and the child is disengaged.

What really concerns me, is that teachers admit that they are too busy to differentiate; what parents of bright children have known all along! The system does not work for some children and although not ideal, they need to access work from the higher level classrooms. There needs to be more teaching to ability rather than grouping children by age, when provision within the year group is not satisfactory.

Really, the other point is that the homework is the tip of the iceberg; it is often the only bit visible to parents. One can only assume that teachers are too busy to differentiate to the extent needed for some children, during the school day too!

PiqueABoo Tue 08-Oct-13 11:56:09

"the bright kid gets to do extra homework"
Mmm.. state school DD gets extension tasks and by-and-by said, "But I don't think it's fair that I have to do more...". We've long had the same with assessment e.g. two sets of optional SATs (current year and one from above) and "missing out" on the entertainment provided for the children who didn't do the harder stuff.

[Cue weak parental waffle, usually about being fortunate. I always find that kind of conversation really difficult because I don't want the child to become a smug little bleep or feel too trapped by labels and parental expectations.]

Meanwhile I'm a pragmatist and this is mass education: Politicians, watchdogs and educationalists can spin "differentiation" and "potential" until the cows come home, but with 30+ children in a single-form entry primary class there is clearly only so much you can reasonably expect from one teacher. That's before you throw in some of the behaviour they might have to manage, possibly without much support from their SLT.

DD does get differentiated work at school and is often left to just get on with it in the company of a similar child. Part of me objects to the relative lack of teaching and they occasionally stumble down blind alleys because of that, but on balance becoming accustomed to genuine 'independent learning' is probably for the best.

wearingatinhat Tue 08-Oct-13 12:19:05

PiqueABoo, totally agree with the mass education comment and the difficulties in a single form school, but I think there is a resistance, even in the larger multi form entry schools to group similar ability children together. I know that it is incredibly hard for a teacher teaching 30, but where there is a will, there is a way, and I often feel that the 'will' simply is not there. Quite honestly, my DS would love a bit of independent learning at school - it is often what he does at home, purely self-motivated anyway.

JackyJax Fri 11-Oct-13 13:37:57

Hi Everyone. This is turning into an interesting (although rather depressing!) conversation. Glad I'm no longer being seen as a tiger mother!

Oh...Kitten- totally agree. I want my son to develop life long strategies re being given hard work and having to find methods to deal with this.

hillian- I think you are me in the future. I can completely relate to your post. Teachers in this school (and they are lovely, school is lovely) also just pay lip service to extension. My son is also learning that it doesn't matter how much you try to do everything well because everything is so easy. My son also tries to challenge himself with record times for maths. I keep saying that's great but don't forget about accuracy. My DS is also in danger of becoming lazy.

The teacher has just sent home some more Maths and literacy homework both of which are too easy. In Maths my son has to 'find half of eg 50'; in literacy he has had to correct sentences such as .'I brung my books to school.' He sees it all as nonsense as it's so easy.

hillian I find the same problem with after school clubs, playing with friends, dinner, violin practice, there is little time to extend my son. I like your idea about a 3 hour weekly challenge.

cleowen the spellings are so easy it's pointless putting them in a sentence. For more challenging work this would be a good idea. However, this is me setting my child's homework isn't it? When he was in Year 1 (the age range you taught) he could do Year 4 spellings but wasn't allowed any other spellings than year 1 because 'otherwise what will he do next year?'!!!

Totally agree with comments regarding bright children having to do extra work in order to be challenged ie my son seems to coast all day at school, his friends don't do any extra work at home but he needs to do so because he is not being challenged.

The literacy, maths and spelling homework this week seemed so easy. My year 1 child even thought they were easy (he's bright too) and I'm sure the baby (age 1) could have had a pretty good stab at the tasks (only joking for those of you who want to re label me as a tiger mum!).

Maybe I should say to the teacher- the homework is too easy, I'll set my own! But a) then I am setting and marking homework and b) my fear is that the homework reflects what they are doing in class. If it's that easy then I can imagine major boredom setting in soon.

Thank you so much to those of you who have commented and shared your experiences. It's so good to talk with others with similar children. I can't really talk to my school friend mums as it wouldn't come across well complaining about a bright child!

Thanks again.

WowOoo Fri 11-Oct-13 13:47:39

I would certainly ask for a meeting with the teacher to ask about targets and also ask to look at the work he's producing in school in that meeting.

Then, you might get more of an idea what's going on in the classroom.

That 'what will he do for next year's spellings?' is silly. Ds1's spellings are from the year above and they have challenge tasks for homework. Our school doesn't find it a problem. (It's not a perfect school, but it does try to stretch the children)

Kemmo Fri 11-Oct-13 13:56:45

Lots of good stuff on here.

The spellings etc would really worry me. Not because I could care less about learning spellings but because homework is often the only window we get into what is going on in the classroom. If there is a lack of differentiation in homework then there is likely to be a lack of differentiation in the classroom.

Pistillate Fri 11-Oct-13 17:43:36

What the school needs to change is not his homework, but his targets

Just repeating myself in case you missed it.

My dd has had 'use captials and full stops' as one or her targets for 2 years solid. What are your son's targets?

JackyJax Mon 14-Oct-13 20:53:24

Gosh Pistillate those aren't very challenging targets! Two years- yikes.

I didn't realise primary school children had individual targets: these targets have never been mentioned. Are these for each subject? Teacher is so unwelcoming (in an austere kind of way) that I can't imagine questioning her on these. Will need to develop some mettle.

Pistillate Mon 14-Oct-13 22:11:08

Yes, these targets are for literacy, numeracy and general in our school. They are discussed and agreed at parents evening. I will be fairly pissed off if she has not moved onto something else next parents evening. However, it is something she is still inconsistent on, if I am honest, and I have had a chat with her about it. (she is not t&g).

I would definately be asking about the targets, and probably not wait til parents evening, because that is the teachers chance to tell you what they think, in my experience, and for you to ask one or two questions. Not for having even a polite disagreement. That would be embarrassing for the teacher, and probably for you too.

simpson Wed 16-Oct-13 00:38:10

My DS is in yr4 and his targets this year are: numeracy - to do his homework every week (he always does and its too easy), literacy - to write cursively (he always does).

When I queried this, I was told all the kids in his class have the same target (so pointless - teacher has gone off sick since!)

DD (yr1) has individual targets for reading, literacy and numeracy which are all totally correct for her.

JackyJax Wed 16-Oct-13 22:10:05

simpson- I'm staggered by your son's numeracy target! Must admit I'm a bit gobsmacked by the literacy one too.

Pistillate, thanks for advice re not raising anything really important at parents' evening. Ours is very 'cheek by jowl' due to lack of space so lots of polite smiling and parents saying very little.

Think it will be useful to know what the targets are although slightly nervous after reading simpson's post!

wearingatinhat Thu 17-Oct-13 09:50:34

Simpson - I think your teacher gets the award for setting the most useless and irrelevant targets! Unless, that is, someone can top that. What a depressing thought!

tumbletumble Thu 17-Oct-13 10:03:58

OP, has your school had an Ofsted inspection recently? Now I'm not Ofsted's greatest fan, but one thing that might work in your favour is that they are now much more focused on progress than achievement. Pupils are expected to show a certain amount of progress between year 2 and year 6 for the school to get a good rating.

Did your DS get very good SAT results at the end of year 2? If so, the pressure is on for him to get excellent results at the end of year 6(whereas previously if he got good results then that would be all that was required, even if they didn't show a huge improvement from his starting point).

It might be worth mentioning this when you talk to his teacher?

tumbletumble Thu 17-Oct-13 10:05:07

DS1 is also in year 3. He (and 2 other boys in his class) do their maths lessons with year 4.

simpson Thu 17-Oct-13 10:21:31

She is new to the school (this school year) and has not been seen since parents eve (not surprised!)

She is supposed to be back after half term but I am not holding my breath! Somehow I don't think DS is going to have a great year sad

Brockle Thu 17-Oct-13 10:22:36

my Ds is in year three. the class is split into four groups based on ability with a lot of flexibility in moving through the groups. their homework is set according to their group. all the homework is on one sheet so if I feel that ds2 can do his maths easily then we look at group one's work in the week. it works really well. they have only started this method this year but its worked really well.

parents were invited to a maths training session last year. they talked through the methods they have to teach the children. the homework ds2 has focuses on the method rather than the result. perhaps whilst the mental arithmetic is easy it could be the method they are looking for.

both DS's have targets set each term but if they are not reg met in class then they remain as their target.

NervyWervy Thu 17-Oct-13 10:36:06

The above makes interesting reading re differention.
I would wait for parents evening (should be soon?). Specifically ask his teacher if she thinks he is coasting, and what his targets are. Does your son know his targets, does he know if he achieved his last targets?
Ask what she can do to help him be challenged. If she is still brushing you off that's when I would go to the HT.
I think it would be better, if you get as far as the HT, to write her a letter with your concerns first and then ask for an appointment so that he/she has time to collect evidence and work out a strategy. You could also ask to see some examples of the weekly plan, for say maths, too see if there has been any other differentiation than simply outcome. Check the lesson plan to see if the homework tallies with that actual lessons taught in school. Cross reference with your sons actual exercise book.
Also, when is Ofsted? And remember the current catchphrase "every child matters"!

wearingatinhat Thu 17-Oct-13 12:48:34

Some excellent ideas NervyWervy but do you think the HT would really let you see the weekly plan and lesson plan? Of course, an open HT that really respected parents and wanted to show just how much they did for more able learners would be only too proud to illustrate what went on in school. IME, the HT saw parents as people to be fobbed off with platitudes. 'Little Jimmy is doing very well' was the stock phrase to anyone who dared to ask.

Obviously the OP is in a much stronger position than most, being a teacher, but I think we would have got more than a 'hard teacher stare', if we had asked for that - even NC levels were considered a state secret!

umbrellasinthesun Fri 18-Oct-13 22:17:57

bit of an off shoot, but have you got an i pad? If so then try 'stack the countries' with him. Might give him some interesting learning that isn't school stuff. My DS loves it.

jrabean Fri 08-Nov-13 13:56:11

The switch from "fill in the answers to 20 questions" to open ended stuff like "write about someone famous" requires a lot more self motivation from kids.

In theory it is better training for real life, but I'm not sure how many 6 year olds have the self motivation to really stretch themselves on this kind of challenge, so many just write a few lines and stop.

The challenge is to get your kid to understand how they can stretch themselves and explore the challenges fully, rather than waiting to be prodded by a teacher.

JackyJax Wed 27-Nov-13 23:43:23

Thanks umbrella - will check that out and bean- completely agree. I spoke to teacher at p.evening and said maths was too easy (it's so easy my yr 1 child can do the h/w). Teacher said maths lessons go quickly so never get time to do extension work. My child is now saying not only is work too easy but he is bored. For tonight's hw he had to calculate the difference between 6 and 8- this for top set maths! Am going to request second meeting with teacher asking (begging!) for maths work to be more challenging. Some maths is taught by student teacher -don't know if this is relevant or not? Feel as if I'm letting my son down by failing to secure anything for him in my 2 interactions with the teacher.

cornflakegirl Thu 28-Nov-13 00:01:30

I think you're still worrying too much about homework. Forget it. It's not at all important. Is he being appropriately challenged in lessons? It's a bit worrying that the teacher says there us no tone for extension work. If she is teaching something that your son is secure on, then he should be straight on to extension work. Eg if she's covering subtraction, then she might do her talky bit using 2 digit numbers, if that is the level of most of the class. But then I would expect her to give the more able students questions using more digits, or decimals, or whatever is appropriate. Not expect them to churn through a load of two digit work first just because everyone else is.

MillyMollyMama Thu 28-Nov-13 00:40:11

Really the problem here is non differentiation of work. The teacher is not setting challenge within the curriculum she teaches to the brighter children so she then does not know if a challenging curriculum could be met. She then sets work with little challenge because attainment is not especially high. It is just a mediocre meander and attainment is probably flatlining! Go and see the Head. Find out what his progress is this term. Sounds to me like you have a bit of a duff teacher. What children sit and work with your DS? What do the parents of the other bright children think? Assuming there are some. If there are not, are you in the right school? Could this be an ongoing problem of teaching to the average level and not thinking about the needs of the brighter ones because she is not used to having to do that. Just some thoughts....

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 12:44:27

Hi cornflakegirl (great name!). Thanks for taking the time to reply. I'm not worrying too much about homework. The reason I mention homework is that it's my only concrete indicator as to what they are learning in class. The h/w is designed to consolidate class learning. So if the homework is far too easy then it worries me that class work is also too easy.

Your point about whizzing straight onto extension work is a really good one. The teacher's perspective is that he has to plough through the entire exercise before he's allowed to do the extension work even though he always gets the easy stuff right and never has time to get onto extension work. I will mention this to the teacher so thanks for confirming in my head that this is a sensible way to go.

Hi Milly Thanks also for your response. Yes there's no sense that the work is being differentiated. From the teacher's response, differentiation in Literacy is through outcome and in maths my son is in a top set so that's the way the school is differentiating! The top set has a wide ability and yes the teaching does seem to be pitched at teaching to the middle. I'm a teacher myself so understand that but I would also have extension activities for brighter students and cater also for those who were struggling.

The teacher is very keen for me to do maths sheets at home but this is a 7 year old boy with lots of interests (footie with friends, reading, violin, playing with brother, etc) and I'm very careful not to turn him off learning. I do some stuff with him but I'd like for him to be challenged at school.

I feel so ridiculously disempowered by all of this as if I'm a minnow fighting against an entire system! I asked the teacher yesterday for an appointment to see her and she almost groaned, saying, 'But we've just had parents' evening!'

I've only met with her once this term (for 7 minutes so hardly taking up lots of her time) and I'm really careful to comment on all the positive aspects of his learning with her but she is very dismissive.

Think I will have to toughen up.

Thanks for your suggestions.

cornflakegirl Fri 29-Nov-13 13:56:54

I know what you mean about homework - it's all that we see! I just think that, if the teacher is being dismissive, then complaining about the homework diverts attention from the more important issue of appropriate challenge in school. (My son also gets unchallenging homework, but I think the school is generally doing right by him, so I let it slide. Sometimes I make him do something else - like this quiz from Aquila, as I'm trying to get him into the habit of looking stuff up that he doesn't know. Or a problem from the nrich website. Sometimes I don't.)

It must be horrible to be dismissed by his teacher like that. But your concerns and proposed solutions sound entirely reasonable, so don't be afraid to be that parent. You have the backing of Mumsnet! wink

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 16:14:17

Thanks cornflake, that's such a sweet post and very insightful about h/w diverting attention from the more important issue. Thanks also for quiz suggestion: much appreciated.

JumpingJetFlash Fri 29-Nov-13 16:57:01

I know that it doesn't solve the problem at school but I love Brain Academy Maths missions and Supermaths by Rising Stars. They can be extremely challenging as children are expected to look and identify patterns/ rules in maths and they are done rather a sort of James Bondy type theme so very motivating. I had an extremely bright child who loved them and also for the first time could see why work needed to be organised which made a HUGE difference to her accuracy. They do English and Science as well but I haven't ever really used those.

I think your son also needs to know that not trying his best in things like Literacy is not on really and maybe the consequence to that is of he doesn't show his true abilities he misses out on something to redo it (??? Might be too harsh for his age group but worth a thought?)

theendgame Fri 29-Nov-13 16:59:00

We've been through a great deal of the same things as you, Jacky, over the last couple of years. There is quite a lot (!) I could say but I'll try and keep it brief.

I actually think you are right to worry about homework, as it reinforces your child's perceptions that school work is easy and not challenging. This, as we discovered with DD, doesn't just mean coasting, it also meant that she was just guessing the answers to maths questions that she could do easily, and in short not thinking.

But as cornflake says, the main point is that the teacher is not differentiating appropriately in class and this needs to be sorted. Was it OK in past years or not?

In your case I would go to see the teacher then go up to the HT if necessary. Take a look at their OFSTED. I will lay money on it saying that they need to differentiate better for bright children (all reports do). Remind the HT of this.

However the main thing that I've learnt is that a) a weak HT cannot make a teacher change if they don't want to, and b) that you cannot change the culture of a school. If it's just a bad teacher this year, you might want to ride it out. If it's the whole school culture, I'd really think about moving. We have asked and asked and reminded and reminded but differentiation that is promised never actually turns up. So she's starting a new school in Jan.

Neverhere Fri 29-Nov-13 17:40:54

Tbh I think you could use that homework and extend (easily) yourself. Finding half of a number could lead to interesting discussions about fractions and correcting the sentences could easily lead to a discussion about irregular past tense/adjectives/adverbs.

I know your unhappy with your child's teacher ATM but tbh homework is very low on my list of priorities as a y3 teacher (lots don't do it - some don't have pens/pencils at home, - many have no parental support so struggle to even read the homework to remind themselves what it was, some have so much help it has no resemblance on what they can do at all) I set standard homework for the majority (including my g&t) which is differentiated by outcome (though I would comment if I had a piece back that I knew hadn't been given any effort). I differentiate for my SEN children as they can not access all of the homework set (they do when they can to a certain degee).

However, in class everyone is pushed and expected to be working their hardest because I have control over what happens in school. Apart from nightly reading (which has a huge impact on learning) homework, unfortunately, makes little difference to progress.

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 21:04:35

JJ Flash (another great name!) thanks for Brain Academy and Super Maths suggestions: will have a look at those. Think you're right re it not being acceptable to not try your hardest. (sorry, double negative)

theendgame- yes the school has recently had a visit from OFSTED and their report did mention the school not challenging children sufficiently at the top end of the scale. Can also understand your frustration re being promised differentiated material but it never being forthcoming. Hopefully your daughter's new school will be just right for her.

Neverhere- interesting to hear a (primary) school teacher's perspective on homework. I've also seen it reported many times that homework has little impact on progress which seems counter-intuitive to me but I accept that this is what research has found. Had to laugh about homework not representing child's ability. I once gave a B and a lengthy explanation to one of my English literature students for an assignment. Mum kept phoning me telling me I'd made a mistake, it deserves an A, etc, etc. It came out later, of course, that mum had done the homework herself and was quite put out by the lowly B grade!

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:53:36

Teacher sounds crap. You're not pushy. Your son is there to learn.
Make an appointment with the HT. Write off this academic year and do stuff at home.
Google Wigan Maths Assessments and buy yourself the book 'The Essential Spelling Lidt' by Schonell (Amazon).
Teacher sounds patronising and incapable of differentiating - hence power games in her responses to you.

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:57:46

Also good to buy: Maths on Target (Year 3) - these come with differentiated exercise columns. Give teacher a copy for Xmas. Lol

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:59:00

I'm a teacher, by the way.

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