Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mamafail: Homework for Parents, Etc.

Although I strive to be an active participant in my children's school lives, the reality is that I often fall short of this goal.

Take, for instance, the kindergarten reading log. This is a hideous green folder in which I am to record all material I read to Boy Wonder on a weekly basis. Three entries is the minimum acceptable, four entries per week is OK, but the goal is to have five or more entries by Friday every week.

Today is Thursday, and though we've been fighting our way through Pippi Longstocking, I have yet to make a single reading log entry. You see, my job requires that I track my time and bill for it by the tenth of an hour, so making entries in the reading log feels like work. Also, we lose the folder all the time, and hunting for it creates further disincentive to complete this dreaded task. And I've only read Pippi twice this week, so even if I fill the reading log out, I still fail.

Can I just make a confession here? I hate the reading log. It is Homework for Parents. And sometimes I don't want to read to Boy Wonder. I want to go to bed.

Speaking of homework, homework for kindergartners comes home on Tuesdays, to be returned the next day. Why Tuesday? I don't know. And why homework for kindergartners? Again, I don't know. But today is Thursday, and Boy Wonder noted in the car this morning that he STILL hasn't turned in his homework for the week. In fact, he dramatically struck his six year-old forehead as he exited the car, worriedly saying, "Oh no, Mom. I forgot my homework AGAIN."

And what did I do?

I laughed.

Another mamafail moment.

Since I'm on some sort of confessional kick here, did I mention that I lost my temper at my kids this morning? Really, for no good reason? Major mamafail.

Internet, I'm going to try to do better.


Katie said...

I hate homework beyond all reason. It's pointless and it messes up family time. Lots of education experts are beginning to write about this. It's the bane of our existence, this homework. ANd it only gets worse and worse and worse.

500Jerk said...

I started reading about homework overload on your blog years ago. Although I'm up for occasional homework and reading assignments, regular homework drives me nuts. And in kindergarten? It just doesn't seem necessary.

See you soon!

AppyLove said...

Meaningful homework can have a pretty significant impact on kids' retention of content, as well as helping them develop some pretty key life skills. I mean, kids who don't have parents guiding them toward becoming an independent learner/thinker could definitely reap the benefits of well-designed and un-intimidating homework. (I hate homework as well, and I don't have kids. But after teaching school for seven years, trust me: lots and lots of teachers hate homework too--more stuff to grade and keep track of, etc. Many schools have specific homework policies, though, so it's not the teacher's discretion).

I have a friend who is an art teacher. He told me once that he doesn't believe in homework. His philosophy is that kids are pretty much turning themselves over to us for the WHOLE DAY EVERY DAY ALL WEEK, so why not let them use their time at home, with family, with friends, etc. to be learning other skills? I tend to agree with that assessment, but I also think homework can be a useful tool in determining what a kid knows when he's not surrounded by other kids shouting out the answer.

The answer, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. But it can't be (as is unfortunately the case in a lot of places) homework for homework's sake (worst idea ever).

And I feel you on the reading logs. I used those for about a week once, while working with a literacy expert. She said, "How would you feel about doing that, as a reader yourself?" And I was like, "I would hate it." She said, "Well, then."

So I started having the kids write notes to me about their books, and I wrote back. Much more meaningful to them, and much more instructionally sound. Plus they loved it. Any way you could adapt the reading log to a written (or drawn) conversation between you and BW that might make it feel less like a timesheet (I cringed when I read that, thinking of my one week of torturing kids back in the day).

Sorry this is so long!! This issue is close to my heart!

AppyLove said...

I also think it's kind of awesome that you laughed when he told you he forgot his homework, by the way. That puts you in the running for the Cool Mom Awards.

500Jerk said...

Appy Love,
As a former teacher, you have a perspective I don't have, and I completely respect and defer to your expertise here. I get the idea that teachers need to make sure kids are retaining/learning. But wouldn't an in-school test assess this better than homework performed with the help of parents?

I am also curious about the school homework policies you mention. You mean, the principal sets a homework requirement? Ye gads.

Thanks for agreeing with me on the reading log. I felt so empowered by your comments that this morning I wrote in Boy Wonder's reading log, "We read Pippi Longstocking all week. Also, some other stuff." No recording of dates or times or any of that other nonsense. It felt very liberating.

And I love the idea of notes to the teacher. But don't you think these notes need to be done by the student, not the parent?

All best,

AppyLove said...

Oh, sorry. I re-read my post after it appeared and thought, WOW, that is not what that sounded like in my head AT ALL. I am completely brain-dead this week and have no business commenting on blogs. (Got into vet school! Hence the brain-deadness. I haven't been able to sleep, eat, or think straight since finding out).

Mostly, I agree that homework sucks. I sucked at keeping track of it; I hated AND sucked at grading it.

I also had, the entire time I taught, a huge guilt complex about not assigning and grading homework consistently, because it made me feel lazy (something I know from reading your blog you are NOT a fan of feeling!) and like I wasn't teaching as well as my peers, though empirical evidence didn't indicate that to be the case.

So when I wrote yesterday, I was really just trying to say, I agree with what you're saying. I do think in-class assessment is a better tool than homework assignments and in practice was quite disinclined to give homework, but I can see the other side of the issue--it's the introduction of the concept of rigor, which isn't *necessarily* bad for older students. It's just so often so poorly done.

I do think kindergarten homework is a VERY tricky issue, especially, and I have no credibility when it comes to knowing what's appropriate for really young kids. I feel like when you're transitioning into K-12 school, showing up dressed every day is a commendable accomplishment. That is hard work, I think.

Looking at my comment now, it seems like I was disagreeing with your post, but I think I was basically having an argument with myself because I feel so frustrated by the whole concept of homework.

And on the reading logs, though I didn't even come close to making this clear, I was thinking in terms of you and BW writing a little something to each other in the log (or together, since you're probably going to be sitting right next to each other)--like, favorite word/scene from that part of the story,or a picture of what Pippi looked like when she said such-and-such, so that it's more interactive with the reading and less like a timecard (reading journal vs. reading log--implies a direct connection between reading and writing rather than reading and timekeeping). Having said that, it's still more work and less organic than just reading and talking about a story together, you know?

Oh, and final note: I've never worked at a school where there was a hard-and-fast specific requirement, just a school in which my principal made a "clear recommendation" based on the research she felt was best (it was NO MORE THAN ten minutes/night for each grade--so ten for first graders, twenty for second graders, etc....but even that presupposes a need for homework every night, which I definitely don't agree with). I'd say in a lot of places it's more an unspoken expectation or a part of the school culture than an administrative mandate, but I know there are many schools where it's more policy than preference.

Thanks for responding to my comment, even though it was so hare-brained. I've been thinking about homework a lot today as a result of reading your post, and I'm not sure I'll ever feel resolution on it!

AppyLove said...

I just got what you were saying about parent vs. teacher with the reading log! Yes, yes, totally would be better for the teacher to do that written interaction (vs. the simple log and vs. the parent being the one to do it), but I was just thinking that it might make the log-keeping more fun for you--as a mama who loves to read and write about what she's reading.

JLY said...

Just catching up here. One of the things I love about NW is that until late MS there just is NO homework other than the rare project in grades 3-5. And I see the value of L having had some homework and studying other than reading these past two years to get her ready for HS where it will be a much greater issue and time sink. One of the reasons we went in that direction is that pre-children I saw friends' children stressed out in K-3 with homework and tests! If Montessori hadn't turned out so well for us, I might be thinking other thoughts now, but L has thrived and done well on SSAT, etc. without a traditional homework/testing routine through the 8th grade (well, a month or so shy of it, anyway.) I know it is not for every child, but for many no homework can work out to a good academic end.

500Jerk said...

Appy Love,
Congratulations on getting into vet school! That's huge.

Betsytant said...

The minimal homework is one of the many things I love about KMS. Additionally, I love it that the kids choose what homework they want to do. McLean has already figured out that he should save the easy stuff for busy, activity laden days. The reading log thing seems a bit condescending to me.

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