Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mom, I Have a Project Due Tuesday!

What my 7th grader said to me on Friday when he got home from school.

Me: Great! For which class? (So I know who not to buy a Christmas gift because he gave them an assignment over the Labor Day weekend that I was going to have to be involved in.)

Joey: It's for science.

Me: Okay. What do you have to do?

Joey: I don't remember.

Me: Okay. Where's the rubric? (The sheet that says exactly what the teacher expects.)

Joey: I don't think I have one.

Me: Go check your backpack. There has to be an assignment sheet.

Joey: (Goes and checks backpack) No. I don't have the rubric.

Me: (Sighing) Okay. Did you write down what you need to do in your planner?

Joey: Yes.

Me: Well, could you go get your planner???

Joey: (Goes and gets planner) Here. I wrote down this.

Me: It says "Independent Project." What are you supposed to do?

Joey: Oh, that's for a different project. I have a rubric for that. (Brings me the rubric.)

Me: Joey, this isn't for the assignment due on Tuesday. This is for a quarterly assignment. What are you supposed to do for this assignment????

Joey: Oh. I'm supposed to measure ten things in metric and write down the measurements.

Me: Okay. We're going to do this on Saturday, okay? (Because at this point, my head is going to explode.)

Joey: Goes to play Mario Brothers.

Saturday comes. No Joey. I hear him up there playing on the computer.

Me: Joey! Come down here! We need to work on your project. It's 3:00 already.

Joey: (Slinking down the stairs.) Okay. (I think the guy going to his own execution probably had more enthusiasm.)

Me: Okay, what are you going to measure?

Joey: I don't know.

Me: Well, you need to pick 10 objects, right?

Joey: Right.

Me: Well, here's a spiral notebook and a pencil. I want you to go around the house and pick ten objects to measure and write them down and come back. (Coming back is the key to this. He might disappear until Sunday if I don't specify "come back.")

Joey: (Writes down ten things to measure and comes back.)

Me: Okay, where's the measuring tape. (Thanking God that I have a mother that sews and thinks I should too. Otherwise, we would have nothing that has metric measurements on it and we would be screwed.)

Joey: I don't know.

Me: It's in the dining room cabinet, where it always is. Go. Get. It.

Joey: (Goes and gets measuring tape.) Okay, here's the measuring tape.

Me: Well, what do you do with it????

Joey: Measure the stuff I wrote down?

Me: (Hallelujah!) Okay, when you measure it, are you supposed to just write it down or does he want it typed up like a report?

Joey: I think I have to present it to the class.

Me: (Seriously?) Okay, well, then how do you think the best way to do that would be?

Joey: Take a picture of it?

Me: Yes! We can use my new camera and take a picture and then print it out and put the measurement under it. What do you think.

Joey: Okay. (Remarkable lack of enthusiasm...again, over Labor Day weekend?)

Me: Joey! Go get my camera so we can take pictures.

Joey: (Goes and gets camera. Hands it to me - I guess I'm the official portrait artist.)

Me: Joey, now what?

Joey: I guess we take a picture of it?

Me: Good. What's your first item?

Joey: It's a water bottle.

Me: Where is the water bottle?

Joey: In the garage?

Me: Okay. Go. Get. The. Water. Bottle.

Dear readers: should I spare you the next half hour of torture? I think I should. Here's what we ended up with; just the first item:

Water Bottle

500 Milliliters

We ended up with ten items with pictures and their measurements printed out and it looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. There was this conversation during the computer portion:


Me: Joey, quit watching television! Are you watching this? This is how we transfer the pictures to the computer, okay?

Joey: Okay.

Me: Stop watching the television! This is your project! Are you watching?

Joey: Yes, Mom!

Me: Now we're going to put them all into a Word document and put their measurements. When I get the picture on the screen, you're going to tell me how big it is, okay?

Joey: Okay.

Ten items later, I said, "Do you want a cover page?" Yes. So we do a cover page. "Do you want to put it in something or just staple it?" A report cover.

The end product was something we could both be proud of, but it was at least an hour of torture. And my measuring tape is now missing, so I have no idea how big my butt has gotten since Saturday.

When Joey came home from school yesterday, he said, "Mom, Mr. M. put my project up on the bulletin board!"

Me: (Under my breath) I hope I get an A.

Is this helicopter parenting? Am I doing his work for him? These are the questions that keep me up at night. But Joey is just a bit different from the other two. Because of his autism, we have accommodations written into his IEP that say I can help with projects with steps because Joey has trouble processing more than one step at a time by himself. It's so much easier for him if someone breaks it down for him. And he definitely understands what we were doing. I don't think he could actually transfer pictures onto the computer or put them into a Word document yet without my help, but we are doing this repeatedly every year, so hopefully it's going to click soon. Since he has a newer computer than I do, I am hopeful that eventually he will be able to do this step by himself and I won't have to be involved at all.

In the meantime, together we make a great team. He knows what he is supposed to do. It just takes a little help for him to get there. And I think that because I am walking him through the steps, he is paying a bit more attention to detail than a "neurotypical" seventh grader would.

I asked my mother one time when I was particularly frustrated with having to be so involved with Joey's projects when she stopped helping me with my homework. She said it was sometime right after elementary school. I have still given my kids quite a bit of help until they got to the eighth grade level and then pretty much left them to sink or float. But with Joey, I may have to continue to provide assistance. And it's not that I'm not willing to do that. I just wonder how much help is too much help and when his project really becomes my project. I also wonder why I have had to do middle school three times now when I already did middle school and passed with flying colors, I might add.

I know that Joey is getting the help he needs because he got two out of three perfect scores on his standardized tests last year and I wasn't there to help him with that. So obviously, he has learned what he needs to learn. I would like it if there were not so many projects. I am not a teacher, but I do understand that the point of projects is to teach the kids how to break down the steps, work on something over time, and come up with something that isn't just thrown together at the last minute. I just wonder how many kids are waiting until the night before it's due and just throwing something together for a "C" and thinking that's okay. (Ahem, my older two children...)

I recently came across a project Ben did his senior year of high school for English class. It was well put together, well written, and beautifully packaged. I found it on the floor of his closet when I was trying to figure out why all of his pants were buried underneath two quilts. He got 96 out of 100 and the note says:

We could use another teacher like you. Call me in a few years when you become a teacher and let me know what you think. Good luck! Great work.

He had never shared this project, so I couldn't resist reading it. It's entitled "English Memoirs" and number 9 made me cry.

The three most important people I've known during my life would be my mom, my dad, and my history teachers. They're all important to me because they've all taught me important lessons and helped me figure out what I want to do with my life. If it weren't for these people, I still wouldn't have a career in mind. If they're not in my life next year, I'll simply have to learn to get along without them.

Okay, that last part is kind of funny - obviously there was a question about what he would do without his important people. The point is that of the important people he's had in his life, Mom was first. I was first.

I think I'm providing just the right amount of help. Maybe I'm a helicopter parent. But eventually, my kids seem to learn to fly their own helicopters. What more could I ask?



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