Sunday, February 8, 2009


First, let me say that Brother Bear is pretty sharp. He picks up new concepts quickly. When we got behind in math, he did two and a half years' work in 12 months. He knows his addition and subtraction facts and multiplication table. The problem lately is that he can't focus. It will take him a minimum of an hour and a half—usually two to three hours—to do one page in his math workbook. If you watch him, he spends about thirty minutes of that time actually doing math—calculating and writing. The rest of that time is spent pausing between problems, or between steps in a problem, pencil in the air and eyes staring into space, then finding his place again and again. Of course, if there is anything more interesting than empty space to look at, which there generally is around here, that doesn't help matters any. And he doesn't even realize he's doing it.

I had the same problem at his age. I didn't realize my mind was wandering until it had been absent for some time. Then, "Oh, there's a paper on my desk. With some numbers on it. And my Math book. I think I was supposed to be doing something with it. Now where was I?" My teacher's solution was to make everyone who hadn't finished math stay in from recess to work on it. I never had recess that year. The number of students kept in from recess varied from day to day, but there were three of us who were always there. We provided each other with additional distractions. Not that any of us needed any help not thinking about math. I finally got another kid to sit next to me and read me each step of the problem. "What's 7 + 5?" "12. Carry the 1." "1 +3?" "4" "Plus 6?" "10, carry the 1." etc. I finished in a fraction of the time, but I wasn't allowed to use this method in class, so I'd make a halfhearted effort until recess, when I could finally get down to brass tacks. Toward the end of the year, the teacher decided that keeping us in from recess wasn't working, (Oh, really?) so she spanked us, which also didn't work.

With practice and helpful reminders, when I could get them, I eventually learned to recognize when my mind was wandering and bring it back. The next year, I nearly always finished my math on time, and I never missed recess. I just wandered around the playground, wondering what to do.

I tried reading the next step whenever BB was obviously out to lunch, but he just got angry, insisting that he had been working on the problem until I distracted him by reading the numbers. I asked him how I could bring his attention back when I saw it was wandering without making him angry. We agreed that I would just say, "Next," but that got the same result.

For the past week, I've been writing the numbers he dictates. He tells me what the next step is, what the answer to that step is, and where to write it. He's been completing two pages in an hour every day this week. His mind does occasionally wander, but not nearly as often or as long. I wait with pencil poised, and he can see that I'm not doing any math, even though he couldn't see his pencil stopping in the air the same way.



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