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A Tale Of Two Posters

A Tale Of Two Posters

By Mir Kamin

Did I mention that my kids are sharing a class this year? My kids are sharing a class, this year. An Advanced Placement science class, to be precise. Science is a strong subject for both of them, and with my son in 10th grade, my daughter in 11th, and the class spanning multiple grades, it’s not a big deal.

Rather: It shouldn’t be a big deal.

At the beginning of the year, I sent a friendly email to the teacher after hearing that she’d asked the kids if they were twins. “Having them in the same class won’t be a problem, but allow me to gently suggest that you don’t have them sit together or work together. You will quickly discover that they have their own individual strengths and weaknesses,” I shared. Then, I couldn’t resist adding: “Just wait. You’ll see.”

This past weekend, the kids had their first project for this class. The homework has been coming fast and furious since the first day of school, but this was the first multi-day endeavor for each of them. The assignment was to create a poster showcasing a given topic, and I thanked the powers that be that a rubric came home with the assignment, because both of my children will argue into eternity about anything that isn’t spelled out. Each had their topics and assured me that everything was under control.

Next comes the part of our program where I try to—as I like to put it—park my helicopter. My teens are in a college-level class and if they can’t put together a research poster, we have larger problems, I suppose. But… I wanted to intervene. Honestly, I was dying to intervene. Because…

… after years of homeschooling—wherein we had the luxury of skipping this sort of “busy work” I loathe—my son has no idea how to extract the information from his brain and arrange it in a visually pleasing and engaging format. Add to this the fact that he has dysgraphia, on top of being autistic (and therefore believing that anything not explicitly written in the rubric doesn’t matter), and I was biting my tongue so hard I was seeing stars.


… after years of public schooling—wherein she has learned that “fluff” does indeed sometimes garner the highest grade—my daughter proceeded to spend hours designing and painting her poster rather than working on the actual information it needed to contain. Thanks to her ADHD I knew this could quickly devolve into “but I have to get this line just right” before a single informative word was written, and a late-night meltdown was sure to occur, but hey, I was already biting my tongue, so that was good.

So for the first day, I stepped back. And holy crap that was hard.

On the second day, I allowed myself to step in with a few suggestions, ever-so-gently. I pointed out to my son that he should find some graphics he could print out, as I knew he was not interested in drawing anything, and a poster should have some visual appeal. (I was able to point to the rubric to back this up.) I also looked at the scant three sentences he’d produced and suggested he might want to flesh it out with some more information. (“But that answers all of the requirements,” he said. “Sometimes you need to try going a little further,” I replied.)

I may have mentioned the time to my daughter every so often. “You can always paint some more later,” I’d offer. “Why not get the info on there so that part’s done?” She rolled her eyes and assured me she was fine. (Guess who was up late finishing it the night before it was due? Go on, guess!)

My son grumped and argued and insisted his bare-bones first pass was “fine” and I should just leave him be. We negotiated a bit; he did a little more work; then he tried to sucker me into cutting out his printouts for him and helping him with layout. I was quick to assure him that he was perfectly capable of doing it himself, and I swear I heard some dark muttering about how I always want to tell him what to do until it gets to the part where he actually needs help. (I’m a monster, I know.)

In the end, both posters were done on time. If their teacher didn’t already realize how different they are, well, I think this may drive it home. My daughter’s poster is both pretty and painstaking, as well as being filled with information. When they have to do their accompanying oral presentations, she’ll be fine. My son’s poster is stark, in comparison, a little skimpy on actual info, and while he knows tons about his topic, I expect his oral presentation will be… awkward. I told the kids I expect she will get a high A and he will be lucky to get a B, but my daughter is convinced that “the teacher will go easy on him because he’s autistic.” I guess we’ll see what happens. I’m worried that disparate grades will lead to strife between them, too, but if one of them truly excels while the other does not, well, that’s life, sometimes. Meanwhile, after arguing about everything, my son promised that if he didn’t get the grade he wants, he’ll listen to me next time. So am I a horrible person for hoping that maybe he gets a C…?

In related news, Science Fair is coming up soon. Please hold me.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Poster children | Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    August 26, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    […] can read more about it over at Alpha Mom. It's gonna be a long school year, is all I'm […]

  • yasmara

    August 26, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Oh wow, I just read the info in the link for dysgraphia & I’m totally arm-chair diagnosing my 9 year old brilliant but ADD (diagnosed) son with it. Despite LOTS of practice his handwriting looks like a preschoolers & most of his written assignments top out at 5 words (more often than not, ONE WORD). Have you found any strategies to be particularly helpful? Is typing better? I’m seriously printing out this info to take to his first conference.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 26, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      My son has an accommodation in his IEP for keyboarding whenever practical. He’s faster at it but because he cannot touch type it seems to slow him down enough that he can organize his thoughts better. (I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for that, but I don’t know what it is.) The only problem is that we’ve yet to get the College Board to allow him to type during AP exams, which means he’s going to do all of this work for his AP courses and most likely flunk the finals. Sigh.

      • Jessica

        August 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm

        CB can be a [beep] about any accommodations, unfortunately. We have kids we’re sure are going to be able to obtain (just regular) accommodations, but they are denied. We get yelled at by a lot of parents about what CB doesn’t give us accoms for, but we can’t change their decisions. (This is a bigger problem when we do PSAT and have a larger group doing them all at once. Yuck.)

        Does the school use the AP test itself as part of the grade, or is it like ours, and there is a separate final for the teachers’ grades? (We don’t get the scores back until July usually.)

        • Mir Kamin

          August 27, 2014 at 8:16 am

          For us the AP exam doesn’t figure into the class grade, thank goodness. It’s just the frustration of completing the classes and probably never getting college credit for any of them. (No joke, last year the girlchild got a 105 in an AP class in which she only got a 2 on the exam because her accommodations were denied by the CB. Ugh.)

      • jwgmom

        August 27, 2014 at 12:29 am

        As the mother and grandmother of two generations of people with dysgraphia I have a couple of pieces of information, First, your kid is probably eligible for occupational therapy. Didn’t know this for my son, learned it by the time his daughter came along and it made a big difference. Second, teachers don’t always see this as a real thing if the kid’s reading is OK. My son walked into first grade reading on a fourth grade level and his teachers were often confused.You need a really well written IEP and then you need to make sure it is followed. Yes, typing helps and for some reason both found it reasonably easy. You can also ask for copies of the notes since this can be a real issue, and extra time on tests. It’s an interesting disorder since it also seems to have some link to language. My son still has pretty awful handwriting but is a demon bass player so it is more than just small motor skills .

        • Mir Kamin

          August 27, 2014 at 8:14 am

          It’s ridiculously hard to get OT in our district past elementary school, especially if you can compensate in other ways. Early OT helped some, but at this point it feels like something we just work around. The IEP is helpful. Still really stressing about AP exams, though. 🙁

  • Laura

    August 26, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    I said it before and I’ll say it again: I envy your kids’ teachers- everything they have to learn from them. I love your kids like they’re my own niece and nephew, and I thank you so much for “park my helicopter”. Because I did that with my 21-year-old, and it’s hard to explain to people why I don’t know if he’s in school this semester, or how he’s doing, or where is he working. That kid shot my helicopter to pieces, so I parked it.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      My condolences on your helicopter. 😉

      I do think that most teachers really do enjoy my kids; despite their foibles, they are very entertaining!

  • My Kids Mom

    August 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Not that I can read Monkey’s detail/ lack of detail, but at first glance I prefer his tidy printed version.

    A good (just accidentally typed ‘god’) teacher will have enough assignments that don’t require art skills that it should put it all in balance. That said, the teacher might not actually be God. I feel like the rubrics that come home with my kids these days allow for enough flexibility to encompass the variety of skills in the group. One friend we know would happily turn the info into a song and dance while my data driven son will write a report, thankyouverymuch. Just prove to me you know the information and can use it. Seems like that flexibility wasn’t there when we were kids. Write it or… write it.

  • The Other Leanne

    August 26, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    I love that Monkey put in the EPA logo. Actually, I think his poster demonstrates originality of presentation.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 27, 2014 at 8:17 am

      That’s Chickie’s! 🙂

      • Becky

        August 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm

        I had to do a momentary double-take at the photo when I first looked at the post because my brain automatically assigned the shorter person as Monkey and the taller one as Chickadee, but then I stared at the posters and remembered that Monkey GOT TALL.

        Love how Chickie is doing a pinky up pose.

        • Mir Kamin

          August 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

          Just imagine how weird it is when I have to LOOK UP at him. 😉

  • Karen

    August 26, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    College Board is awful about any accommodations. My youngest had last-minute ankle surgery a few days before she was scheduled to take the SAT. I asked if she could bring in a soft folding chair to rest her foot in. Absolutely not. Could she put her folded jacket on a spare classroom chair and rest her foot on that? Absolutely not. Would they provide something that she could rest her ankle on? Absolutely not. I was afraid to even ask about her use of crutches, visualizing them yanking them out from under her as she tied to enter the classroom. 

    • Mir Kamin

      August 27, 2014 at 8:17 am

      That’s horrifying. Seriously.

  • Grammy

    August 26, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I was that kid in high school who did meticulous research and excelled at writing AND designed all my reports to include hand illustrations and painting. I got A or A+. Always.

    Then, as an adult who worked full time, I found that honing down all that research to display the key points and make it easy for others to get the few facts I presented in pretty much one glance in crisper, more concise reports got my recommendations praised and adopted. Always.

    I hope the teacher is experienced enough to see the merits in both kid’s presentations. Both have value in the right venue. Both are terrific. I confess, though that this now-retired old lady is drawn to the more “professional” poster (your son’s) as opposed to the more “academic” one (your daughter’s).

    Please let us know what grades they actually received for these projects. I hope they both get an A.

  • Aimee

    August 27, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I’m wondering if maybe I should send you some kind of tongue guard, with all that biting you’re doing? I don’t know if there is such a thing, but if there isn’t don’t worry. I’ma make one.

  • Autumn

    August 28, 2014 at 2:02 am

    I love your phrase about “parking my helicopter”  My 3 year old I’m planing on sending ton Kindergarten in 2 years, which will probably be 10 days or less after her 5th birthday.  MY MIL has her undies in a wad about his already (her preshus snowflakes twins were held back a year, then still needed another year of coursework to get into their grad school programs, where as I had my Master’s and was working at 23. . .) but I think it’s a very useful phrase that people will understand.  I might be over the top in some things, her food due to allergies, but sometimes sink or swim.  

    And I’m soooo glad I saved my high school calculus notes cause I’m going to need them someday. . .

  • Ellen

    August 28, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    I am wondering why you would call making a poster like this, fluff and busy work.  Creation of a product is at the highest level, if done right, of learning: synthesis.  I know it depends on how it is implemented, and if it was just kids regarding basic stuff, it is fluff  – not sure this falls to that level.  

    • Mir Kamin

      September 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      I guess I feel like presenting information is an important life skill, but most of us (unless we go into graphic design or advertising) aren’t going to be making posters. I much prefer when the kids are tasked with PowerPoint presentations or reports; it seems like that’s a much more broad/useful skill. I fully admit I could be wrong. 😉

  • Meri

    August 29, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Fwiw, the science posters I’ve seen at the college and grad school level tend to be more along the lines of Monkey’s, although much more polished typographically. White space is an important design element! But you know that already. Graphics – I like putting in charts if I can find data. 

    Also, I’m pretty sure that my alma mater has put limits on how much AP credit you can use as course credits. It still lets you skip to the more advanced classes, but doesn’t give you sophomore standing.

  • Meri

    August 29, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Oh, and learning how to give presentations like this is something that’s very important in my field and also in engineering (software or other), and it’s not a thing I was taught until grad school despite being in a very good public school system around here.

  • Kelly

    September 1, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Just chiming in to say that the ability to convey information in a poster is an essential skill for a scientist.  So I think it’s a great assignment for a science class. And yes., they do look more like Monkey’s 🙂