When parents do the homework

In Illinois, teachers are trying to get parents to stop doing their kids’ homework. But some assignments seem designed for adults. From the Chicago Tribune:

Vernon Hills parent Barb Rosenstock admitted that she once helped her son build a project for a school assignment. In her defense, she said, it was on magnetic electricity.

“It had to light up and be magnetic,” Rosenstock said. “Come on. They’re in 2nd grade.”

Her son wanted to build a hockey game, so Rosenstock helped him affix magnets to the bottoms of figurines and rig a light that illuminated when the puck hit the goal.

They proudly took it to school only to find an even more impressive “parent project” displayed alongside theirs.

“They literally had a walking, talking teddy bear. They had made a circuit chip. A circuit chip! You’re talking about 2nd graders,” Rosenstock recalled with a laugh.

The simple way to get kids to do their own work is to give them assignments that don’t require adult skills.

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  1. Just wait until those kids get to high school and are expected to do science fair projects that require PhD’s in biology or chemistry and access to professional research labs. These projects really are all about making the school and teachers look good and rewarding the children of affluent connected families.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    What Taylor said.

    Some years ago, my first grader was assigned a diorama project. He needed to recreate a scene from a book. We had the necessary shoe box, but I had to make a special trips to Michael’s for craft supplies. I tried awfully hard to NOT help him, but he wasn’t all that handy with the glue gun, so I provided just a bit of help. His teacher had them displayed for the open house night, and ours looked wretched next to the carefully crafted work of the other 6 year olds.

  3. When she noticed a flurry of assignments that were either incomplete, sloppy or missing altogether, Adamsick, of Mundelein’s Diamond Lake School, said: “Enough.”

    In February she sent a letter to parents lamenting that students seemed slow to “develop a sense of responsibility and independence.”

    Assignments sent home should always be at the child’s ability level. Assigning projects or assignments which are beyond students’ abilities teaches them nothing about “responsibility and independence.” Our public elementary school loves project assignments which end in public displays. The level of parent involvement is very high, and in my opinion, it is corrosive.

    NCLB is built upon the premise that every school can be Lake Woebegone, but in real life, there’s only so much a third grader can accomplish on her own. A good teacher should know what is within her grasp, and what isn’t.

    Do not invite parents into the classroom to admire completed projects. First, the class loses hours of learning time through such events. Second, this sort of public display encourages parents to do too much. I know a parent who will admit to doing her child’s work in such settings, because she doesn’t want her child publicly embarrassed.

    Last, grade projects pass/fail. Set passing at a level the average student can achieve. Do not give letter grades. If you take away the fear that a child will be left in the dust by the helicopter parents’ children, many parents will relax.

  4. If you work out in the gym for an hour a day, five days a week, you will tone up. If you make effective use of the hour a day, five days a week, in Math class, homework is not necessary. Teachers who weigh homework in calculating grades render their grades unreliable, since you do not know who did the work.

    Work out of class should be entirely voluntary and NOT graded.

  5. I am a teacher, and I remember being frustrated by a third grade teacher’s vocabulary assignments that one of my sons brought home every week. I wanted him to do the assignments himself, but most of the words I’d never heard of, and I have a pretty good vocabulary. When he was supposed to put those weird words into sentences, there was no way my third grade son could do it. I had to help him. I gave a test to my sophomores the other day, and three or four kids asked me what the word “condemned” meant. In other words, you don’t have to scour the dictionary to find words to challenge sophomores, much less third graders. I always tried to be supportive of my kids’ teachers, but I thought that guy was an idiot.

  6. This happens, at every level. We eventually end up with high school students who respond to a low grade on a test by saying, “well, can’t I do extra credit or a project or something?” They seem incapable of understanding that their performance on the test is a real indicator that they don’t have the knowledge.

    And, isn’t knowledge what we’re supposedly striving for? In my state, we have an End-of-Course test that is comprehensive. It’s the major stumbling block for these “assisted” kids – they have never put in the work to comprehend the subject (in my case, Physical Science & Chemistry).

    We pass on the idea that the student “doesn’t test well”, when, in fact, they test very well – the test is an accurate reflection of their ignorance of the subject.

  7. The junior school that my kids attend set what they call ‘take home tasks’ that the school say is SUPPOSED to involve parents. It seems that the school has decided that too many parents are shirking child care duties at home and need encouragement to do things with their own children.

    Not only is parent involvement requested, but they are invited to go into school to inspect all the projects — I try really hard not to get too involved, but the pressure to subvert the kids’ efforts is huge.

    Seems to encourage the idea that if a child doesn’t do well at school they can offload the responsibility onto someone else instead of looking to their own efforts.

  8. Part of the problem with elementary school teachers assigning too-difficult assignments is that they lack the expertise to recognize the inherent difficulty of the assignment – how can someone who has not had a thorough math education accurately evaluate the difficulty of a math assignment?
    My niece in 6th grade had an assignment asking how many lines could be drawn through the center of a square to bisect the square. She, nor her college-educated parents, had no idea how to answer the question.
    The teacher’s answer (provided the day after when my niece went in with an incomplete assignment) – 2 lines. Each line is drawn from the center of a side through the center and ending on the opposite side.

    Of course, this is wrong. Anyone want to guess the answer?

  9. GoogleMaster says:

    Um, infinity? If by “bisect the square” you mean slice into two congruent parts.

  10. Bisecting into two equal parts by passing through the center can be done four ways: the two diagonals and the two lines drawn through opposite midpoints of parallel sides. (I’m assuming straight lines, which wasn’t mentioned in the original problem by SuperSub.)

    But as googlemaster said, if by “bisect” you mean dividing into two pieces, then infinite is the correct answer.

  11. SuperSub says:

    Correct on both accounts. I saw the original assignment and there was no further guidance on how the lines had to be drawn, so the correct answer is infinity.
    Unfortunaly, the teacher did not have the knowledge to correctly craft the problem or to answer it correctly. Or, she relied upon materials made by another teacher or perhaps some faulty textbook. The sad thing is I discussed the problem with my niece afterwards and taught her why infinity was the correct answer as the questionw as written, meaning that my 11 year old niece understood the concepts better afterwards than the teacher.

  12. Rex, any line through the center of a square cuts it into two equal parts – rectangles, squares, or an infinite number of trapezoids.

  13. That should say, “rectangles, triangles, or…”

  14. I’m with Linda F. Completely.

  15. I am an elementary school teacher and parent and I deplore the ridiculous assignments that my three children have been given at their elementary school. I even had to take my son out of that school because he was doing so much busy work that it was destoying him. By fifth grade he was doing up to 2 1/2 hours of homework a night plus projects on the weekends and vacations. He was so afraid of the teacher that he wouldn’t allow us to modify and shorten the assignments. It started in second grade with the nightly spelling work: copying words and meanings out of a dictionary, putting all 25 words in one paragraph (how does that teach someone to be a writer?), alphabetical ordering, and writing out sentences. Then there was the extra worksheets, the math lessons the teacher didn’t get to – so do it at home, and the projects. He made monthly dioramas on books that had been read. In second grade he had the a five paragraph research report, project, and poster (all to be done at home). No skills were ever taught by the teacher. They had to be taught at home. I learned everything possible about cheetahs trying to get that one done.

    It is sadly hilarious when a project is due at this school. The kids who did them on their own bring them to school on the bus (sadly these are rarely displayed), then the parents who help a lot on the project drive the project to school and the kid brings it to class. Those parents who do the whole project bring it right up to the teacher themselves. These are usually displayed at the front entrance to the school-showcasing how “well” certain teacher’s teach.

    Sometimes the only homework assignment I give my class is to tell my students to do something nice for their mom or dad without being asked: like vacuum the rugs, clear the dishes, play nicely with a younger sibling, or any other secretly nice thing and then to never tell their parents why they did it. Parents deserve a break from all that homework! I think this is a better way to teach responsibility.