6th grade troubles - FamilyEducation
6th grade troubles
01/13/2008 at 13:51 PM

Hi all- I am new to this forum but would love some feedback/help on the following:  my 11 year old daughter is in 6th grade this year.  She is a bright girl who has always been high functioning in academic areas, and has always loved learning and showing what she knows.  Now she hates school and feels like a failure.

It is not social, which is what I worried about before 6th grade.  She seems to have no trouble with the larger population and has both a core group of friends and a wider group of friendlies, even though she is not a particularly outgoing person.  It is not being overwhelmed by the new organizational expectations (more teachers, more classes, more complicated schedule)- she seems to have conquered that pretty early in the year.  The point of pressure is the curriculum itself and how her team of teachers is managing it.  She is on a team that loves projects as the primary means of having students show their learning.  She has always been uncomfortable with this kind of work- she is far more comfortable writing something than thinking of a way to visually depict information.  She also has perfectionist tendencies- if a project calls for something artistic, she has a very hard time relaxing her standards for the artwork so that she has time to show both the content and the art (an example was a cartoon depicting an example of natural selection- after the research time and the time spent drafting the text of the captions, she still insisted on spending 6+ hours making the illustrations perfect and accurate, amid much frustration and tears).

Since the beginning of the school year, she has had six major projects in the 4 core subject areas.  With the exception of a math project that did not require an artistic component and the above mentioned cartoon, she has consistently been slammed by the teachers for missing some ingredient that she didn't understand was necessary and believes is "fussy" and peripheral to the core mission of the project (and I agree with her characterization).  She has expressed frustration that these projects take a huge amount of time and don't let her show what she knows (her words).  In the meantime, she has not had a single, stand-alone written assignment all year, even in English Language Arts (the early part of the year had tests in all subject matters, which she aced, but there have been none of those lately).

The result is that she (i) hates school for the first time in her life; (ii) is feeling increasingly hopeless about her ability to succeed in school, which has always been one of the things she considered a superpower; (iii) is spending more and more time procrastinating about starting projects because of her anxiety about what seemingly random and meaningless thing she will be criticized about and her general frustration; and (iv) is beginning to "turn off" to her teachers generally.

I have gotten the guidance counselor involved, who seems to be very good and is helping DD with project expectations to make sure they are clear.  I have also spoken to one of the teachers, and have a meeting scheduled with her entire team of teachers next week.  One comment from the teacher I spoke with, regarding a presentation about the meaning of a specific word, was that it was a challenge for my daughter because she had such a strong understanding of the word and that some of her comments/material went over the heads of her classmates- in other words, she lost points for demonstrating the meaning of the word not because she didn't demonstrate it accurately, but because her peers didn't get it, even though the teacher understood it perfectly.

Does anyone else have experience with this?  Am I wrong to suspect a curriculum that places such a heavy emphasis on one kind of  measurement tool (projects) instead of striking a balance between that and more traditional measurements that are more accessible for certain kinds of learning styles?  Is it fair to expect the teachers to balance their criticism for such things as not using a visual aid or failing to provide a display stand for a clay pot with some comment on the substance and content of the presentation?  Is it appropriate to penalize a bright child for delivering a presentation at her level as opposed to the level of her classmates?  I am trying not to micromanage her school experience, but it kills me to her distress and loss of confidence in an area which is really a strength for her.

If you were one of the "academic wonders", like me, and my brothers, and one of my sisters, you will remember struggling with the following skills, unless you were already also a gifted communicator.

1. Making sure you understand an assignment, instead of just assuming that you got it the first time you read it through. In college, and in my workplace, I only got in trouble when I thought I knew what was going on, because I read the memo/assignment once. But I didn't understand. And I messed up. And it cost the company money.

2. Asking questions that you don't already have a good idea what the answer is.

3. Getting support from someone who is good at what you are not.

4. Turning in things that are good enough because you have a deadline, instead of turning it in when it is done to your standard.

5. Valuing gifts that are different than yours, appreciating those who take on the academic challenges, even when their gifts are less cerebral like the business whiz, who can't spell to save his life.

  This is an opportunity for her to develop not only communication skills, and performance skills (art, music, etc.) but also determination, which will serve her well. And if she can get these skills now, before grades "count" in grade 9 or 10, COOL!

  My first-born was a perfectionist. When we first started to have grade reports sent home, I stood with the envelope unopened in my hand, and asked the following questions. "Did you turn things in complete and on time?" "Did you put in a good effort?" "Did you learn something?" Sometimes, she hadn't learned anything. They were covering skills or knowledge she already had. The completeness and the effort were what I showed that I valued, by going out to dinner.

  My 5th struggles academically. I was extremely grateful that I already had shown that I valued effort. It made it so that there was never an option for his siblings to put him down as "stupid".  

  School is hard for your daughter now. Believe it or not, I think that is a good thing. Now she gets to develop the same courage and grit that the less gifted kids demonstrate every day.


I actually agree in concept with almost everything you have to say (that building non-academic and learning/inquiry skills is important).  This is a huge part of the reason we have kept her in the public school system, and never to date tried to establish whether she is or isn't "gifted."  The fact is she has done project based learning in elementary school and gotten through it, knowing it was not her preferred medium but doing the job anyhow, and managing to identify something she learned from the process.  The difference was (i) it wasn't all the time; and, more importantly, (ii) she was in a program that truly practices differentiated and child-centered instruction, so her teachers knew when she was operating outside her comfort zone as well as they knew when less academic kids were operating outside of their comfort zones, and provided appropriate support as well as criticism to both sets of children.  In the process she and all her classmates learned to understand and appreciate each other's different learning styles, and are all well on their way to the life lesson you mention (everyone has talents and they are not all the same).

The part of your reply I take issue with is the following statement:

"Now she gets to develop the same courage and grit that the less gifted kids demonstrate every day."

If a child who is not academically "gifted" is continuously met with only negative and seemingly random feedback, given tasks that are incompatible with his/her learning style exclusive of all others, and in general left in a state where s/he is sobbing with frustration every other night at the prospect of going to school, then shame on that school too.  That kind of "courage and grit" is something our schools should not expect of any 11 year old, wherever they fall on the skill/talent spectrum. 

Honestly, I struggle with this because I have wanted her to learn all the lessons you reference, and still do.  I have gotten to a point, though, where I see the effort she has made to meet the school's expectations and see absolutely no change, if not a change for the worse, in how the school responds to her. 

thanks for your thoughtful response.


Ok, so I was projecting again.  Like I said, those communication skills were learned late in my case. 

  Don't be surprised if the teachers don't have a clue how very frustrated your child is.  Children have a sense of dignity, so they keep a stiff upper lip in school, then come home and get real.  The student from another family that I home-schooled last year joined us in Nov, because of exactly that.  Her mom had been over at the school about 6 times (by Nov. 1) to try to get the adjustments her child needed. 

   We had a lot of fun together, the three of us, and now this year, she says school is "easy peasy".  I hope you can figure out a strategy for your daughter.   



no worries- who knows how much of my tirade is projecting too? :)

I think you are right about the teachers not fully getting the level of her frustration, which I hope that between myself and the guidance counselor we can change.  In her elem. school she had one grade that was very project heavy, and I was able to work with the teacher to compromise- the child would do her part to fully participate in the things she didn't care for, work on her organizational skills, etc, and the teacher would also give her some additional work that would help her reach in a way that was more comfortable for her.  It worked out great- even though the extra work was not graded or required, it gave her a sense of meaningful progress, and she got verbal credit for it from the teacher.  She even kind of liked doing the final project of the year!  I am hoping I can work out something like that with this group of teachers, but we'll see.  One bottom line for me is what a difference it makes when an individual teacher is willing to be a little flexible and creative to meet a child's needs, regardless of their teaching philosophy or methods...

thanks again for your thoughts.