Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mentoring Programs

This article reports on a local college volunteer mentoring program.  Here is my comment:

Programs like this are essential for kids, largely because interest in school gets built around relationships with older youth. There is a backside to this lesson which is that all learning takes place in a supportive context with positive feelings. This is why it is so important to begin reducing our dependence on coercive after-school techniques, i.e. homework.  It is one thing to energize a child with an interesting assignment and have that child feel enthused and share that enthusiasm with someone he looks up to and values. It is another to place unending demands on that child and then expect that the parents enforce compliance.  One key ingredient to the success of this program is its voluntary nature. One reason why homework is so harmful to some kids is the way in which it is forced on them, and, more significantly, the way in which their parents are forced to shift from their roles of revered authorities, loving adults, and wise leaders to mindless agents demanding compliance for behaviors of which they have no real power to modify or limit. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. Author of The Homework Trap.


April said...

I hear so much about parental involvement being a key component of a student's success, but it's never been quite clear to me what that means. I'm curious how you would define effective parental involvement.

Ken said...

I think the role of the parent should be that of observer, not enforcer. The teacher sees both the product and the process of the child's work at school. The teacher only sees the product of what the child did at home. Parents play a vital role as the eyes and ears of the child's homework performance and can give teachers valuable insight into the difficulties their child is having. But they have to leave the enforcer role so they can sit back and ask themselves what problems their children are having, rather than how can I make my child do the work. Then, the teacher should accept that feedback as information and use his or her expertise as a teacher to consider teaching solutions. Beyond that, the parent needs to make decisions about what the norms for homework will be in his or her house. Most importantly, this includes how much time the child is required to work. Whatever that time frame is, the goal should be helping the child learn to use that time well rather than forcing the child to use as much time as needed to get the work done. Think of it like budgeting one's money. In today's society, many of us have no money and $10,000 at the same time (the way credit cards work), and for many it is hard to learn how to budget money. If you had $20 in your pocket, you could work on making wise decisions about how to use the $20. The child needs a defined, finite amount of time to do the work. There should be no "credit card" through which the child has more time to work on the assignments. Penalties should be mild enough so the parent is not going crazy, afraid the child will fail. In that context, the parent can set time limits, and participate calmly in overseeing the child and providing the teacher with valuable feedback.