Thursday, September 20, 2012

Vacation Time

Maryka and I are taking our delayed “summer vacation,” tomorrow (a possibility with our children grown up). We’ll be flying to Seattle and staying on the West Coast until Sunday, September 30. I may take a break from updating my website, blog, and Facebook page during that time. There are two things I would like for you to keep in mind. First, use this month to observe your child. If your child is homework-trapped and in middle school, it is likely that he will appear highly motivated to do his homework because September provides a brief window when the homework-trapped child can get all of his work done for some of his teachers. It is important to remember that as problems completing the work unfold, teachers and parents alike get distracted by the myth of motivation, the misbelief that the student is doing poorly because he does not really care. He cares. He just cannot handle all of the work for all of his teachers. Second, I want to remind you that the Kindle version of my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers and Students remains at a reduced price through the end of September. In October, it returns to its original price, $9.99. The price of the physical book remains unchanged.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Improving low performing schools

Here's an article on research about improvement in low performing schools. The article is found in Education Week. Here's my comment:

I would like to point out that one thing that is not mentioned here is homework. I think everyone should ponder that point. At one point, the article says "Improving schools tended to combine strong leadership and data use with strategic teacher recruitment, management, and 'intensive' professional development." We need to keep in mind that the solutions lie within the school building, not outside of it, and that by depending so much on factors outside the teacher's control, homework can diminish rather than enhance success.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wyndmoor Press now offers bulk rate discounts to parent, school, and community groups. We recommend Amazon for single copy purchases.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Edutopia's poll on the amount of homework

Edutopia (!/edutopia September 14 entry) has asked its readers to weigh in on whether there should be more homework or less homework. I would say less homework, but I would also say they are asking the wrong question. They should be asking, who should be in charge of the home: the teacher or the parent? Once we distinguish the teacher’s role in “assigning” homework from that teacher’s right to “enforce,” homework compliance, we will make a quantum leap forward toward a rational homework policy. Parents will, as a whole, as they do now, support what the teachers want the children to do. Teachers will become more thoughtful about the homework they assign. And children who are at risk of being harmed by homework, which is either plainly excessive or excessive for them as individuals, will have a means for relief, coming from the people they have naturally and always counted on to keep them safe: their parents.
Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wyndmoor Press now offers bulk rate discounts to parent, school, and community groups. We recommend Amazon for single copy purchases.

Monday, September 17, 2012

More on Homework Contracts

The question keeps coming up about what to do about these pesky “voluntary” agreements parents are asked to sign in which they agree to make sure their children do their homework. I previously offered an idea for a “counter-contract.” I am having some new thoughts about how this could be handled.

If you are a homework-questioning parents, you probably perceive the contract as an intrusion on your space, get angry, and start to think how to push back. What if you thought of it as an invitation for dialogue rather than an exertion of power over your home? What if you thought of it as the first step toward a fruitful discussion?

From that perspective, I’m starting to think that the best response may be to not sign the contract, but, instead, return it with a note thanking the teacher for his or her interest in your child and asking for a time in which you could clarify what the teacher wants. Set up a meeting and then, rather than challenge the teacher’s homework policy, share with the teacher what you have been reading and ask if he or she has read this material, too.

You can choose from a variety of resources. I actually wrote my book, The Homework Trap: Howto Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers, with the specific hope that it could be shared with teachers and, by making it short and to the point, it might actually get read. If you have a copy of my book, give it to the teacher at the end of your discussion. (I’m a psychologist, and, frankly, when people seek my help with their homework-trapped kids, I advise them to give copies of my book to all their children’s teachers, which is quite a bit cheaper than scheduling a session with me).

But you may be taken by other models than mine.  SaraBennett, Etta Kralovec, Cathy Vatterott, and Alfie Kohn have all written excellent books on the subject. The Race to Nowhere team met with the National PTA presenting them their model about what schools should do. Base your conversation on the facts, using whichever resource and model makes the most sense to you, but think of this as a unique opportunity, an invitation by the teacher, to enter into dialogue about homework. Use whatever time the teacher gives you to converse, at the beginning of the school year before problems arise, to offer something that is limited but accurate. You can be authoritative not pleading, and positive not confrontational, while setting the stage for the notion that “homeworkness is NOT next to Godliness,” not a preordained absolute that must take place, rather something that is open for consideration and debate.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wyndmoor Press now offers bulk rate discounts to parent, school, and community groups. We recommend Amazon for single copy purchases.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

More on respecting teachers

Yesterday, I commented on an article in the Washington Post. Today, there is an article in the New York Times addressing the question of respect for teachers from a different angle. In this article, the author focuses on how teachers are portrayed in the media. Here's the comment I submitted to the New York Times in reference to this article:

There will always be movies, TV shows, and books that take different positions on all types of professions, some serious, some comical, some honoring, some caustic, some satirical. But if we want to understand what is happening to the teaching profession, we need to look at the ways in which pressures have moved teachers away from where they do the most good, in their direct relationships with their students. Some of this comes from outside – our obsession with stats and evaluations. Some comes from the profession – its obsession with homework. The author refers to “To Sir With Love.” How did “Sir” succeed? He did not do this feeling pressured that his students get high scores on the test, and he did not weaken his authority by making his teaching dependent on his students’ parents making sure they did their homework. If anything, he accepted things that were out of his control, and stayed centered on his role, teaching his students while caring for them deeply through the process. And what do we with our underachieving schools? We give them more work to do at home and lecture their parents (some from the pulpit of the presidency) on what those parents must do at home outside of loving their children and doing their best to keep them fed and put a roof over their head. Revise homework policy. Encourage teachers to be fully present with their students in class. And you will see improvements in education and in the ways in which we view our teachers.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wyndmoor Press now offers bulk rate discounts to parent, school, and community groups. We recommend Amazon for single copy purchases.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Respecting Teachers

Today, the Washington Post reprinted an article extracted from a blog written by Corey Robin entitled “Why people look down on teachers.” Mr. Robin’s opinions are based on his experiences as a student and a teacher and he comes to the conclusion that teachers are perceived, in our society, as those who were not able to achieve as well as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. He points out that, although teachers vary in their abilities, this is true of people in all walks of life and not a reason to put teachers down. He points out that one or two teachers can truly enhance the course of a young person’s life.  Although I agree with these points, I think Mr. Robin fails to understand the most important reason why many parents have problems with teachers.

As a parent and a psychologist, my experience tells me that the primary issue is that teachers encroach on the parents’ turf, where they insist on using techniques that don’t actually work. I believe that negativity toward teachers is a backlash rooted in their intrusion on the home.

I am a parent of three children. I recall feeling excited walking my oldest son to school the first day. I listened intently at Back to School Night to everything that his teacher said. I didn’t care if he had the best teacher in the world, or one who was simply qualified to teach the class. I expected him to listen to and respect his teachers, and I gave them the respect they deserved. Along the way, I had doubts about a couple of his teachers, but that did not matter. For the most part, he was given an excellent education, and had the good fortune to meet a few exceptional teachers along the way.  My second child’s experience was similar. I respected both children’s teachers and their teachers respected me.

With my third child, my views changed.  Like his older siblings, he was bright, personable, and able to learn, and would have if his teachers had stayed focused on his education and what happened in the classroom. But he did not do his homework, which I understood was a problem that I needed to address.  I was unprepared to learn how powerless I was in deciding what to do. If a problem had happened in the class, I would have readily deferred to the teacher’s judgment. But this was my house, and the authority should have been mine. It was not. I had no power to decide on the best course of action, and as a result, his education went downhill.  In the end, his teachers had authority over me and had the right to fail him, to detain him after school, to detain him on Saturday morning, and to exclude him from sports over my better judgment.

I’m a psychologist, so I started listening to my patients from a new point of view. I began to realize that the bulk of behavioral problems that were brought to my attention were actually homework problems, and that the source of homework noncompliance was not a lack of motivation or deficits in the parents, but learning problems in disguise. By disempowering parents rather than addressing the learning problems, the children acted out at the cost of their educations. Again, homework is a moot point if your child does well, as was the case with my two older children. When there are problems, which I estimate apply, at varying degrees, to 10-25% of all children, the results can be devastating.

There is an important fact about homework that the public does not know, which is that teachers are not adequately trained to give homework. Open a catalogue of any school of education and look for the course called “Homework.” Visit a website that is designed for teachers and see how many articles you find on homework. Look  at the program of a teacher’s conference or convention and see if there are sessions devoted to homework. You’ll be surprised at how little attention teachers give to a  professional technique they regard so highly (and factor heavily into the grade).

The writer of this article bemoans the respect teachers are afforded in comparison to those in other professions.  But don’t we expect that doctors will be trained in the things that they do? I’m a psychologist whose practice consists of therapy and testing. I had courses with titles like “The theories of psychotherapy,” and “The principles of psychological testing.” Ask your child’s teacher at Back to School Night what courses or continuing education he or she had to support the approach to homework that teacher uses.

I think we should respect our teachers and I certainly do. I respect any person who can meet with 20 to 30 children, sustain their attention, maintain order, and teach them the things they need to know. I didn’t choose that field and frankly I don’t think it is something I could do.  I’m frankly awed by teachers.  If they stayed on their turf and focused on the things they were trained to do, I would respect them even more.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wyndmoor Press now offers bulk rate discounts to parent, school, and community groups. We recommend Amazon for single copy purchases.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Comment on Technology

A follower of The Homework Trap recently asked me to post a link to a resource, 10 iPhoneApps That Can Help With Homework. I haven’t checked out the content, but I am happy to provide this link and leave it to parents to see if it helps. I am not endorsing nor questioning the specific apps but, instead, will talk about the general relationship between homework and technology.

My primarily belief is that persistent homework problems are caused by under-the-radar learning difficulties (generally in working memory and processing speed) which may or may not rise to the level of constituting a true learning disability. These problems affect the child’s ability to know what he is required to do and the pace at which he can complete the work. The child functions better in a time-bound setting (the school day) and under the supervision of a professional teacher, than the child does in an open-ended setting (the home) and with parents who should not be turned into teacher’s aides. In general, I believe that these learning issues get misunderstood to be matters of character not variations in ability, under what I call the Myth of Motivation. That’s an in-a-nutshell review of the model I discuss in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save theSanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

Technology, in general, can serve as a powerful tool in overcoming some of the difficulties behind homework noncompliance. Just looking at myself, I know that the laptop computer has had a major impact in improving my efficiency. I happen to have very poor handwriting although I type quite well. By typing notes and keeping them organized in digital files, while having access to internet at the same time, I’m able to do things I could never do before (like write and post this blog over breakfast this morning).

I’m a psychologist, not an educator. I leave it to educators to figure out the specifics of how to utilize these powerful, technological resources, to further education. In fact, I’ll mention that there is an article this morning in the Washington Post that questions technology and its effects on learning (Istechnology sapping children’s creativity?). I’m sure this is a complicated issue that needs to be considered from different perspectives. But, in general, technology can compensate (perhaps differently at different stages of child development) for the deficits that underlie persistent homework non-compliance.

So, consider the ten apps that my follower has suggested, and consider the comments that question technology. But, above all, keep in mind that whatever you do with the homework that is assigned, your requirements for your child should always be time-bound.

I’m mentioned in the past that if it is your choice (and homework should always be ultimately in the parent’s control) to use different resources – a tutor or learning center, a technological approach, or some other method to improve your child’s education. But what you do should always be offered within the designated homework time slot, not in addition to everything else that is assigned. Certainly, you and your child can avail yourself of the ever-growing pool of resources that are out there to help with the homework. Consider the ten apps that are mentioned here. You can Google “homework help,” and a wealth of resources will be returned. Just keep in mind, for things to work out, your child needs containers within which to work.

Visit The Homework Trap website
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Comment on a homework advice column

Here's a link to an article by John Rosemond.

Good advice. I want to emphasize the importance of a time limit. I agree that this approach will always be better than the one in which the parent continues to hover, coerce and agonize. I think there will still be kids, at least 10% who have under-the-radar learning disorders and will continue to be deficient in the teacher's eyes since they are simply unable to get enough of the work done. Those kids do need penalty reductions. In my experience, parents who set time limits will inevitably find that their children do more, even if they can't get it all done and teachers (not all, but many) become more flexible with grades when they see the effort coming in. Push come to shove, however, I think parents need to have the final authority in the home and if the child is failing because they cannot get all the work done, they have to have the option to overrule what the teacher decides and insist on a limit in the consequences for homework not done. This can be done gently and cautiously without any desire to challenge the teacher, just a clear understanding that parents are the ones who are heads of their homes. It is certainly better for the parent to be clear, "this is my home," than it is for the parent to be flailing around, hovering too much, and in the end, doing the work for the child.

Visit The Homework Trap website
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homework and Introversion

Here is an article on educating introverted children. I'm adding my comment about how that relates to homework.

I would like to use this article as a springboard to emphasize something I have said many times, and that is that homework needs to be time bound. The author here highlights that children who are introverts have slower processing speed. This is important information for the teacher to know and it may have bearing on what that teacher expects in his or her class. But what happens at home? The processing speed issues are the same at home as they are in school, except that homework is an assignment whereas the school day is bound by the clock. It may be that the introverted child is getting the homework done, but at what cost? Is it possible that that child feels uncomfortable with others yet might benefit from having more social interaction, maybe not in a large group, but at least with a few other shy or introverted kids? Yet, homework can have a way of intruding on play time. Learning to interact despite one’s basic introverted nature is an important life skill. If homework is the be-all and end-all of education, and parents are dissuaded from using their judgment about what’s best for their children, teachers can end up creating excessive demands to complete assignments that are actually working against what that child needs.

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Chicago's School Strike

Today's big event in the world of education is the Chicago teacher's strike. On her Washington Post blog today, Valerie Strauss discusses the major issues at hand, emphasizing that disagreements about teacher pay are not the reasons why this strike has occurred. Here are the points she mentions and my thoughts about each.

Test based evaluation and merit pay.

The problem with test based evaluation is not that tests are poor measures of teacher performance, but that the actions generally taken to create good test scores are usually misguided. Test scores go up as a result of good teaching, not because of direct efforts to make them go up. Good teaching requires intense commitment to doing a good job. Test scores will go up as a byproduct of teachers having fun doing the work they chose to do, not as be all and end all of their work.

The problem with merit pay is that it’s a misapplication of an approach that has value in a different environment. In a profit-making venture, merit pay is a way of sharing the earnings that the company made among the employees for the work they have done. There may be systems that share the bonuses of a profitable year equally among the employees they have. There may be others that give different bonuses, promotions, and pay raises based on what the individual did. But the company needs a pool of money from which those financial rewards comes that can expand in response to the good work that is done. That does not occur in public education. The pool of incentive money is fixed, this creates unproductive competition between teachers. In fact, it forces the system to look for and find teachers who are doing a bad job. What if everyone deserves a lush raise because the school as a whole did a bang-up job? There is no place for that money to come.

Charter Schools

I'm a firm believer in charter schools, but not for the reasons that are typically given. It has nothing to do with competition pushing public schools to do a better job. It's a civil rights issue. Parents of privilege have choice. My wife and I debated among ourselves whether to send out children to a public or private school. In the end, we compromised by purchasing a more expensive house in a different community and, in a sense, buying our children’s education with the mortgage and tax dollars we paid. I have no way to compare the quality of education our children got by making that choice. As parents, we had to make a choice and between our old neighborhood, our new neighborhood, and a private school, we made the choice we did. Further, we can feel reasonably confident that even if we had made a different choice, our children would have been educated and given the opportunity to move on to a functioning adult life. Children in the inner cities, particularly children of color, run a huge risk of getting into trouble with the law, and with that the possible loss of civil rights protections. Once they have a criminal record, they face legalized discrimination in employment, housing, and many other areas of the ordinary life we citizens enjoy. The issue goes beyond the scope of schools alone, but to deprive parents of the opportunity to make choices they feel will best protect their kids, is not sensible. Even if every city school excelled, it is not right for that to happen on the backs of people who lack the ability to choose among different possibilities.

Longer School Day

I'm addressing these issues in the order they were presented in Valerie Strauss' post. Perhaps, I should have put this one first since it interacts with homework. I have no qualms about a longer homework day. I think educators must consider how much time they need to teach children the things they need to learn. In general, I want my children to learn school-stuff when they are in school. There are many life lessons to be learned in the home after school is done. For children, parents are the first and primary teachers. We need to let them teach those lessons of life without the curricula being set by the schools in the form of excessive homework. A longer school day coupled with reduced reliance on homework: I'm all for that.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Homework Advice to Teachers

As the school year begins, teachers everywhere are thinking about the homework policies that they will set in place. Soon, they will meet with parents at Back to School Nights where they will share their expectations. What will they be?

If you are a teacher, will you continue the standards that you’ve used for years? If you’re a first-year teacher, will you model your mentor from your student teaching days, or look for other sources to help you set your standards? Here are some thoughts to consider in creating your homework policy.

1.       Process and product. When you see a child in school, you see that student’s process and product. You watch him tackle that assignment before he turns it in. You may notice he has difficulties getting started and you go over to see what the problem may be. Perhaps, despite his poor work, you factor in your observation that he really is trying to do his best. Since you don’t see him working at home, you don’t have the opportunity to help him start his work. All you see is the product alone.

2.       Time. The class starts and stops by the bell. Ordinary people clock in and out of work every day. Homework goes on until it gets done.  It’s timeless. It’s pretty difficult (even for a motivated student) to keep on working when the work seems too hard.

3.       Training. Where did you learn to give homework? Where do you brush up on your skills? For a practice that counts as heavily as it does, it is surprising how little it actually gets taught. Did you have a course in college called “Homework?” Are the journals you read and the teacher websites you visit filled with articles on how to do homework well?  You’ve been taught to teach. How much education have you had in how to give homework?

4.       Research. Are you aware that the research gives scant support for homework as a teaching tool?  Do you know that most homework advocates are basing their positions on intangible benefits, not well-researched support? How much intangible value do you think it has for a student to be battling with his parents, getting little done, all night long?

5.       Turf. Who do you think should be in charge of a student’s home? You? Their parents? Most teachers resent parents who tell them how to run the class. You want your principal (not parents and politicians) to serve as your boss. Why should parents give you permission to make decisions about what goes on in their homes? For sure, there are many students for whom homework is in synch with other aspects of family life (and you might know some parents who are clamoring for more). But in the end, should it be you or the student’s parents who make the final decision about what should go on once the school day is done?

Ponder these questions and consider them carefully as you set up your rules, and most importantly, as you think what to say on Back to School Night.

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