Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.
Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.
“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.
“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.
“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”
Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.
It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.
. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.
Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”
France’s president, Francois Hollande, wants to ban homework because some children get more help from their parents than others. Is this The End of Homework? asks Louis Menand in The New Yorker.
It’s not true that homework is just “busywork, with no effect on academic achievement,” writes Menand.
According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload—he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years’ worth of research.
U.S. students aren’t doing more homework than they were in the 1940′s, according to researchers. A majority of students, including high-school seniors, spend less than an hour a day on homework during the school week.
Finland has the most successful educational system in the world, according to The Economist, writes Gill. ”Students there are assigned virtually no homework; they don’t start school until age seven; and the school day is short.”
The No. 2 country is South Korea, “whose schools are notorious for their backbreaking rigidity.” South Korean kids don’t just do homework: 90 percent study with private tutors or go to cram schools.
Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead.
Americans “want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else,” writes Menand.
Supporters of homework say that it’s a way of getting parents involved in their children’s education by bringing school into the home, and that has to be a good thing. But it’s also likely (contrary to President Hollande’s assumption) that the people most hostile to homework are affluent parents who want their children to spend their after-school time taking violin lessons and going to Tae Kwon Do classes—activities that are more enriching and (often) more fun than conjugating irregular verbs. Less affluent parents are likely to prefer more homework as a way of keeping their kids off the streets. If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.
Homework isn’t the root of all evil, but it’s often counter-productive, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.
If we really want students to be engaged with learning, we should allow them the autonomy to self-explore at home one their own and not give them death by ditto because it makes us feel better about the assignments we provide.
DeWitt quotes teacher Mark Barnes, who thinks homework “fails our students.” Assigning homework “is undermining effective 21st-century teaching and learning,” writes Barnes. “Most teachers link homework to grades so the students who don’t do homework don’t learn the material — mainly because not enough teaching is being done in class — and many would-be learners grow to hate school because they wind up with poor grades and, ultimately, feel like failures.”
Rigorous exams motivate students and show who needs more help, said Michael Gove, Britain’s secretary of state for education, in an erudite speech that starts by praising the teaching of “French lesbian poetry.”
Now some people will say that if I believe in the adventure of learning and the joy of discovery, how can I possibly be a fan of testing and examining? It’s like professing a love of cookery – hymning the beauty of perfectly baked souffles or rhapsodising over richly unguent risottos – and then saying the most important thing about food is checking the calorie count in every mouthful. Isn’t an obsession with measurement the enemy of enjoyment, the desire to assess and examine the death of learning for its own sake?
Gove says he understands the argument. Then he refutes it.
. . . Firstly, exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. . . . If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.
. . . Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practice and which areas they need to work on.
For all these reasons exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it.
The fourth reason exams matter is that they ensure there is a solid understanding of foundations before further learning starts.
Gove cited research by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, who says Gove got the science right, but not necessarily the policy.
People “enjoy mental activity that is successful,” such as solving puzzles, Willingham writes. However, it’s not clear students will be motivated to work hard enough to pass challenging exams. They could conclude it’s hopeless and give up.
Gove is right about the need for background knowledge, but went astray by using “memorisation,” Willingham writes. That inspired the Guardian to declare Gove is advocating rote learning.
(Gove) emphasized that exam preparation should not mean a dull drilling of facts, but rather should happen through “entertaining narratives in history, striking practical work in science and unveiling hidden patterns in maths.”
But whatever Gove may say about rich content and critical thinking, the teachers who most need to improve probably won’t listen, Willingham warns. In the U.S., many teachers felt pressured by No Child Left Behind to teach to the test and cram in facts.
Teachers believed it was necessary because (1) they were uncertain that their old lesson plans would leave kids with the factual knowledge base to pass the test; or (2) they thought that their students entered the class so far behind that extreme measures were necessary to get them to the point of passing; or (3) they thought that the test was narrow or poorly designed and would not capture the learning that their old set of lesson plans brought to kids; or (4) some combination of these factors.
So pointing out that exam prep and memorization of facts is bad practice will probably not be enough.
Testing is unfair to most students, writes Peter DeWitt on Ed Week. Gove’s call for exams that can’t be passed easily is “not very sporting.”
“Michael” was graduated from high school with no academic skills and unrealistic expectations. Now he’s at an open-admissions college, where he’s trying hard, but failing. What can his instructor do?
Do kids really learn from failure? Alfie Kohn, writing on The Answer Sheet, has his doubts.
Kohn, who’s argued that self-discipline is overrated, is reacting to belief that “what kids need to succeed is old-fashioned grit and perseverance, self-discipline and will power.” Children experience plenty of frustration and failure, he writes, and there’s no reason to think it leads to learning.
In fact, studies find that when kids fail, they tend to construct an image of themselves as incompetent and even helpless, which leads to more failure. (They also come to prefer easier tasks and lose interest in whatever they’re doing.) In one study, students were asked to solve problems that were rigged to ensure failure. Then they were asked to solve problems that were clearly within their capabilities. What happened? Even the latter problems paralyzed them because a spiral of failure had been set into motion.
“Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning,” Kohn concedes. But quitters may be rejecting challenges that “aren’t particularly engaging or relevant.”
Or it may be that schools have focused students on grades, test scores and being the best rather than learning, Kohn writes.
If the goal is to get an A, then it’s rational to pick the easiest possible task. Giving up altogether just takes this response to its logical conclusion. “I’m no good at this, so why bother?” is not an unreasonable response when school is primarily about establishing how good you are.
We want students to “experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information,” said Jerome Bruner, Kohn quotes.
That’s a marvelous way to think about reframing unsuccessful experiences: My experiment, or my essay, didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, and the reason that happened offers valuable clues for how I might take a different approach tomorrow.
But schools aren’t structured that way, Kohn writes. Students see grades and test sores as rewards and punishments because that’s what they are.
How can schools teach students to learn from failure?
Writing In defense of the F-word in K-16 education, J. Martin Rochester, a political science professor at University of Missouri in St. Louis, shares an e-mail from a student who failed his course. It was her first F ever, she wrote.
” I complied with the paper and the two tests, and you mean to tell me I did not get anything from the class. I will appeal this because who is the failure? You are the teacher whom I relied upon to teach me about a subject matter that I had no familiarity with, so in all actuality I have been disserviced, and I do expect my money back from the course, you did not give me any warning that I was failing! You should be embarrassed to give a student an F.”
The student didn’t buy the textbook and came to class only sporadically, Rochester writes. Despite receiving an “elaborate study guide” before each exam and writing tips, she flunked the midterm and the final and earned a D on the term paper.
. . . where my student is coming from, evidently, it is no longer sufficient to hold a student by the hand. You must now literally hand them a diploma.
From kindergarten to college, the F-word (“failure”) is verboten, Rochester complains. Teachers are told that “failure is not an option.” Their never-failed students show up in college “not only lacking basic academic skills and knowledge but also the most rudimentary understanding of what it takes to become an ‘educated’ person. ”
Thus, on my campus and many others, “retention” centers are proliferating along with “early alert” warning systems designed to help students by sending them regular reminders to come to class, turn in work by the due dates, and perform other basic obligations that can be gleaned if they simply read the syllabus.
Coddling has gone to college, Rochester writes.
Professors who resist the decline in expectations face “equity” pressures — and pressure from ”cash-strapped colleges wanting to retain tuition-paying students.”
Ricki’s Special Snowflake has graduated. No more whining!
College Readiness requires more than academic knowledge and skills, concludes a report by the Annenberg Institute. “College knowledge” — knowing how to apply, get financial aid and navigate a college campus — isn’t enough. Successful students need “academic tenacity,” the “underlying beliefs, attitudes, values . . . and accompanying behaviors that drive students to embrace and engage with challenging work, and to pursue academic achievement.” And not to quit when the going gets tough.
Programs to help disadvantaged students get to college tend to focus on academic preparation and “college knowledge.” But only a few focus on building students’ tenacity.
In Our School, I write about Downtown College Prep‘s drive to instill ganas, which can be translated as true grit, in their underachieving students. When the first class went off to college, many struggled academically. But they told the college counselor not to worry. They’d done it before. “They know what it’s like to start a new school and get hammered,” Vicky Evans told me. “They can handle failure. They’ve done it, and survived.”
I had to fight the editor to keep “failure” in the book. She saw failure as weakness, the end of the road, not the first step. It’s inflated, unearned, phony success — everybody gets an A! — that weakens young people and sets them up for permanent failure.
The Education Writers Association analyzes the research on college readiness in a new policy brief.
Remedial math, a huge challenge in California community colleges, is only the first hurdle: Only 55 percent of students who qualify for college-level math courses earn a passing grade.
California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to require a higher grade point average for state scholarship aid, cutting off about one third of current recipients. The goal is to invest scare resources in the students who are the most likely to earn a degree.