September 12, 2006

And thus we begin

My son, who just started first grade, received his first homework assignment last night. This was day five.

The first part of the homework assignment consisted of a handwriting worksheet for practicing writing the letter "a." Based on a completed worksheet he had brought home, I surmised that he had already been instructed how to write the letter "a" in class, so this homework assignment was just additional practice. This is what homework should be about.

But then we get to the second part of the homework assignment. He was to "read for twenty minutes." He does know how to read because we've been teaching him at home. Many kids in his class, however, do not yet know how to read because -- wait for it -- the school has not yet begun teaching them how to read.

Talk about that first step being a doozy. The first step assumes you already know how to read.

So, for most kids, this homework assignment represented 20 minutes worth of wasted time. (Unless, of course, you are working under the mistaken belief that kids just pick-up reading "naturally" by being around books.)

How many nights of being forced to "read" before you've been taught how to read do you think it takes before a kid decides he doesn't want to read any more? How many days in class being humiliated in front of your peers do you think it takes before kids shut down when it turns out they aren't picking-up reading naturally?

And, thus, we take our first step down the road to disengagement from school and loss of motivation.

Just remember it's the kids' fault. Their parents' too. Their bad environment too. It's not the school's fault though. It's never the school's fault.

Update: My bad. He was only supposed to read for ten minutes.

23 comments:

rightwingprof said...

Inexcusable.

Dee Hodson said...

Do you think taht the homework meant "Read TO your child for 20 minutes?"

KDeRosa said...

Then it would have been my homework, not his.

No, the instructions were clearly that he was the one to do the "reading."

rory said...

Don't even get me started on homework for elementary school kids. They fob off the teaching job on to us parents. I don't mind the reinforcement homework such as write spelling words 3x or write multiplication tables, but the worksheets I just want to burn.

I have a 1st grader as well and know how you feel. It will get worse, trust me.

Anonymous said...

Ah Ken,

Here is my official welcome to public school. You're going to need a special section for goofy homework assignments alone.

Remember, you are not alone. We feel your pain.

SusanS

KDeRosa said...

The Man hasn't gotten me yet. Last night's ten minutes of reading was subsumed into completing lesson 148 in Reading mastery I/II.

The next time you read about Pennsylvania man goes on three state killing spree, you'll know we got our first pasta gluing assigment.

Catherine said...

Read for 20 minutes?

I mean, 10 minutes?

Catherine said...

I have GOT to fill everyone in on what the edu-attorney told us.

All bad news.

Catherine said...

Hirsch seems to think the phonics war has been won.

That's what I thought, too.

Anonymous said...

Hee hee...
Teacher x assumes he can read and tell time.

Laura said...

It IS your homework if you're to read to him, but it is also his to participate and listen. Young children are typically involved and ask questions, look at pictures with the writing, so your reading to him would not be strictly your assignment.

Would 10 minutes kill you? Mightn't it even be helpful to your son, if only because he sees evidence you're involved with his education?

KDeRosa said...

Hi, Laura. You're back.

I don't think you read the post closely enough. He knows how to read already because I taught him.

While it's true reading to them has many beefits, it's value is dubious when it comes to actually teaching them how to read.

MellowOut said...

If you were complaining about the worksheets that rory described, then I wouldn't be jumping in on this one, but to me it's pretty obvious that this "assignment" isn't reading for the sake of learning to read. It's probably more for those benefits which you already know about. I think this teacher needs to use clearer language or explained the goals of this to the parents somehow. Not all parents read to their children on a daily basis or fully understand the importance beyond just learning how to read.

KDeRosa said...

Ok, let me try to be more clear.

The instructions indicated that it was the child who was supposed to be doing the reading, not the parent. The reading, however, could be done with the parent.

Ms Q said...

I debated whether to post or not. But, having a 2nd grader and being a high school teacher, I must. While I acknowledge your complaint is against having students read who can't read, which I completely understand, you must acknowledge that the teacher may be doing what she is told to do, whether by admin OR believe it or not, DI programs. Many of the DI programs are very particular in their homework assignments and many times teachers are astounded that students should "read" when they don't know how to read. Another thing to consider, which I know will set you off, but feel I must say, is that while you and I are parents who teach our children to read before they ever touch a book, the teacher may be trying to include parents in their child's education. Before you or Rory or rightwingprof decide to roast me, many students today come to school completely unaware and unprepared by their parents for the requirements of schoolwork. I am not saying the parents should be doing the teacher's job, but suggesting that the teacher is trying to get the parents involved with their child's education, even if that means helping a struggling reader to read. The sad reality is, because the student can't read, chances are the parents are going to be of no help and eventually when that student becomes unmotivated the parents will all too eagerly place blame at the ed establisment's feet. While they are at fault, possibly, it again goes back to my biggest pet peeve with today's society--blaming their problems (their lack of support for education, beginning with teaching their kid to read or write or whatever) on someone else. Alright, fire away.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Ms. Q

you must acknowledge that the teacher may be doing what she is told to do, whether by admin

I look at these issues from a school basis, not a teacher basis. I sdon't blame the teacher, I blame the school. Ultimately, the school is in charge.

OR believe it or not, DI programs.

No, I don't believe it.

I've now been through the entire reading mastery I and II programs and I did not see one instance of the student being asked to read so much as a word, whether alone or in connected text, that was not previously taught.

Many of the DI programs are very particular in their homework assignments and many times teachers are astounded that students should "read" when they don't know how to read.

There is no homework in RM I or II. It is all independent work that is supposed to be done in the classroom under the guidance of the teacher. Moreover, there are almost no words in any workbook exercise that was not taught in isolation multiple times and then read in connected text (also usually multiple times), before it is to be read by the student independently. I can say with certainty, if this is not the case, the teacher is not teaching the program correctly.

many students today come to school completely unaware and unprepared by their parents for the requirements of schoolwork.

This is absolutely true, so you won't get an argument from me here. However, that is not an excuse to attempt to begin the student's instruction at the same point that his middle-class peers are started at. Schools must take each student where they find them. I'd say, this failing is the primary cause for the low academic achievement of low-SES students.

the teacher is trying to get the parents involved with their child's education

I've yet to see any compelling evidence that shows that low-performing parents are effective in assisting their low-performing children become educated. this is why we have public education: to do the hard work of educating when the parents are either incapable, unable, or both.

The sad reality is, because the student can't read, chances are the parents are going to be of no help and eventually when that student becomes unmotivated the parents will all too eagerly place blame at the ed establisment's feet.

Where, I believe, it belongs. The motivation of the unprepared student is going to be destroyed in any event so long as the school requires him to read without teaching him how to do so.

my biggest pet peeve with today's society--blaming their problems (their lack of support for education, beginning with teaching their kid to read or write or whatever) on someone else.

But we, as a scoiety, have already made the decision to socialize education for the supposed purpose of educating all children, especially the children whose parents aren't going to do it. You shouldn't be surprised that one unintended consequence of socialized education is the killing of any residual sense of responsibility for education in the low-SES segment. I believe it's called moral hazard.

Parents' minimal responsibility is to get the kids to school every day. The school should be able to take it from there. The assumption can't be that the parents will do more because in many cases parents cannot be relied upon to do more. Ideally parents will do more, but the performance of the school should not be excused if parents don't do more.

Ms. Q said...

"Schools must take each student where they find them. I'd say, this failing is the primary cause for the low academic achievement of low-SES students."

I am interested in what you would suggest to solve this issue...

KDeRosa said...

How about by stop making excuses and picking a curriculum that doesn't assume that students know more thyan they do. They do exist.

Ms. Q said...

I guess I am trying to get your opinion on the following scenario:
Your child who knows how to read and maybe a handful of the others in the class do as well, while the rest cannot read a word. Do they stay in the same class with the curriculum that assumes they know nothing or do you separate them by levels?

KDeRosa said...

Yes, I believe in flexible grouping by ability and present knowledge.

"Unless all students in the group are appropriately placed, the teacher will not be able to bring the group to mastery in a reasonable amount of time. The teacher will have to spend time providing additional practice to students who should not be in the group. This additional practice tends not to serve students who need it nor the other students, who waste time while the teacher works on firming skills that they have already mastered."

Ms. Q said...

Thank you for indulging in my questioning. I believe in flexible ability grouping as well, if done properly, but it is akin to a bad word in education circles today.

KDeRosa said...

A handy rule of thumb is that bad words in education circles tend to be more effective than what is peddled in those education circles.

Anonymous said...

What is so bizarre about the aversion to "tracking" is the fact that they don't realize that they're basically doing the same thing, only within the classroom. The LD kids are coming in, the gifted kids are going out, the poor readers are off with the resource teacher, and on and on. The disruptions alone are enough to derail any classroom, but that's not enough. The teacher has to also differentiate the coursework with all of various levels within the classroom.

But it's not tracking so we all feel better.

Susan