Monday, April 30, 2012

Homework Relief Forum

I was so impressed with a blog I read from a teacher who decided to experiment with no homework that I've decided to set up a new forum for teachers to report their experiences with homework relief. Here's the link to her blog. Starting today, I am inviting teachers around the world to conduct their own "no homework" or "reduced homework" experiments. Your experiment can go on for a week or for a year. Challenge your old ideas, test out a reduced homework concept, and report it as a comment to this blog. As long as you report the results of your experiment, we'll keep it here for all to readIf you simply share your pre-existing beliefs about homework, we'll take the comment down. The idea is to test the notions teachers have about homework and report the results of those tests.

I am aware, and quite sympathetic to teachers, that they are expected to develop homework policies with virtually no training in their schools of education. I don't understand how schools of education fail to have courses called "Homework" in them. Teachers are expected to use homework as a common practice with no orientation to its history, research, and technique.  I'm a psychologist and have worked in the field for 35 years. Although I've learned a lot along the way, I had courses in psychotherapy and psychological testing and that gave me the foundation to understand what I was doing as a starting point for my further work. Teachers are well trained in how to teach children. They get no training at all in how to give homework, at least until they start their student teaching at which point they are modeling the work of other teachers who, like them, never had courses in homework.

So, here's your chance to consider new ideas, post them on my blog, and join a discussion that asks the questions: Does homework work? Does it work for all students? What should we be doing?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Education as big business

Gail Collins wrote this column today in The New York Times.

I left the following comment.

There is no doubt that if money is to be made, businesses swoop in, but I don’t think that is the issue as much as the fact that desperate people look for solutions, and parents of children in failing schools are desperate. They want safe schools first, and effective schools next. Even when statistics may not support the charter movement, safety is a sufficient reason for a parent to want that school. If we look at the issue in an even more expansive way, not just failing schools but failing students – some schools failing lots of their students but others failing some, we realize that the key component, whether the school is public or private, lies in shoring up the authority of the teachers to work directly and personally with their students, and that this lack of authority comes from different sources, some imposed on teachers from the outside and some they make for themselves. All this standardized testing and humiliating outside evaluations hurts the educational process by weakening teachers. But overreliance on homework does just as much harm. We need safe schools, teachers in charge of their classrooms reporting to principals in charge of their schools. If there is not enough time to teach the kids in class, then expand the class time; give extra tutoring in school, but place very little reliance on what happens in the homes, and for sure, don’t halt or stop a child’s education, if he cannot get his homework done. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More on 504 plans

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the 504 plan is the way to go to achieve relief for your homework trapped child. The feedback I constantly get about my model is that it makes sense but the teachers won't buy it. I think they don't buy into it because they have not heard of it and because they have not yet had the experience that the model helps them with their goals as well. I am very interested in learning what experiences people have had with the 504 process. My sense is that it is easy to get more time for your child to do the assignments. It is harder to get less work, which is what the child really needs. Please post a comment here, on my guest book at my website, or through an email to me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Working memory and IQ

Read this article in The New York Times. Then, consider my comments.

I find this to be an incredibly important article, and would like to point to the other side of the coin, which is how we persecute children who have poor working memory. It’s a ground-breaking concept that we could improve IQ through training to improve working memory, but for those kids with poor working memory, we systematically abuse them through our homework system. We expect them to go home and hold onto concepts taught in school and work independently, often hours on end, without positive results. Then, we punish theme severely with low grades, sending their parents into a frenzy that persecutes them more. I’ve said for years that these children need homework relief and to focus their education primarily to classroom work under the supervision of professional teachers. This does not mean special education or separation from regular courses of study, just relief from the homework they cannot do, at least until some form of remediation takes place. I’ve always considered the two primary offenders to be working memory and processing speed, and assumed there were more possibilities for remediation for deficits in processing speed than working memory. This article challenges that belief. But homework relief is essential until science and education catch up. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

On 504 plans

I recorded the following video this morning. It discusses implementing the concepts of the homework trap, including the possibility of formalizing the approach in a 504 plan. I recorded this video clip at home. Sound effects are provided by Buddy, the family dog.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Implementing the Homework Trap

I've been thinking a great deal about the question of how one implements the concepts I promote in The Homework Trap. I've had over a dozen radio interviews in the past two weeks and the question that consistently comes up and is probably the hardest to answer is how teachers respond to my model. In general, the first response is negative. Upon hearing more detail about the model, it becomes more positive. Then, I talk about what happens when parents propose my model to the school. Again, the first reaction is negative. The second reaction is interesting. It is not necessarily a positive reaction in the sense that everyone agrees with what I recommend, but there is movement in a positive direction. I've know of situations in which my recommendations get rejected formally, but then implemented informally. The parent decides to cap the time the child is required to work. This decision is non-negotiable. The teacher may not agree to modify the penalties but ends up modifying them anyway. It may be that by simply limiting the time the child works, the child ends up rebelling less and doing more of the assignments, and the teacher recognizes the effort and responds to it.

Although this happens, it can be frustrating for parents. After all, the child has different teachers every year, and sometimes, progress is made one year, only to have to go over the same issue the next year. Because of this, it may be necessary to formalize my recommendations in a 504 plan. I always refer to the learning problems as "under the radar" and focus a lot on problems with working memory and processing speed. These are the types of learning problems that should not require special education classification and an IEP but could be incorporated into a 504 plan. The most common 504 plans call for extra time, which may help the child when taking a test, but has no value when given homework to take home, since that extra time does not exist. So we need to work on getting less work into the 504 plan rather than more time.

If you are developing a 504 plan with your child's school, I suggest you mention the concepts in The Homework Trap. Keep in mind, no teacher can implement a plan that teacher has not heard of. So it is important to bring the model with you and to educate the school when asking for what your child needs.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autism and the Homework Trap

This is a heart-warming story, but I would like to comment on the line about the child struggling with homework, sometimes taking 20 minutes and sometimes taking two hours. This is where I think we have it all wrong as a society. I advocate strongly for time-bound, rather than content-based homework assignments. If we defined homework as an interval of time, with the standard in the field being ten minutes per night per grade, then the second grader would be 100% successful spending 20 minutes doing homework every night. The teacher could look at what the child did or did not complete and that would provide good information for the teacher in educating that child. In my studies on homework, I find that there are children who, for one reason or another, cannot complete their assignments in a reasonable amount of time. They can socialize and play or they can get their assignments done, but they cannot do both. Typically, these kids fall into two different categories, the acting out kids and the socially isolated ones. The ones who are more social, perhaps athletic, tend to ditch the homework at a loss of grades. The ones who are less social, and often the autism spectrum disorder children, tend to do the work instead of socializing. Although they don’t socialize easily, it is still in their interest to have the freedom to social. In fact, we should look at socialization as an important part of their education. But homework can serve to interfere with that process. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Today's Question April 11, 2012

What should teachers do if a student calmly explains that he cannot complete the work in a reasonable period of time?  

I posted this question after reading the this in the Philly Post.  The child's behavior described here is certainly outrageous. But it made me wonder what would happen if children had the option to explain to their teachers, calmly, that they simply could not finish the assignments in a reasonable period of time. Would the teachers respond by reducing or waiving assignments to make things more manageable, or would the teachers still insist that everything had to be done, even if they tried to be helpful and sympathetic. My guess is that some kids feel boxed and then act out, in unacceptable ways, partly because they have no other options. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Today's Question April 10, 2012

Why do teachers hesitate to accept the principles of the homework trap?

Answer: Click here

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Road Map for Change

I am often asked how to implement The Homework Trap, given that many teachers do not readily agree with to the modifications I suggest. Because of that, I am offering this road map of what you need to do.
  1. Set time limits. Establish the amount of time you feel your child can work (no more than ten minutes per night per grade) and excuse him from working when that time is up, regardless of what he actually does.
  2. Inform the teacher of your decision. Make it clear that this is your standard and it is not negotiable.
  3. See how the teacher reacts. If the response if favorable, ask for help prioritizing assignments.
  4. If the teacher does not agree to reduce the penalties, give him or her a copy of the book (It is an easy read and reasonable to expect it will be read).
  5. When disagreements arise, consistently return to the book and ask if he or she has read it. Be clear that it is unfair for the teacher to reject these concepts without at least becoming familiar with them.
  6. Focus on the problem more than the solutions. Once the teacher has read the book, don’t get overly hung up on whether he or she agrees with my recommendations. Ask his or her opinion of my analysis of why your child is not completing the assignments.
  7. Once the teacher agrees with my analysis of the problem, that teacher will be more sensitive to your child’s needs even if he or she does not completely agree with my recommendations.
  8. Buy the book.   To implement this approach, you need to buy the book, not just to develop a better understanding of my model, but so you have it as a tool that you can physically hand to the teacher, and ask for that teacher to read it. 
  9. Return to website

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do children with ADHD need homework relief?

Here's a comment I made in response to a question on an ADHD website asking whether parents felt that medication was helpful.

I think the issue of medications for ADHD is complicated. My own experience when my children were kids is that it was necessary. Without it, they could not function in class. As a psychologist who is now looking back on the issue, I have come to believe there is another issue regarding medication that gets overlooked. I address it in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. The truth is that kids cannot be medicated as well in the afternoon and at night as they can be during the day. This creates a false impression, in the teacher’s mind, by what the child does during the day that the child is capable of doing more homework than that child really is. The ADHD child has done a great job, with the help of medication, managing the school day. Now, that child who functioned in a time bound, 9-3 context, with the help of medication, goes into the afternoon and evening, needing to unwind, not needing to keep doing more work. The child may get an afternoon dose of medication but he is probably not ready to do any more until the evening, and by then, you don’t want to keep medicating your child. After all, you do want him to eat and sleep. Yet, the teacher has this idea that he is more capable at home than he really is. Your child needs reward for what he did, not pressure and criticism for what he did not do that night. He needs less homework, not more time (the standard accommodation that schools willingly give). This is part of what I call the homework trap and what I strongly believe needs to be changed. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hungry Hearts

New York Times Opinion

My response:

I think teachers often lose sight of the ways in which they squash the “hungry heart.” While it is true that not everyone is geared for or interested in having a higher education, there are a lot of bright, curious children who have some difficulty absorbing auditory information (and hence, paying attention) and writing clearly, quickly, and well (i.e. handwriting problems) for whom standard approaches to homework interfere with their education and their love of learning. These kids are obviously curious and bright, but rather than get supported for those qualities, that get criticized under the mantra, “You’re so bright. You would do so well if you just tried harder.” They actually try, at first, but the demand to get all of their work done without time limits, causes them eventually to learn to dislike school. I understand that we have requirements and that we want children to do what they are told and to respect authority. But without true time limits on homework (rather than estimates of how much time it should take), there will be numbers of children who will be perceived by Professor Edmondson as lacking hungry hearts, when in fact, their hearts were traumatized and starved at an early age. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap.