A Teacher Speaks Out–Reading Without Meaning

Take a look at this blog by a Reading teacher who has to watch her own high schooler slog through the very kind of assignments we all know are worthless.

59 Comments on “A Teacher Speaks Out–Reading Without Meaning”

  1. HomeworkBlues says:

    As a person who reads for escape, for sheer pleasure, who would rather read than do anything else, who instilled this passion in my child, I found the boy’s comments too sad for words. What on earth are we doing to our children and their love of learning and reading?

    If your child brings home assignments like that, don’t have him do it. The damage is too great.Is it worth it?

    June 15th, 2009 at 7:55 am
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  2. PsychMom says:

    This is my greatest fear. It happened this winter to my 7 year old. Before Christmas she was nuts about reading. Then in January, the assigned reading started and the goofy questions and the end of book projects. We both hated it, so much so that she stopped reading completely. I put an end to the assigned reading and within a few weeks she was reading her books again. Now that the end of year has come and the school notebooks have all been sent home, I see that the teacher actually got her to do the same work just using the books my daughter wanted to read. And it all happened at school because I knew nothing about it. So I guess it got sorted out and these days, it’s very unusual to see my daughter without a book in her hand.

    But I’m holding my breath in September….and just praying that she doesn’t get shut down again.

    June 15th, 2009 at 8:20 am
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  3. HomeworkBlues says:

    PsychMom, don’t do the goofy assignments. That is, don’t have your child do them. The risk is too great.

    I like Sara Bennett’s approach. In reading one of the interviews done with her, I remember that she respectfully presented her homework philosophy with a teacher. In one case, as I recall (Sara, correct me if I’m off), she told the teacher, then we will have to agree to disagree.

    As I look back over the year on this blog and recount the letters parents have written to the teacher and principal, one aspect jumps out at me. In most cases the parent is building a case. So far so good. Present your case, state your claim, cite your research.

    But as I read the letters further, one common thread runs through them. You are essentially asking for permission. You are making a case and hoping your reader will buy it. But what if they don’t? What about the mother who wrote an elegantly crafted letter she later says took her three days to write? She got a terse paragraph back, it was obvious the teacher hadn’t read most of it, spouting the little boy’s poor time management as the reason the six year old was taking hours to complete his homework!

    What if you don’t get the response you want? Kick it up a notch. Don’t ask, inform. You aren’t asking permission to keep your child from being turned off to reading. You are telling.

    I wish I’d done that, to that degree. But all this evidence wasn’t around five years ago, just anecdotal. You have Harris Cooper on your side, USE HIM! Of course, as I survey the long landscape of my daughter’s school “career,” I wish I’d homeschooled, at least elementary, even all the way through middle (we homeschooled 8th grade). But if you are a parent who is not in a position to homeschool, take back your school, take back your life.

    As Nike says, just do it. Or in this case, just don’t. Your child, your home, your rules.

    June 15th, 2009 at 9:45 am
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  4. PsychMom says:

    You know HWB, it’s interesting how parents pay such deference towards schools and teachers. But I’m beginning to understand that it’s because of the way we were schooled. It’s the same as with the crisis in the Catholic church and the abuses that went on…everyone bowed down to the priest. They held such sway and power and weren’t accountable to anyone. And many people were schooled by church bodies too. Such authorities!!!

    You know, I was googling the homework issue last week and one page that came up was the one page syllabus of a Grade 9 teacher’s English course. I wonder if teachers ever take a step back and look at what they write and HOW they sound . “You shall do this”, You shall NOT do that”. “IF I CAN’T READ IT, I WILL NOT MARK IT” No exceptions…etc etc…you get the idea. I would not want to spend 5 minutes with the woman on any basis having received a document like that. She writes, “It is permissible to call me for help between this and this time, on such and such a date. However, this is not an opportunity to have the class retaught. Any abuse of this telephone option will result in it’s cancellation.” It’s all so threatening. And I remember getting sheets like that as a student and not having the reaction to it that I have now, which to me only demonstrates how abused students are. They don’t even recognize the abuse. I had the thought I writing to this woman and offering her an alternative to what she wrote, just to see if she could see the difference.

    On the first mention of homework this fall, I plan to be clear. I do not believe in homework (and here’s why) in the elementary grades (certainly not before Grade 7) and my child will not be doing it. We’ll see how far behind she falls! I don’t even know why we have to supply the “here’s why” part anymore either. They should know why.

    June 15th, 2009 at 11:31 am
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  5. Sara Bennett says:

    HWB: You are right that I often told elementary and middle school teachers that we’d have to agree to disagree. On the high school level, though, I try to work more with the administration than with individual teachers (and I leave it up to my daughter to speak up on her own behalf with her teachers). That doesn’t mean I never say anything. If I don’t like a particular policy, I’ll do something about it. For instance, when one of my daughter’s teachers sent home a “contract” with terms I couldn’t accept, I crossed out those terms and wrote an explanation. And, at parent/teacher conferences, I do talk about my thoughts on homework and I tell the teachers I’m not interested in all the grades in their grade book, but rather in whether my daughter is enjoying and understanding the subject. But I no longer do anything about individual assignments. My daughter either does or doesn’t do her homework, depending on what she decides. Thankfully, she goes to a school where homework is worth about 10-15 percent of a grade, so homework incompletion will not, by itself, result in student failure. She also steers clear of the heavy homework classes. I only wish more parents would help their children decide that heavy homework classes (APs,for example), aren’t worth it. If more students boycotted those classes, the schools would stop placing so much emphasis on them and could get back to teaching subjects in more meanigful ways.

    June 15th, 2009 at 11:40 am
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  6. PeggyinMA says:

    We have tried to say no, but our schools will not change the assignments that concern us, or allow us to opt out. Our children then face the threat of a zero, and the subsequent cumulative effect on their grades.

    It’s become a cliche, but more people need to reconsider how they think about education: We need to change the culture. The bottom line is not allowing arbitrary assignments with no basis in sound practice to hurt children’s curiosity and love of learning and reading. Like doctors, educators need to think seriously about their role and, first, do no harm.

    How can educators do a better job of nurturing curiosity, creativity and learning? More parents and teachers need to speak up on this.

    June 15th, 2009 at 11:58 am
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  7. HomeworkBlues says:

    Sara, I agree with you and as the mother of a high school daughter, I don’t take it up with the teachers on individual assignments. With rare exceptions.

    But for elementary and middle school parents, I advise changing the tactic. Stop giving the schools so much power. Try not to be so deferential. Don’t bow down to the high priests of public school.

    There’s something in between blind acceptance and a mutiny I wrote last week that I would have loved nothing more than to be respected, my opinions valued, to work together in a spirit of cooperation and intelligent reasoned dialogue.

    By accepting without debate, refusing to question, assuming schools know everything and you know nothing, you are ceding all control. And it does open the window for abuse. PsychMom’s letter demonstrates it. Our kids get hand outs like that all the time. Parents, stop and pay attention. The condescending little notes, “please see to it that your daughter completes this at home,” the letters that lay out the punishment if you don’t do the work, the missed recesses, the public shaming. “Please make sure your child has a quiet place to do homework.” Stop and consider how patronizing that is. Are we such idiots we couldn’t have figured that out for ourselves?

    Susan Ohanian copies a missive from a New Jersey school system about homework tips for parents. She advises, stop and read it. Is it respectful? Is it a partnership? Does it value who you are, what you do, what you contribute? Does it treat you as a reliable responsible adult entrusted with the sacred care of your children?

    I know some will counter here that since so many parents are deadbeats, drunk, absent, abusive, that it’s justified. But must it be the default line? Since the ones who aren’t drunk and abusive are the ones volunteering and chaperoning, why tick off your most supportive base?

    Yes, I know many children don’t have supplies. Does that mean I need a memo telling me my daughter should have pencils and paper at home? And while I’m at it, please smile at us when we stop by the office. To quote that marvelous piece in the Washington Post, school reform should begin with, “Good morning, how may I help you?”

    June 15th, 2009 at 12:12 pm
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  8. PsychMom says:

    On that note, I have to say our school is very welcoming, which is one of the reasons we go there. And being a private school, I think it’s OK to assume that all students have supplies and our notes home haven’t made mention of those basics.

    June 15th, 2009 at 12:50 pm
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  9. HomeworkBlus says:

    Yes, PsychMom, it’s because you are a private school parent. My daughter started in private as well and the difference between that and public school was palpable. The writer was talking about public school. It’s a very different animal, in that regard.

    June 15th, 2009 at 1:11 pm
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  10. HomeworkBlues says:

    And on that note, PsychMom, I’ll give credit where credit is due! The two women who people the front office at my daughter’s current school are WONDERFUL. And I always let them know it.

    Not the case when we switched to public school in 5th. Boy, did I see a difference in how we were treated, coming from a small relatively nurturing (with some notable exceptions) private school.

    My daughter graduated and we moved to escape that entire pyramid. The new middle school was slightly better, at least the office staff didn’t scowl. A smile, it turned out, was still too much to ask.

    June 15th, 2009 at 2:12 pm
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  11. High School Soph--oh wait I'm a junior says:

    After following this blog for a little while, what seems to pop out at me is the way the argument about reading logs and the goofy assignments generally goes:

    “enlightened blogger–‘reading logs/goofy assignments have to stop so that kids will keep enjoying reading instead of coming to hate it’

    blogger who doesn’t agree–‘no, we need them because filling out forms and questions teaches responsibility'”

    Me: We need to sacrifice enjoyment of reading to learn responsibility? The only way to teach responsibility is to have kids complete assignments that have no intrinsic value beyond their existence and imperative completion, which will eventually make them reliable, dependable people who follow through on their word? WTFreak?
    Come on, don’t tell me no better way to teach responsibility exists.

    I do think that kids should learn how to do things they don’t want to do–we’ll have to fill out taxes when we’re adults or whatever. But how about we not sacrifice the love of reading.
    (There is also the other skill I think is taught primarily by long projects, more of the ‘follow through on their word’ skill, which does involve getting around to work sooner than kids might on their own. It’s something I think people work on for a lot of their lives, and NOT something I think is taught by doing ‘goofy’ assignments that don’t even help kids learn about what they’re reading since they don’t go deep into the characters and plot of the individual book–or by checking off how many pages a night you’ve read. I can hardly put a book down to cross the street, and I could never remember to fill out reading logs because I had no idea where I’d started or how many pages I’d read by the time my parents had pried the book out of my hands and shooed me upstairs to brush my teeth. If you want us to do something we don’t want to do to teach us to get it done, have us wash the dishes or mow the lawn or clean the classroom or something.)

    Okay, sorry, that was a little vituperative, but really, I’m something of a bookaholic and the suggestion that a kid’s engagement with and enjoyment of reading is less important than goofy assignments makes me a little mad.

    June 15th, 2009 at 2:42 pm
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  12. HomeworkBlues says:

    High School soph, now junior, I’ll do you one better. Even if all that useless work taught responsibility, it STILL wouldn’t be worth the damage. OF COURSE you don’t mess with love of reading! We know that. The larger question is, why doesn’t everyone?

    But, to add, it doesn’t even teach responsibility! So now we’re 0 for 2. Less homework (or none in elementary) gives a child time to clean her room, be a Girl Scout, volunteer, take care of a pet, spend time with family, do household chores. We don’t need boring homework to teach our kids responsibility. That’s what yard work is for!

    June 15th, 2009 at 2:50 pm
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  13. PsychMom says:

    No way should we ever extinguish that love of reading…what’s the point of education if we don’t encourage that gateway at every and all opportunity!

    I agree with Highschool Sopho-no Junior and HBW completely. Reading logs do not equal responisibility.

    But darn, now I have to go look up “vituperative” to keep up with you two
    ..heehee.

    June 15th, 2009 at 3:21 pm
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  14. HomeworkBlues says:

    PsychMom, as surely as children learn from us, we learn from them. There was this great quote I sent Sara Bennett about how when we let children be children, we all benefit. How destructive it is to constantly groom them for future adulthood because then we lose all their wonder, grace, creativity and idealism. Something like, we need their youth and they need our experience and together we make a formidable team.

    By jove, I just might have said it better than the original! Vituperative and all.

    vi?tu?per?a?tion??[vahy-too-puh-rey-shuhn, -tyoo-, vi-]
    –noun
    verbal abuse or castigation; violent denunciation or condemnation.

    Synonyms:
    censure, vilification, spite, scolding, defamation, aspersion.

    Antonyms:
    praise.

    June 15th, 2009 at 3:34 pm
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  15. stressed_out_student says:

    ooh

    July 30th, 2009 at 6:54 am
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  16. math teacher says:

    As a teacher, I understand both sides of this debate. (I teach math, not English or reading, but math is often an unloved subject too.)

    But I must say two things that are bothering me as I read your comments. There have been too many comments that say “boring homework” and “goofy assignments.” I believe that most homework is thoroughly thought through by teachers. I, myself, spend hours planning not only my lessons, but what EXACTLY I should have my students practice at home. I would be doing my students a disservice if I just assumed they understood everything that was taught. With only a small percent of students as an exception, students need to practice math to understand the process, solve problems that are similar and most importantly to make connections between topics and between math and the world. I think this is true for reading as well.

    I also think some of the people posting messages on here should be aware that (in my case) with 5 classes of 30-35 students (that’s over 150 students that I see every day for only about 48 minutes), I have some policies put in place in my classroom that are completely necessary…although at least 2 people want to rip teachers apart for saying “if I can’t read it, I won’t mark it.” With 150+ papers or tests or quizzes or activities to grade, I think this policy if totally acceptable.

    It seems that some of the people posting here are forgetting to look at things both ways. Yes, you want what’s best for YOUR student…but maybe you’re failing to consider the fact that that’s exactly what the teachers are trying to do…for ALL their students.

    July 30th, 2009 at 2:44 pm
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  17. PsychMom says:

    to math teacher
    I’m glad you try to be thoughtful about homework. But do you think about the fact that if you’re giving half an hour’s worth, your fellow teachers are doing the same? It adds up to hours every night.

    And just to be clear, I wasn’t “ripping” teachers apart for saying “if I can’t read it, I won’t mark it”. It was written as “IF I CAN’T READ IT, I WON’T MARK IT” by the teacher, by the way. I was trying to make statements about the overall tone of instructions that are given to students. This barking, drill sargent attitude, is not respectful and if we want to try to teach children to behave in civil ways, perhaps we should model that behaviour. How about something like this: “Students: I have over a hundred papers to read and very little time to do so. I will not spend much time grading a paper that is illegible. It is to your advantage to write neatly.”

    The point of my posting back a few months ago was just to emphasize that being the teacher does not make you the authority on everything. And children are not mindless drones unless we treat them as such.

    July 31st, 2009 at 9:14 am
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  18. Mark Pennington says:

    I have an idea to share re: homework. On back-to-school night last year, I made a deal with their parents: I said, “I won’t assign grammar or essay homework, if you will supervise your child’s reading-discussion homework.” Every parent made positive comments about this approach to homework. Few parents at the intermediate, middle, or high school levels want to or know how to supervise written work. Supervising their child’s reading is something that parents support and perceive as valuable.

    Here, in a nutshell is the homework plan: Students read for thirty minutes, four times per week. Parents grade a three-minute discussion of each reading session. Students lead this discussion with reading comprehension strategy discussion prompts. I got a high degree of buy-in from parents and students. I flesh out this homework program much more on my blog at Homework That Makes Sense

    August 1st, 2009 at 4:56 pm
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  19. FedUpMom says:

    Mark Pennington — “Parents grade a three-minute discussion of each reading session?” I hardly know where to start. A few points:

    1.) This sends the message that the child is always “at school”, always being graded, always being judged. Even her own parents grade her performance four times a week! When does the child get to develop a sense of herself as an autonomous being?

    2.) What about a child who is stuck in an unhealthy relationship with her parents?

    3.) You’re sending a message that reading is a “supervised” activity. (“Kids! Don’t try this at home!”) This tells kids that reading is naturally unpleasant, not something they would ever do of their own volition.

    4.) Some of us parents are getting increasingly fed up with being treated as unpaid employees of the school district. Maybe we don’t want to grade our child’s discussion performance.

    5.) This whole scenario is so highly scripted, there’s no room for actual human beings with actual interests and personalities. You don’t even trust the student and parent to have a discussion without providing a script!

    6.) Your parents’ approving comments may have been because what you’re doing now is an improvement on what they expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s optimal. Parents feel extremely constrained in what they say to their kids’ teachers. Even I used to feel this way, before I crossed the fed-up threshhold.

    August 2nd, 2009 at 1:26 pm
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  20. HomeworkBlues says:

    Mr. Pennington, I have little to add to FedUP’s remarks above, she made her case eloquently and convincingly.

    Mr. Pennington, while your idea seems earnest and sincere, I do hope you take the time to study FedUp’s feedback carefully. She makes cogent points that you should consider.

    Sitting down with your child and grading them four times a week? Perhaps I can offer a much much better alternative. In our case, just let my child read to abandon, voluminously all afternoon and weekend long because it’s what she loves to do. And it’s so good for her! The last thing I’d want to do is sit there and grade her, continuing to serve as that unpaid involuntary teacher’s aide. I’m not sure which is worse. Being homework cop and nagging or sitting there and grading her. Why the grade? Just think — how can sitting and formally evaluating your child contribute to a positive child/parent environment?

    I love the raw ingredients, the discussions and reading. The forced approach, the grading? Not at all. Here’s what I did instead. I pulled my daughter out of school for 8th grade and my husband and I chose to homeschool her instead. I reasoned that 8th grade was a big state standardized testing review year, in other words, a great deal of time wasted on review that she already knew and didn’t need to keep rehashing over and over. Better to spend a year indulging her favorite passion, reading, working on her novel, and going on about two field trips a week. And that was just a smidgeon of learning opportunities we covered.

    You mention grading discussions. Did we have any of those? Discussions, yes, grading no. In fact, literary and intellectual discussions were key reasons to homeschool. My daughter also enjoys an incredibly close relationship with her dad and while we all participate in these lively debates and discussions, I sometimes loved standing back and just watching my child and her father go at it for hours enthusiastically probing a subject in depth. I would watch and listen, drink it in and marvel and then my heart would sink as I’d have to cut it off so daughter could go back to her perch and continue with boring homework all through her childhood.

    So that blissful homeschool year, devoid of the pounding relentless homework pressures, we had discussions that went unabated for hours. Did I grade her? Good heavens, no! Why on earth would I do that? You might argue that if you were her teacher, I’d have to grade to show you she read. But that year I just eliminated the middleman. I know she’s reading, I see her reading, we all spend hours reading, so we didn’t need to have forced discussions where I sat there, clipboard in hand, “grading” her on what she regurgitated back to me. I didn’t have to grade and report back, we were already doing it.

    We took long walks in the frozen woods together behind the house to dissect the finer points of Shakespeare. In those two hour walks, we did literature, vocabulary, sciece, PE and mother daughter bonding. Our emphasis was on learning, not on the grade.

    I agree with FedUp that your parents were delighted, not because “parents as grading aides” is a good idea, but rather that it’s a slight improvement over something that was far more onerous.

    You sound like an earnest sincere teacher, Mr. Pennington and I’m sure you do well by your students. Or certainly try to. I hope you stop to read our comments and spend some time evaluating how you assign homework. I found myself shuddering over this “grading at home” approach.

    August 25th, 2009 at 11:09 pm
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  21. HomeworkBlues says:

    Remember this article from last year? Time to trot it out again.

    SUMMER HOMEWORK

    And so, teaching our kids perhaps the worst academic lesson of all, we pull a first night all-nighter. On the other hand, it’s amazing how much of “A Tale of Two Cities” you can absorb when the clock is ticking, the DVD is blaring, dad’s gluing and mom’s typing. It’s also very easy to give an example of, say, “The worst of times.”

    http://www.nysun.com/opinion/that-panic-last-night/84994/?verify=nydgyspg

    August 25th, 2009 at 11:22 pm
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  22. FedUpMom says:

    It is really depressing to see how teachers approach reading these days. The constant grading, testing, “reading comprehension strategy” nonsense is a million miles away from reading as the pleasurable, basic human activity it’s been for the last few centuries. I imagine thousands of great novelists turning in their graves as kids are prevented from actually experiencing a book by constant interference and interruption from teachers.

    How could this possibly have any effect other than to produce a generation of kids who never read unless they’re forced to?

    When I was a kid, I read books all the time. Did I “comprehend” everything I read? Certainly not. But you know, that’s how language learning takes place. In the same way that going to a foreign country and being mystified is the best way to learn the language, reading books that go right over your head is an excellent way to learn about the written language. It’s like listening to your parents’ conversations, which used to be part of the natural education of childhood. The idea that kids have to immediately comprehend, and be able to “account” for, everything they read, is ridiculous.

    August 26th, 2009 at 12:17 am
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  23. PsychMom says:

    I took a look at Mr. Pennington’s blog and the only think that keeps coming up to me after reading it and his comments above is Pink Floyd’s line from “The Wall”

    …”Hey!… Teacher!…leave those kids alone”

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:14 pm
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  24. PsychMom says:

    I meant “thing”, not think….”the only thing”

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:15 pm
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  25. HomeworkBlues says:

    You’re funny,PsychMom. I posted that entire Pink Floyd song here some months ago. We needed it for some clarity and levity.

    I think it’s time to fish out that blog written, in fact, by a committed teacher. The one who describes her son’s laborious weekly reading homework. You know the drill. Monday it’s looking up words, and then the week progresses from there to hacking up the novel, answering endless tedious questions, dissecting the novel, stripping it of all color and imagination.

    She describes how excruciating it is for her teenage son to get through the weekly tasks, how he begs mom to sit there and help him, anything to be done. And one day he blurts out, “Mom, I didn’t want to tell you this because you are a teacher but I have to break it to you. I hate reading. All my friends hate reading.”

    The mom, a teacher, who is that (very sadly) increasingly rare breed who believes kids should be inspired, that children start off loving reading, watch preschoolers at Borders, but who have that passion drummed out of them by well meaning but clueless adults, listened to her son as her heart broke.

    My heart broke too. in a thousand pieces for all the children who will never know the sheer pleasure of losing yourself in a book for hours. Without that constant intrusion and interruption. As Sara Bennett wrote in her book, being made to stop stopping endlessly to look up words or answer questions is like having someone tap you on the shoulder during a movie every ten minutes, asking you to comment.

    I’ve spent my daughter’s childhood doing damage control. She remains a ravenous voracious reader, not because of those elementary sad vocabulary and “comprehension” assignments but in spite of them.

    I must say, teachers, I do not understand so many of you, Mark Pennington in particular. If your goal is to kill reading, destroy the passion, make sure your students never ever pick up a book for pleasure again, then please, keep doing what you are doing. Because nothing, NOTHING, works better.

    This is not a diatribe. It is reality. It is what is happening. Don’t let it happen to your students.

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:30 pm
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  26. HomeworkBlues says:

    Mark, I started reading your blog. You begin by making a convincing case for independent reading. Then why on earth was my daughter so chastised for doing just that in elementary? To this day teachers tell her, you may not read a book until you are finished with ALL your homework. Well, guess what? She’s never finished! There’s no such thing, there’s too much. Why can’t a child who has been in school for seven and a half hours and has already put in three hours of yet more work, read a book? How can we deny that? And if the homework load is so intense and face paced throughout the week, why not weekends off? Whatever happened to, Work Hard Play Hard?

    If independent reading is so good for you, and it’s what my daughter always wanted to do when she came home, why was that not nurtured and encouraged? Many teachers here tell us they have to assign homework because if they didn’t, many kids would never read or write a darned thing.

    But my child was! And I doubt she’s the only one. We told the teachers and got nowhere. They said, but she still has to do her homework. Didn’t matter that much of it was useless, a waste of time, and that she would have learned far more by reading all afternoon. And no, I didn’t say “useless” to the teacher, I was respectful, and yes, deferential, more than I should have been.

    I got nowhere. It must be that “redemption through suffering” model Alfie Kohn writes about. If it feels good, it cannot possibly be good for you. Doing what is unpleasant brings us closer to god. Who says religion has been banned from the classroom?

    The more we examine the roots, the unconscious messages, the more we can chip away and start to make some progress.

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:41 pm
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  27. HomeworkBlues says:

    fast paced, meant to say. Arrrgh, hate typos :(.

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:41 pm
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  28. HomeworkBlues says:

    I’d like to start a discussion on this “redemption through suffering” model. If FedUpMom’s daughter won’t do her reading logs, she’ll wind up in jail!

    All humor aside, the dire message is that doing something onerous is what builds character. Not doing your reading logs means you are insolent, disobedient, and you’ll pay it for it later. Pleasure comes at a price!

    As PsychMom wrote, we are confusing structure with blind compliance. A classroom needs order. A social order survives and thrives by individuals cooperating, listening and working together. But cooperation is not blind compliance. As we’ve said here, children shut down when they are afraid. So do adults. Are you preparing yoru little charges for the assembly line or to be creative, passionate ethical citizens of a democracy?

    Running a democracy is hard. Which is why so many nations do not practice it. Weighing things, analyzing on a case by case basis is much harder. As parents, authoritarianism is easier than respectful parenting. Respect, listening to people much smaller than you, does not engender chaos and anarchy. You can raise respectful responsible children without the stick. And the carrot. It takes patience and willing to shift gears. And a lot of reading.

    We understand the classrooms are large. We know teachers are busy and have a lot to do. We aren’t asking you to revamp your entire ethos. Start small, start with homework. Don’t assign any in elementary! If your student wants to come home and read and write all afternoon, let her! Encourage her. Don’t be so threatened. You don’t have to manage her every waking moment. She will not stage a mutiny if you show some flexibility. If a parent hollers for homework, give it to HER!

    Please consider taking these small steps. Learning should be a joy, not a burden.

    August 26th, 2009 at 1:54 pm
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  29. HomeworkBlues says:

    For lack of a place to put this. I have been in love with TED for quit some time. No, Not Ted Kennedy although him too, very sad over his death, his NCLB backing notwithstanding. TED is Technology Entertainment Design and it’s the hot new thing, innovative, fresh, cutting edge thinking. A reprieve from tired old school. Here is Dan Pink talking about the corrosive effects of extrinsic motivation with an introduction by my favorite NCLB detractor, Susan Ohanian.

    http://susanohanian.org/show_research.html?id=300

    August 27th, 2009 at 12:11 am
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  30. PsychMom says:

    I used to work for a psychologist who made me aware that I was living by the suffer first rule. I wish I could remember how he worded it, but the idea is the same…..Is anything good for us, only good if we suffer first? I think it was: If it comes too easy, it’s probably not good for us.

    It’s a very puritanical stance isn’t it? Perhaps we should all dress in dull colours too. And no singing…forget I mentioned Pink Floyd.

    I think North Americans have to open their eyes to the reality that we don’t love and value our children in our society. Every indication is that we loathe them, we don’t want to spend much time with them and we are not willing to bend one inch to accommodate them, let alone spend the money it take to raise them properly and keep them healthy. We likely spend more dollars nurturing canola and corn plant seeds (for biofuel) than ensuring solid pre-natal care and childcare for working parents. And I’m not fooling myself that Canada is any better than the States.

    My goal in choosing the school I did was because I felt it was important to not crush my child’s enthusiasm for learning. So far I’ve not been disappointed…”only 6 more sleeps to go, Mama. I can’t wait.” I wish I had that same exuberance for my work! Is it naive for me to expect that her love of school should continue..sadly, it probably is. But that’s what I want to change. Children should be free from the burden of being taught and be reunited with that curiosity and zeal for fun.

    I can feel the glower of the teachers reading this drivel..they’re probably thinking I’m so far gone, they can ignore parents like me completely. I’m not living in the real world, they say. But that’s the point. I have a young child and the REAL world is far too harsh a place for her…it’s my job to protect her from it and every time I say, “Tough honey, you have to learn how to do this because someday when you’re an adult ….blah, blah, blah” I’m robbing her of her precious childhood.

    I think we have to work very hard to keep the kids young….that doesn’t mean we abdicate teaching them manners, right from wrong and age appropriate responsibility. We just need to step up to OUR responsibilities as parents.

    August 27th, 2009 at 8:16 am
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  31. FedUpMom says:

    Alfie Kohn said it all in his essay, “The Cult of Feel-Bad Education”:

    http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/feelbad.htm

    August 27th, 2009 at 9:19 am
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  32. HomeworkBlues says:

    PsychMom, excellent points. I’ve got several confounding deadlines on my desk but I want to pick up on your views later and continue the discussion.

    FedUp, yes, I thought of that marvelous Alfie Kohn piece too but I wasn’t able to provide the link off Google Chrome, an otherwise fabulous browser.I’ve posted it here and it bears repeating.

    I recently posted it on a Teacher, Revised comment and Jesse Scaccia picked it up and created an entire post on it. I of course don’t agree with his take, that Kohn is exaggerating. I know from experience that Alfie Kohn hits the bullseye with this. See for yourself:

    http://teacherrevised.org/2009/07/04/feel-bad-education-feel-good-classrooms/

    August 27th, 2009 at 1:02 pm
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  33. PsychMom says:

    It’s so interesting how some teachers say, “When I shut the door, it’s my classroom and I do what I like. We have fun” and some teachers cower and say, “I would do things differently but I’m not allowed…my hands are tied”…”it’s the law”.

    How can we parents take the school system seriously?

    August 27th, 2009 at 2:09 pm
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  34. HomeworkBlues says:

    That’s just it, Psych Mom. Jesse rightfully says, look, the principal really can only control so much. The rest is up to you. Then we had a teacher posting here how her hands are tied, she has to do EXACTLY as she’s told. I agree. You get to the point where you throw up your hands as if your dish just completely flopped, you want to throw the whole thing out, and start from scratch.

    Figuring out the school system is like working on the Tower of Babel. No one is talking the same language.

    August 27th, 2009 at 5:39 pm
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  35. Matthew says:

    HomeworkBlues said: “That’s just it, Psych Mom. Jesse rightfully says, look, the principal really can only control so much. The rest is up to you. Then we had a teacher posting here how her hands are tied, she has to do EXACTLY as she’s told.”

    That pretty much sums up my experience with my school system. The teacher says she can’t do anything because the principal and the administration tie her hand. The principal cowers behind the teacher and the administration. The administration says control is in the hands of the teachers and principals. The school board will only handle things not owned by the teachers, principals or administration (i.e., nothing).

    And they wonder why I get angry…

    August 28th, 2009 at 8:10 am
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  36. PsychMom says:

    And it’s so unprofessional. They claim to be professionals but if I conducted my professional life like that, my clients, not to mention my employer would have an absolute right to call me onto the carpet for it.

    And the other response the teachers give, is that it’s the parents who dictate to them. So how does this go?
    Teachers have to do what the parents say? It’s almost understandable now why some teachers download their stress onto the kids and try to control their every waking moment. They feel powerless against every adult in their professional sphere.

    Suddenly I’m seeing a need for school psychologists in a whole new way.

    August 28th, 2009 at 8:39 am
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  37. HomeworkBlues says:

    Matthew, your experience calls to mind Shakespeare’s famous line, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    So many layers. So much bureaucracy. So many meetings. So little accomplished.

    August 28th, 2009 at 9:24 am
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  38. FedUpMom says:

    Matthew — a few words from “Bad Teachers”, by Guy Strickland (no, I’m not related to him!):

    “An organization that values its own internal rules more than it values its clients — that’s the definition of a bureaucracy. And a school system, with its rigid, self-serving internal policies, is a classic bureaucracy, blindly committed to following district policies without regard to the needs of an individual child. There is no point in being angry with the teacher or the principal for being what they are; just don’t expect very much from them. They think that because it is school district policy to treat all parents like dirt, you must be dirt, too.”

    I don’t quite agree that there’s no point in not being angry — I think it’s impossible not to be angry. Anger is step 1. What’s the next step? For us, it was taking our daughter out of the public schools, but I realize this option isn’t available to everyone.

    August 29th, 2009 at 9:41 am
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  39. FedUpMom says:

    A very interesting article in the NYTimes:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/books/30reading.html?hp

    or Google “NY TImes Books You LIke”.

    August 29th, 2009 at 1:59 pm
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  40. HomeworkBlues says:

    “The authors of the Kaiser report attribute the decline in elective reading to greater amounts of homework; reading is viewed as work, so leisure becomes an escape from work. It’s worth asking, then, what happens in these late elementary and middle school years to turn reading into labor — and one answer must surely be the prominence of textbooks. In most schools, education becomes divided along subject lines, and these subjects are taught through comprehensive (and extremely expensive) textbooks.”

    When Reading Becomes Work
    How Textbooks Ruin Reading
    Thomas Newkirk
    Winter 2008

    http://www.nais.org/ismagazinearticlePrint.cfm?print=Y&ItemNumber=150490

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:13 pm
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  41. HomeworkBlues says:

    From the article I just posted, above.

    “The noted middle school educator Nancie Atwell, author of The Reading Zone, argues that we need to become comfortable with the “P” word — comfortable with “pleasure” as a motivating force in reading. This language of desire and gratification is virtually nonexistent in the rhetoric of reform. Yet, when it comes to reading, there are pragmatic reasons for asking what is in it for the student. Not somewhere down the line, in the future, but in the moment.”

    Contrast this Pleasure principal with the “redemption thruogh suffering model” I speak of earlier. If not here, then on the Reading Log discussion.

    Regardless of whether one views education honorable when overcoming onerosity, you cannot dispute that without pleasure, voluminous engrossing reading just cannot happen.

    Take the piano. You can make a kid practice, you can even reward them to do so deluding yourself for a time that it works, but great piano players must find some measure of passion, commitment and yes, pleasure, in order to sustain it.

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:20 pm
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  42. HomeworkBlues says:

    Reading by the Numbers. With an introduction by Susan Ohanian:

    http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=590

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:27 pm
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  43. FedUpMom says:

    I can’t help myself, here’s another interesting article in the NYTimes:

    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/the-crush-of-summer-homework/?hp

    August 31st, 2009 at 1:03 am
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  44. PsychMom says:

    Re the points system for reading…I don’t know if we have that reading system in Canada.
    Anyway, the idea of collecting points for reading seems to dovetail nicely with Daniel Pink and his recent talk that someone posted here about motivation methods. His talk was related to business but can apply to other things like education too. Reward systems only seem to work nicely for problems that are production oriented…..a simple task that is rather mindless and can be done quickly. If you give a points and extra credit for the more work produced, this works very well. But …..I don’t think reading falls under that category.

    If you want creativity, if you want some brain energy expended, a token system is not motivating. The research shows that one is even less productive. For this type of activity you must give free rein time, goofing off time….get lost in daydreaming time. Reading and getting into books is a creative process…it’s not quantity that’s going to make you a lifelong reader.

    Reading by the numbers is not a good idea. Though don’t tell my “I’ve-read-8-books-this-weekend-and-some-of-them-twice” daughter who can’t seem to get enough of her fairy books. I think the books would earn her minus points in the AR system but what does it matter as long as she’s reading.

    September 2nd, 2009 at 12:15 pm
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  45. FedUpMom says:

    Here’s a way to donate money to classrooms —

    http://www.donorschoose.org

    Does anyone know anything about this organization? Are they on the up-and-up? It looks like a good idea.

    September 2nd, 2009 at 1:18 pm
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  46. HomeworkBlues says:

    Sara, I wish there was a separate category where we could post articles. Here’s a good one.

    “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh…
    Children don’t like school because they love freedom.

    Psychology Today

    “Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody says it. It’s not polite to say it. We all tiptoe around this truth, that school is prison, because telling the truth makes us all seem so mean. How could all these nice people be sending their children to prison for a good share of the first 18 years of their lives?”

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200909/why-don-t-students-school-well-duhhhh

    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:17 am
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  47. PsychMom says:

    What a great article.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:49 am
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  48. FedUpMom says:

    Here’s an unintentionally hilarious article in the NYTimes, “As or Bs Given to Most CIty Schools”:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/nyregion/03schools.html?hpw

    Gee, do you think principals found a way to inflate their school’s grade so they could get a bonus?

    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:50 am
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  49. FedUpMom says:

    I liked the article in Psychology Today, but I’ll take the devil’s advocate position for a moment. There’s a part of me that totally believes in student-directed learning, but another part of me that believes that students need certain fundamentals that they won’t necessarily acquire on their own, for instance, math, foreign languages and playing a musical instrument. It takes tremendous motivation to learn these things on your own.

    And for many subjects, the joy comes after a certain level of mastery has been achieved, and it takes some discipline to get through those beginning stages.

    Somewhere there’s a balance between giving students real ownership of their education and making sure that certain subjects are covered.

    Of course, what I often see in schools is that no education philosophy is followed in any useful way, so we get a hodge-podge which doesn’t accomplish anyone’s goals. The kids are regimented out of their natural love of learning, but they aren’t acquiring the basics either.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:59 am
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  50. PsychMom says:

    Mmmm, FedUpMom, you’re sounding a little like school needs to be a little boring to be good for them. While it’s true that not every child is going to like and be enthusiastic about every topic, I’m still not sure what the “basics” are anymore.

    Ok, but let me pose this. What if all children were allowed to explore and dive into subjects that really interested them so that they learned to get that sense of satisfaction out learning. Suppose they didn’t have to learn the “basics”, except as to how they applied to those special topics they chose. Wouldn’t they cover the same ground and then have a inner sense that they could master anything, throughout their whole lives, if they wanted to. With creative teachers who could expose children to new experiences…..”Ok, today I’m only going to speak my native tongue to you” or “We’re going to write a song today” or whatever…..and incorporate the basic skills into it.

    The “school is prison” idea goes right along with the idea that we really don’t like children and we (adults) just want something “done” to/with them so we don’t have to deal with them. And guess what? The government doesn’t like them…..they’re expensive. The Boards legislate and control schools, and that control is just passed on down the line…effectively creating day prisons for children. They even use terms like “lock downs” for heaven’s sake.

    I like this Peter Gray (who wrote the article). I wonder if he knows about stophomework.com.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 1:44 pm
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  51. FedUpMom says:

    PsychMom, I’d like to be 100 per cent with Peter Gray. Yes, kids should be allowed to use their own motivation and their own interests.

    Some of my hesitation comes from knowing people who had those childhoods full of more or less forced educational experiences, who then wind up with a huge advantage because of the knowledge they acquired. I have very mixed feelings about this.

    Maybe the problem is that I’ve never seen Peter Gray’s ideas applied well. If I could see it in action I might be more convinced.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 1:54 pm
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  52. PsychMom says:

    I just spent the last few minutes downloading about 10 of Peter Gray’s Psychology Today articles. I want to read them tonight.

    From the flavour that has jumped out at me in the last few minutes….my daughter’s school comes close. Multiage groupings, child driven exploration (theme studies they call it), very few of the conventional school things (we have homework hence my visits here), but no individual desks, no blackboards..no report cards…no testing.

    It works…and so far she adores school…would rather be in school than not. Cried the last day of school in June.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 2:14 pm
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  53. FedUpMom says:

    I’ve been thinking some more about this … here’s another formulation:

    In the ideal school, a child would be happy and also learning. I would settle for the occasional not-thrilled-but-doing-necessary-groundwork in some subjects.

    What I won’t settle for is a school where the child is miserable and not learning. And I really won’t settle for a school where misery is believed to be the subject matter. (“We have to put lots of pressure on them this year because there will be even more pressure next year!”)

    Your daughter’s school sounds terrific. What kind of school is it? (In other words, how could I find one like it?)

    September 3rd, 2009 at 3:06 pm
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  54. PsychMom says:

    I’m up in Halifax Nova Scotia and it’s an independent school…about 150 kids. Pre-K to 9.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 3:17 pm
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  55. FedUpMom says:

    Darn! Too much of a commute for me. It sounds wonderful, though. And it’s great that you can keep your daughter there through 9th grade. This is my older daughter’s last year at the Quaker school so we have to ask all these questions all over again.

    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:49 pm
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  56. PsychMom says:

    I read those Peter Gray articles last night, and he is really quite pro the Sudbury Valley model of schools….which is probably not a bad concept. He foresees the demise of our current school system which I can only pray he’s correct about….it is barbaric and extremely old fashioned.

    Our school is quite similar in it’s stated philosophy to the Sudbury model but they are closer to a conventional model in terms of how they operate. I consider us lucky to be there but I’m still disillusioned about education as a whole right now and concerned that our children are being led down the same garden path we were.

    September 4th, 2009 at 7:59 am
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  57. FedUpMom says:

    PsychMom — I too am increasingly disillusioned about education. I am especially discouraged by the gulf between learning and school.

    There is so much I would like my kids to learn. Is school really helping?

    September 4th, 2009 at 11:46 am
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  58. PsychMom says:

    To FedUpMom..

    I feel betrayed by my own education as well. This may be a function of where I am in my life, but I know that what I was from age 4 to age 26 was a good student….but I’m not so sure now that I got a good education. Lots of points for slogging at the homework and pleasing teachers but I’m still left wondering……what was it all for, if I’ve spent most of my adult life uninspired by my work but ultimately being stable and grounded and “reliable”. A success by most measures I guess and exactly the kind of person employers love, the government loves (always pays taxes, no civil disobedience), society loves (no morality codes broken). Loved by small children and animals.

    There were some excellent teachers along the way, though and I can name them on one hand and recognize that I internalized a lot of what they taught me. None of them were conventional teachers. Only one sticks out from my university days and I still quote him from time to time.

    I want something different for my daughter. She has a mind of her own and I want her to keep it. Right now I don’t care if she goes to university. I’m losing my focus on high school (she’s only in 3rd grade) and what it’s really for except for getting marks that get you into university..so it’s a quandry for me. As Ken Robinson says, our educational system is geared to producing university professors…..I’m not sure my daughter wants to do that.

    It was all so simple when I believed in the old conventional schooling system. But I’ve read too much now.

    September 4th, 2009 at 12:14 pm
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  59. FedUpMom says:

    I’m not sure where to put this, but here’s a great little article, from someone I don’t always agree with —

    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2007/10/parent-triangulation.html?showComment=1252303133713

    “Parent triangulation” is something we have all experienced. That’s the one where you go in to the principal and say “My child needs X”, and the principal replies “I can’t possibly give you X! All the other parents say they want not-X!”

    September 7th, 2009 at 9:14 am
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