June 29, 2009

First Grade: Recap and Lessons Learned

The year we were waiting for: first grade! Full days of school...art, music, gym, library, and Spanish classes...lunch in the cafeteria...using a soundfield system. This was the year that was truly going to show what was working for Hadley...and what was not.

Transitioning to a full day of school was definitely a process for Hadley. It's a long, long day to be using your very best listening and coping skills. By the time Hadley stepped off the school bus at the end of the day, she was wiped out. We learned quickly that having a snack already prepared and waiting for her helped give her that little energy boost, as did staying outside to play for as long as possible. The toughest part was balancing her brothers' desire to play with her and her need to just do her own thing. I purposely did not schedule any weekly after school activities for the first few months of first grade; she needed those hours after school to be on her own terms. It took about two months for her to adjust to the full day schedule and build up her endurance for the long days.

We had purposely refrained from using a soundfield system in earlier school years, in order for Hadley to further develop her listening, discrimination and self-advocacy skills. We opted to use it in first grade now that the level of instruction was directed at the full group of students in the classroom. Four speakers were installed in the "teaching" section of the classroom (which was roughly half of the room). This was the teacher's first year of using a soundfield system, so there was an adjustment period of remembering to turn it on/off, dealing with the inevitable technical issues, and following a process for use of the system by substitute teachers. While Hadley was not completed wowed by the system-- she didn't feel that immediate sense of her listening being improved by it-- there was a clear difference in her level of energy and demeanor on days when she returned from school and the soundfield system had not been used (there were some early repair issues as well as days that substitute teachers did not use it). Like other AV kids, she was annoyed and very distracted by the occasional static and feedback from the system, but she adjusted over the course of the year.

While a soundfield system was also used in the Spanish classroom, her other specials (music, art, gym, and library) did not. Given the acoustics and method of instruction in the art room, Hadley managed just fine. Music was tricky: although Hadley had taken music lessons for years, she had difficulty transferring those skills to her school music class. Library time was fine, as it was just free time to choose a book. Gym was the hardest. Although Hadley's 504 Plan states that her class will be the only class to use the gym during classtime, it's still a large, open room that presents a huge listening challenge. It took the entire school year for Hadley to adjust; although she had taken many sports, she always had at least one parent there to clue her in to missed instructions (and more than one coach). Listening in a pack of 20 kids to one adult who may have turned away from her momentarily was impossibly frustrating for her, and did eventually lead to my having a discussion with the gym teacher (which helped).

It came as no surprise that the hardest part of first grade was dealing with social situations, particularly during unstructured times of the school day (recess, in particular). While Hadley is friendly and very outgoing, she also likes to control conversations and games (in part because it makes it easier to anticipate what her friends are going to say and do). She also relies on visual clues from other kids, so sometimes she's one of the last to stop playing a game. Sometimes when a kid runs off to play another game, she takes it personally, having not heard the invitation to join in. This is the hardest part: the only way for her to learn is to be in these situations on her own. We can make it a little easier with outside play dates and activities, but ultimately she has to learn these skills on her own...which involved more than a few tears this past year. The playground can be a very lonely place when you think that everyone wants to play with other kids, and even a minute of discomfort feels like hours.

Ultimately, what we learned in first grade was that Hadley has a strong foundation for her academic life and that, as always, her toughest struggle continues to be understanding her interactions with her peers (which isn't much different from other seven year old kids). Now on to grade two!

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