Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First Grade Homework...

I had this random thought the other day walking the hall at work...in a school...

Sometimes the current workings of the educational process feel a little like a manufacturing factory. Raw product in, standardized product out.

I've been thinking about this random thought for a couple of weeks now and wonder why it crossed my mind. Is it because I'm not an educator by training? Or because I work in that system with kids who don't learn the way we traditionally expect them too? Or because as a parent I want my kids to not only excel academically, but to follow their hearts doing what makes them happy in life even if that means thinking outside the box from the path society expects them to follow?

I've found I really enjoy working with some of the kids at school who struggle to understand concepts the way they are presented by the chosen curriculum product. I enjoy the challenge of helping them find a way to make sense of it all through their own best learning style. For some kids it simply a change in wording that helps them understand. Some just need consistent repetition so they can see the patterns that evolve through the process. Some are more visual/spacial learners than concept/auditory learners.

I know for a fact I am a hands on, involved in the conversation, hear it said rather than read it in print kind of learner. When I was in college, I rarely skipped a class because I found if I attended class and was engaged in the lesson and discussion, I really didn't need to read the text book or study for hours on end before a big test. If I skipped class, or we were expected to learn a portion of our information simply from studying the text, I was much less successful with regurgitating information for exams. I know this about myself which is why I taught myself to knit using YouTube videos and hands on trial and error. It's also why I sometimes get half way through reading a book I've pulled off our home library selves before I realize I've already read it.

I dream of a public educational system that allows for us as a society to honor our differences as learners rather than try to fit everyone into the mold we've created with our focus on standardized tests and performance dependent funding. Our kids are not raw product simply waiting to be molded via assembly line into a standardized product. Which brings me to an observation I've made this year about my 1st grader's opportunity to do some advanced learning activities in both math and reading.

Brea started going to an advanced level math class and an ELP reading group about a month ago. We were excited to get word that she had qualified for these programs, and were not at all surprised given her quick math skills and ability to read, and comprehend, books in the 3rd-4th grade reading level. She has been just as excited to attend these classes and is so proud to come home each day to show us what new concept she learned that day. The one aspect of these new classes I am not as thrilled with is the amount of homework that has become a regular part of her week. Homework that often feels like little more than busy work. Tuesday's homework, for example, included 3 math worksheets: a practice worksheet from the regular lesson, a page of 50 addition fact problems using the number 4, and  a challenge skill sheet of 24 addition problems each adding 3, single digit numbers. The last of these required some addition with regrouping (what we used to call carrying back in the day), a skill she has not yet learned. So I taught her how to do so to help make her job a little easier. These are in addition to the expectation she will read a minimum of 20 minutes each night at home (a variety of reading packets come home that are to be read as part of that time) and her nightly spelling practice worksheet to prepare her for Friday's spelling test.

When it's all said and done, Brea spent over and hour doing homeqork Tueaday. Thankfully she's a kid who easily stays on task or it could have been longer.

As a first grader.

I'm kinda not okay with that.

I'm kinda not okay with that because it's started to take some of the fun out of learning for her. Making sure she gets her homework done before any evening activities has become a bit of a chore. There are days she just wants (and I'm sure her brain NEEDS) to come home and play. To get out her play-doh to create, or her baby dolls to mother. With the coming of spring there will be days I will just want her to come home and play OUTSIDE. I believe our kids need unstructured time to explore life just as much as structured time to help them make sense of it. Slowly I feel our unstructured time slipping away.

I'm lucky that, for the most part, I have very self sufficient, responsible children who know their father and I's expectations when it comes to getting homework done, and they take the necessary steps to meet those expectations. Having to discuss possible consequences for homework not completed "on time" is not a conversation I ever expected to have with my 6 year old. At the same time, I feel like if we don't stress the importance of taking responsibility for her homework NOW, it will be that much harder to get her to do so further down her academic road.

And so, even as I question the process, we continue to feed the system that is set up to take our raw child in through its doors to be spit back out as standardized educational product.

Education....just another example of the concerns you face as a parent that you can't fully appreciate until you are in the midst of the storm.


peace


*** P.S. This is by NO MEANS meant to reflect poorly on the job teachers do each and every day in classrooms throughout our country, especially the great group of teachers I have the honor of working with here in our district. I do believe that most teachers do the best they can within the confines set by the bureaucracy of our current educational system. The teachers I know love kids. They love learning. They want nothing more than to make learning fun and to help those who struggle. But they are spread too thin. they are tired, and they know, at least in part, that their continued employment is dependent upon being able to work within the system set before them. I'm sorry for what our society had done to their profession.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely written and I agree wholeheartedly.