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Bright child who doesn't want to learn...

(43 Posts)
elfonshelf Wed 07-Jan-15 13:51:20

DD is 5.5 and at an Outstanding primary school which we are very happy with. However, we are all struggling with her. She's a very bright child and has, we are told, outstanding verbal abilities for her age.

One of her teachers asked to have a word with me yesterday. She had done a reading session with DD and she had refused to read at all and told the teacher that she 'didn't like this learning stuff as it wasn't fun and she didn't want to go to school'.

Eventually she was persuaded to read. The teacher said that she did okay, but was still way behind where she was for her ability. Also that she was able to read with intonation, expression and comprehension that was far in advance of her reading level - basically completely the wrong way round.

We struggle at home with convincing her to do any reading, despite a house stuffed full of books - her own bookcase probably rivals the local library in terms of choice and quantity. It's the same with any kind of homework. Utter refusal.

School say that she is not competitive in any way and is a complete perfectionist.

She's a very stubborn and persistent child. Bribes don't work, taking things away don't work, banning TV etc until reading is done doesn't work. School have advised not to go down the threat line. They're going to put her on an intensive schedule with their reading expert and see if that helps.

Suggestions by the school that learning would enable her to do more interesting things were pronounced unconvincing, a suggestion that learning would enable her to get an interesting job in the future was met with the response that she didn't want to get a job, she was going to marry a rich man! (no idea where that comes from - DH and I don't even have a joint account let alone tick the 'rich' box!)

I'm at a complete loss as to how to motivate this child.

elfonshelf Wed 07-Jan-15 13:52:45

Just to add, she is very happy at school - lots of friends, bounces in every morning and out every afternoon, no worries of her own that I can think of.

marmaladegranny Wed 07-Jan-15 14:11:48

Do you read to her? I am not expert, just raised my own brood of bright children.
They loved being read to from a longer book aimed at or above their reading level, a couple of chapters in bed at night, and every so often leaving the book with them for them to read the next chapter on their own. It does sound as though she may be unstimulated by the material she is being asked to read.
Has she any siblings? Reading to a younger one can motivate, especially as it's 'helping Mummy'!
Visiting a library and choosing a book for bedtime reading could help.

Good luck - she will get there eventually; it is just frustrating to watch bright child not learning...

smee Wed 07-Jan-15 14:12:03

Aw bless her, she sounds fab. I am no expert, but I'd say relax and let the school handle it. At home read stories to her and let her enjoy books that way. Personally I'd tell the school we're not doing the homework; it's counter productive if it's such a battlefield and let's face it she is only 5. They can justify it if you suggest re-thinking once she's had some 1:1 help at school. Lots you can do that she'll enjoy at home to do with reading that she'll get far more out of than a stand off. If they insist, then take the stress out of it, so you read the book to her/ with her and don't make her do it. I used to sit on the loo when my son had his bath and read/ point out the pictures, etc in his school book. He's a fab reader now. smile

elfonshelf Wed 07-Jan-15 14:31:41

I read to her every night - lots of picture books (modern and ones I had back in the 70's), quite often I'll pick a book that's a bit challenging in terms of vocabulary and see how that goes (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory etc). She loves being read to - and things that involve making up the story completely such as with the 'Story of an English Village', 'Creepy Castle' flap books by John S Goodall.

TV wise, she prefers older programmes, especially films - The Secret Garden, Five Children & It, Narnia etc - rather than CBeebies or cartoons, so I try to match her interest there to similar types of story books. My mother has suggested trying Secret Seven or something exciting where she's begging for the next chapter.

She is an only so no siblings to motivate her - she's also a summer birthday.

School are being great. They differentiate well - don't follow book schemes, books are tailored to each child's interest and ability - DD pronounces them all boring and will try and sneak one with 3 words to a page if given free choice.

Regarding homework, they've told me not to turn it into any kind of battle or situation where she is getting large amounts of attention for not complying. I ask her each evening if she wants to do it and make it sound fun, and if she refuses then we leave it there. I put a note in the book each week letting them know what the score is. Sometimes she'll do it all quite happily, but no way to predict.

Last year they were very hands off on her lack of interest in reading - just said that she was 4 and why shouldn't a 4 year-old prefer to dress up and play with dolls? They get amazing academic results despite a very challenging intake, so I have to trust that they know what they are doing. However, it's now Y1 and they and I feel that play time is now secondary to formal learning.

Soveryupset Wed 07-Jan-15 15:30:50

I have had this with DD1 - very bright child but battles with reading and homework until Y4. We tried absolutely everything.

Mine is a long story but we eventually found out that DD1 has Irlene's syndrome. She struggled with focusing on the page, and as a perfectionist found this a great issue. However she never articulated this to us, otherwise we would have picked up on it. We never in a million years - nor did her teachers - think she was struggling with anything as she always came across very bright and had no sign of any learning issues. Her only symptom looking back were a reluctance to read and write.

I wish I had known as everyone thought it was behavioural and it took so long for us to realise what was wrong. Now she has tinted glasses, she has rediscovered the pleasure of reading and does not struggle with things like comprehensions and writing tasks. We only found out something was wrong when she moved schools in Year 4 and the difference between her NVR scores and actual English scores were so far apart.

I hope you don't mind me suggesting this, but your whole post I could have written a few years ago, word by word.

TeenAndTween Wed 07-Jan-15 15:32:27

This may be way off but is there any possibility of a learning difficulty being hidden behind her verbal intelligence and refusing to read etc? (eg dyslexia or something?)
Saying something is 'boring' can be another way of saying "I can't do this"

My DD1 used to say she wanted to do craft kits her own way, rather than following instructions. She's now 15.5 and we have just had a dyspraxia diagnosis for her.

TeenAndTween Wed 07-Jan-15 15:33:11

xpost with Sovery

Loveleopardprint Wed 07-Jan-15 15:38:46

I picked up on the perfectionist comment. Is she scared maybe of failure? Is she avoiding reading etc because she cannot be certain that she can carry it out to her own high standards?

SaucyMare Wed 07-Jan-15 15:41:24

have you checked her eyesight?

Goingintohibernation Wed 07-Jan-15 15:42:24

Have you had her eyes tested?

elfonshelf Wed 07-Jan-15 17:09:38

I took her to the optician to rule that one out - they actually called in a second one as they'd not seen a child with eyesight as good as hers... ran out of lines for her to read. I did point out that her eyesight probably wasn't that exceptional - just that they didn't often see children of her age unless there was a problem!

Sovery - that is very interesting and I hadn't thought of it, which is stupid as I have massive problems reading without a filter - much easier now that I read on a kindle and can set the background to grey so there is much less contrast and things don't look 3D all the time. I've got some blue gel sheets somewhere so I will try that, and try her out reading on my kindle with different contrasts and see if it makes any difference.

I don't think there is a learning difficulty - or not an obvious one, probably difficult to tell at this age still. She doesn't have dyspraxia or anything like that and has no problems concentrating for extended periods of time.

She's good at maths - not a prodigy the way some kids are (DH was), but one of the top in the class and quite happy to do it. I looked through her book at the last parents evening and there wasn't a single mistake in the whole book, which makes me think that the perfectionist thing may be playing a big part: maths can be right or wrong in a way that writing isn't. She likes building Lego models and will quite happily sit and build quite complicated models from the instruction books with no help from us - again something that is either right or wrong.

She is very much a child who doesn't like to do anything that she isn't instantly good at, she's also a complete control freak which probably doesn't help.

Any homework that is done, she has a fit over her handwriting - it all has to be perfect and fit on the right lines with the letters the same heights. She doesn't want to cross things out - she wants the whole page out and to start again!

The class teachers have had talks with the whole class about the importance of making mistakes and how it's better to try hard and be wrong than not to try just because you might not always be right. I really can't fault them on their approach.

It's just so frustrating when we all know she is capable but just won't, and I do really worry that if she doesn't get the basics of reading and writing down now, she's going to find it a big struggle later on and that will make the perfectionism even worse.

It is reassuring to read that others have been down similar roads and come out the other side with positive results.

Angelto5 Wed 07-Jan-15 17:24:41

Just came on to say we always put on the subtitles when we watch tv/films-maybe it will help?

TheLeftovermonster Wed 07-Jan-15 17:26:56

Sounds like dyslexia to me (not that I'm diagnosing or anything grin).
DS was very similar. Good at maths but struggled massively with reading. Can you ask the school about a possible assessment for dyslexia?

maizieD Wed 07-Jan-15 17:55:38

Before you start going down the dyslexia route have a closer look at how she was taught to read. Was it with good systematic phonics instruction, using decodable books for practice and not introducing any strategies other than decoding and blending for word identification?

Someone said earlier that refusal to do something may be from a feeling that it is difficult, or fear of failure. Even the brightest child can be confused by 'mixed methods' teaching and fail to 'pick up' the phonic knowledge and skills that they need for confident reading.

If you are absolutely confident that there is nothing wrong with her reading skills I wouldn't push it. If she can cope with 'practical' reading she will be fine. She is very young, clearly quite, shall we say, strong willed and may resent being hassled. Let the school deal with it.

(By all means try the gels. Some children respond well to an overlay even though it's held to be not very scientific)

TeenAndTween Wed 07-Jan-15 18:14:39

re perfectionism (you may be doing all these already)

Do you always make sure you praise effort rather than results ?

Can you give her stuff to do where there is no right or wrong, where she can't be perfect? Or stuff that is just impossible where it's the trying that matters? Or something like balance a tennis racket on your finger - she'd have to work at that?

elfonshelf Wed 07-Jan-15 19:02:52

Just phonics - and she has no issues with decoding or blending. What she doesn't seem to do is recognise words... she could have the word 'happy' 4 times on the one page and each time she will sound it out rather than recall it from the previous sentence.

I can't work out whether this is something she (most children?) struggle with, or just a complete lack of interest in remembering. She can memorise the words to songs after hearing them just a couple of times, so nothing wrong with her memory - it's just very selective!

She does dance/drama/singing classes at the weekend - the teachers say that she'd be good if she put some effort in. She'll do the lessons, happily sing away on buses, but point blank refuses to take part in performances despite being an extremely confident child who is not someone you could ever describe as shy!

We try to remember to praise effort - I think we do, will have to watch out and see what I do next time!

MigGril Wed 07-Jan-15 22:09:04

The bit you just posted about reading the word happy four times but still struggling jumps out at me as not right. Maybe not dyslexic I'm no expert, just a dyslexic mum. But this is something I could have easily struggled with. If she's bright and good at maths then it can easily be missed until later as well. girls have better copting strategies then boys so tend to get missed if bright. The phonics doesn't help in some respect as it will be a big help in her learning to read but can also cover the problem. A bright child can learn phonics but still be dyslexic.

Does she really enjoy being read to? I loved being read to but would also avoid reading until I really could read well.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 07-Jan-15 22:15:15

I would think your problem here is the perfectionism. It's easier to opt out than it is to try and to fail. I would definitely try and focus on praising for effort and avoiding praise that focuses on attainment or values e.g. clever girl etc.

How many times children need to read a word varies from child to child. Is me will only need to see a word once, others will need to read it many times. I's difficult to say from what you've written whether she's totally normal or whether it indicates a bigger problem. I wonder whether she's noticed that she finds it more difficult than other skills and that other children are finding it easier than her. That combined with the perfectionism might cause her to think that she's no good at reading even though she is actually fine.

maizieD Wed 07-Jan-15 22:22:42

Just phonics - and she has no issues with decoding or blending. What she doesn't seem to do is recognise words... she could have the word 'happy' 4 times on the one page and each time she will sound it out rather than recall it from the previous sentence.

Some children need a great many repetitions of sounding out and blending a word before it is secure in long term memory; some only need to do it once. There is a huge range. Don't discourage her, the repetition will help. If she needs to do it, she needs to do it (if you see what I mean). It may be, though, that she doesn't realise that she doesn't have to sound out and blend a word every time, you could suggest that she whispers the sounding out, or does it in her head, before saying the whole word. Just use your judgement. Don't try to force anything though, she'll do it 'properly' when she's ready, not after a battle.

I wonder what her teacher meant by 'way behind where she was for her ability'? Did she elaborate?

CastlesInTheSand Wed 07-Jan-15 23:17:12

Did the optician check for convergence insufficiency? They normally don't but it's a very common problem.

If coloured overlays help then it's very likely she has convergence problems.

Opticians prefer to diagnose irlens rather than convergence problems - because they make money by selling you coloured glasses.

Soveryupset Thu 08-Jan-15 09:14:06

Hi there,
Irlene Syndrome is highly hereditary (my mum has it) and I also never thought of that before. DD1 also had no learning difficulties, apart from Irlene, which also wasn't picked up by an optician as she also has perfect vision.

I also started with overlays and I realised her reading was more fluent immediately and she then told me suddenly the words stopped jumping around and her eyes were not straining as much. You are lucky if you pick it up this early, with my DD1 it ended up in daily migraines from year 3 as the work intensified in the classroom and finally a diagnosis at age 9. I wish I had spotted this sooner, but better late than never! A kindle is also great, my DD1 now owns one and loves it. It was also recommended to us.

Based on the fact that you need overlays too, I would go down this route for a little while and see if it makes a difference. I spoke to an expert who told me to give it 3 months to see a noticeable difference in attitude and general learning improvement, as the eyes and brain adjust back to "normal" and the fear and panic associated with the difficulties in reading subside.

I am glad I was able to help!

Soveryupset Thu 08-Jan-15 09:20:12

PS Our DD1 had a slight convergence problem, diagnosed by the optician, but that was definitely not the issue, as it was very mild. In fact the person who saw her for Irlene wanted a written confirmation that convergence was not the issue before seeing her. So I guess we were lucky in that we encountered professionals who were not out to rip us off.

The optician did not diagnose Irlene. Irene was diagnosed via the simple fact that she got massive migraines due to straining her eyes and the migraines disappeared after using overlays. This in turn showed the fact that she was finding reading much easier with overlays. We then had to purchase glasses as it wasn't practical to change backgrounds to all her screen work at school, including ICT, music, and whiteboards. The teachers did offer to do so, but DD1 felt she preferred to have her own glasses.

My DD1 hasn't had a single migraine since wearing her glasses, from having one every day after school. She also repeated an assessment with her glasses and she got double the score. Irlene can be a real issue, it might be overdiagnosed but in my DD's case it wasn't.

handbagaddiction Thu 08-Jan-15 09:31:05

I wanted to add to some of the points raised here re eyesight. I comment on the basis that your post could have been written so easily about my dd - who also has struggled to get motivated to read, performs well below her potential and generally found everything boring. This particularly so when she moved to junior school and that's exactly when they decided to screen her and found her NVR and English scores were so wildly different.

Thing is about eyesight that a normal optician will generally not be able to test for other underlying issues. So for example, if my dd went to a normal optician, they would say that she has perfect vision and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. Take to a behavioural optometrist however and you get a very different assessment. Namely that yes, her eyesight is perfect, but that she has problems with getting her eyes to work together properly (there's some more sophisticated word for it I'm sure) and this causes problems with reading. This kind if thing is specifically stuff that normal opticians cannot and do not test for.

So, we went down a route of 2 lots of vision therapy. 3 months each - 20 minutes a day of exercises - some fun, some much more like hard work - wth constant reassessment every 3 weeks. It has made a massive difference. He also suggested coloured overlays, but dd doesn't really display any other symptoms of Irlens so these don't help. What does help for the focusing is a pair of very mild long sighted glasses whcih she wears for close up work at school and for reading. Again - purely to help with the focusing and ensure that she doesn't tire too easily.

Worth consideration I think and if you can afford the initial assessment and therapy.

windingways Thu 08-Jan-15 09:31:34

Does she enjoy reading at home? I have heard that kids who do really well at school usually have problems at home, family problems or they are being abused. Rarely it is under normal circumstances since along with the grades the teacher is complaining that they are not listening or arguing too much.

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