Friday, March 30, 2012

New York Times article on autism

Article on autism in the New York Times

My comment:

First, there was an explosion in the diagnosis of ADHD. Now, there is an explosion in the diagnosis of autism. At the same time, we are increasingly concerned about the success of our schools, and have generally responded to those concerns with greater demands which include more homework. These trends are connected.  Children differ from each other whether or not those differences call for diagnostic labels. In the process of demanding more homework, we actually supplant parental authority and reduce respite in the home. As an adult, I depend on the comfort and flexibility of my home to refuel for the next day. Yet, we expect children to come home and keep doing their “job,” and not just to do it, but to keep doing it until it is all done with no end to the “homework day” in sight. Home life suffers.  Parents get desperate for relief as schools are demanding conformity, and hence, this creates pressure to expand legitimate diagnostic terms to apply to more and more kids. Reduce the demand by putting time limits on homework and increase authority in the hands of the parents, and you will see some reduction in the use of these terms. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Article in Washington Post

On Valerie Strauss' Washington Post Education Blog today 20 questions for parents about k-12 school reform.

My response:

I’m a parent of three adult children and the author of the book, “The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.” I think I passed Professor Willett’s test answering yes to a majority (at least 11) of these questions, although most of my answers are more an “I guess so,” than a resounding “Yes!” It’s questions 5, 13, and 19 that piqued my interest enough to write this response.  Question 19 about reading with my children gets a resounding Yes. Questions 5 and 13, taking responsibility for my children’s academic education and homework get strong No’s. I agree that this teaching to the test mania is setting us off in the wrong direction, and we should speak up, not to challenge teachers but to support them in having the freedom to relate to our children, use their training and judgment, and teach them well.  I also agree that if more is to be learned, we should consider extending the school day (or school year). But I also believe strongly that it is misguided to think of the home as an  extension of school, particularly in the form of excessive and coercive homework (parents left powerless to the make their own decisions about what takes place in their homes). Sure, home is a place for learning, but that’s for lessons that cannot be taught in school. And what could be better than for child and parent to sit side by side, each independently and quietly reading a book? But go to school so you can coach your child in homework? That doesn’t teach children anything, and certainly not the joy of learning. Parents should stay cognizant of their children’s schools; but children also need boundaries, a clear distinction between home and school. So take some adult education classes and learn something that interests you.  Then, come home and have fun with your children.  Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Here is another article with good, common sense advice that will not work for homework-trapped children.

Here is my response.

This is good advice if it works. The problem is that there are numbers of children for whom it does not work, and will not work if we hold to the underlying principles of what is being said. Children work at difference paces from each other. Whereas school starts and stops by the clock, homework does not. To say that the child needs to do all the work thoroughly, manage time, and sustain motivation when, for that child, pace is an issue, is a set up for that child to not manage time well and to then lose drive. The most important component of time management is to identify the time that has to be managed. Is the child managing an hour, two hours, three hours? Common standards say ten minutes per night per grade, so no child should be working more than two hours a night (if he is a senior). If he has to take three because he writes slowly, or reads slowly, or works slowly for some other reason, he isn't managing time. If he figures out what is doable for him in two hours, then prioritizes the assignments and makes thoughtful decisions about which assignments he is NOT going to do, or decides that it pays to do all his assignments quickly but NOT thoroughly, then that student has learned to manage time. Until we shift from content based to true time based homework, we are going to be leaving a substantial number of children behind. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Two articles from today's Sunday New York Times

There are two articles in The Sunday New York Times that I think are worth commenting on today. They are “The Way We Read Now,” and “Your Brain on Fiction.” The first article is a somewhat amusing reflection on electronic reading devices, and refers to the pros and cons of their use. I’ve been saying all along that homework problems are due to under the radar learning problems, particularly those related to working memory and processing speed. My own experience since getting  a Kindle, as someone who has always been a slow reader, is that the device has actually improved the pace at which I read. I don’t know that it’s fair to generalize from a single case example, me, but it causes me to wonder whether technology may someday prove a vital tool in helping children who are slow readers. The second article is more serious, and discusses language, the associations we have to specific words, and how the words stimulate the brain in ways that are comparable to what those particular words mean.  This discussion is quite consistent with what I say in my chapter on Behavioral Factors in The Homework Trap. There, I use the terminology of classical conditioning to explain how, in the homework-trapped family, homework becomes the “H-word,” to the point that verbal reference to homework is counterproductive when trying to get the child to comply. The word is filled with negative associations and becomes the trigger for further resistance to getting the assignments done.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Education in the News

State Will Overhaul Its Handling of Test-Tampering Complaints

My response to this item in The New York Times:
There’s something wrong with this picture. We train teachers so they can teach our children, but then throw them off-center by making them teach to the test. Then, we put them under the gun with a nationwide teacher-evaluation movement. We humiliate them further by publishing the results. Now, we have to watch them carefully to make sure they don’t tamper with those tests. The teachers, distracted from their craft, respond by giving too much homework.  The child can’t do all the work, so the teacher calls the parent. The parent comes to the school and feels humiliated. This throws the parent off-center.  The parent starts tampering with the homework by doing it him or herself.  Wouldn’t we be better off if we just let teachers be in charge of their classrooms and let parents be in charge of their homes? 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Training Teachers to Give Homework

Indiana's education schools make new efforts to better teach teachers

I found this article in the Indy Star and offered the following comment:

Improvements in teacher education are welcome, however, I'd like to point to one area of teacher education that I believe has been sorely overlooked, and that is homework-giving. Most people do not know this, but, despite the fact that homework is weighted heavily into a child's grade, to the best of my knowledge, schools of education do not have courses in how to give homework. I'm a psychologist. If you come to me for either therapy or psychological testing, you can rest assured that I had courses in these topics when I went to graduate school. Yet, teachers do not have courses in homework. At the least, I believe schools of education should provide all teachers with one course called "Homework" in which they review the history, the theory, the research, and the practice of homework-giving. That's the least parents should expect and demand if they are going to allow teachers to create assignments for the home.

Visit The Homework Trap.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The kids and the bees

The Brains of Bees

This article on bee scouts is interesting as it discussing the genetics behind certain types of bees being wired for adventure. The more we learn about genetics, the more we learn that individual differences has a neurochemical basis behind them. So, what do we do with kids who are wired for adventure? Obviously, there are some basics they need to learn so they can be successful adventuresome people in their adult lives. But if we quell their nature in the service of teaching them what we want them to learn, we are actually doing them more harm than good. These kids need to explore. They need to use their free time exploring the world, and we need to put true limits on how much of their after school time they are going to be expected to stay put and continue their schoolwork at home.

The Homework Trap.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Interesting article on education.

This article was printed in the Washington Post.

The war on teachers: Why the public is watching it happen

Here is my comment:

I agree completely with the author here. Workers who feel supported do their job. Workers under threat, in any industry, watch their backs. An attack on teachers can only serve to undermine education. I have another thought about why education is failing and why teachers are so demoralized and that is because we, as a society, have agreed to have teachers take their "eye off the ball." The most fundamental component of an education is the relationship that exists between student and teacher. Rather than support our teachers in keeping their eyes on the student, we have them looking in different directions in two specific ways. First, teachers are overly pressured by outside requirements, of which "No Child Left Behind" is a major culprit. These standards force them to overly think about results, rather than the child in front of them, what that child needs to learn, and in the end, this compromises the results. Second, teachers are overly consumed about things that happen in the home. By placing so much weight on homework, rather than on classroom instruction, they end up depending on environments over which they have no control. Then, they spend time trying to get the child and parent to do something outside of their domain, and often spend large amounts of time fighting over, and lamenting about, what may or may not be happening outside the class. There is certainly room for standards and there is certainly room for homework. But the teacher's primary focus, to be effective, has to be on that special relationship he or she has as a mentor to a specific group of kids. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

Visit The Homework Trap


Education in the News

Mark Federman: Catch Students Before They Fall

Interesting interview. Here's my comment.

I've never believed it is an issue of good or bad teachers. Obviously, there will be differences in skill among any group of professionals. The issue is always the quality of the environment and the organization. A good principal can bring out the best in a teacher and that filters down to bringing out the best in the student. I've been an outspoken critic of homework policy, largely because it violates concepts of good organizational structures by placing too much authority into the hands of teachers, over the home. But in the same spirit, I'm critical of systems that try to micromanage the classroom with too many outside mandates, and the types of performance reviews which force people to watch their back. The teacher needs to keep his or her eye on the student, not fend off criticism or get overly concerned about what happens in the home. And that gets supported best by having principals like the one featured here.

Visit The Homework Trap.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Homework in the News 3/10/12

Yes, I really mean it.

This is an interesting opinion with my comment below.

I agree with you quite a bit. In fact, much of what you say coincides with the central themes of my book, The Homework Trap. School is important but when homework is assigned, it traverses the boundaries between home and school with extraordinary power to dictate and overrule the individual parent’s judgment. Further, as you so aptly say, it does not work. Once you look at the world from the child’s point of view, you realize that incessant academic demands which intrude on the home and bypass parental authority serve to teach children to dislike school and actually reinforce disobedient behaviors. Many “bad behaviors” are actually adaptive behaviors used by the child to deal with demands that do not make sense. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

Fear in the News

I saw an interesting in the New York Times about fear. Here is the comment I made:

I am a psychologist. I work with disabled adults. Many were successful workmen who suffered an injury, say hurt their back, and have to retrain. I test them to plan for their retraining and, for many, they are absolutely terrified when it comes to anything related to school. On average, they are as bright as the average person, but many have poor handwriting and, because of that, homework took forever to complete and interfered with their “education,” e.g. building things and fixing their bikes when they were young. Yet homework pressures were relentless and this created a learned fear of school. We can’t protect children from every phobia they may acquire, snakes, teddy bears, etc., but we don’t have to continue to terrorize young people over homework to the point that they hate and fear school. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap.