Saturday, February 22, 2014

The CORE isn't the root of the homework problem

My wife is an amazing photographer. She just is. When she started her business, MachC Photography, 7 years ago, she spent a lot of her time researching and building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) to help inspire her to have the business she has today. And through all of the networking she created a community of people that are more than a network, they are almost a family. A family of people that share amazing images of their own lives with each other. Great images that she often shares with me.

A couple days ago, my wife called me over to check out an image in her feed. It was an image taken by one of her photographer family that was tough to see. In it was a little girl, kindergarten aged, standing in her pajamas behind a kitchen table. She was crying, sobbing really, holding a pencil over a piece of paper. The tag under the image read, "I hate Common Core." The comments underneath mostly talked about the amount of homework early elementary students were getting with the blame falling directly on the new Common Core learning standards that many of the states are adopting.

As a dad, I completely connected to the image, because it related to the experience my wife and I had when our oldest went to kindergarten at a district school. A 5 year old shouldn't be sobbing over homework. A 5 year old should be building an enjoyment of learning. A 5 year old should be given the freedom to explore and learn in a stress-free way.

Now, the problem here is not the Common Core. Not at all. Nothing written in those standards requires teachers to hand out homework starting at age 5. Yes, these standards are rigorous. Yes, these standards are intended to create a population of 18 year olds that are college ready at the level college professors would prefer to see. Yes, these standards are inquiry based which will require many teachers to change current teaching strategies. But no where do these standards force the delivery of content through mass amounts of homework.

The timing of these standards couldn't be worse for many districts that are now implementing teacher evaluations that are partly based on student test scores. This fact has brought stress on teachers and administrators, and in turn has created a panic that established this sense that students NEED to be doing more work at home. So, the truth is that kindergarten homework has more to do with teachers and administrators not having the confidence in themselves to create a learning environment that meets the rigor of these standards and their related state tests head on in the classroom.

What I appreciate most about common core, and have in turn already embraced in my classroom, is the inquiry based structure of learning. Basically, students are to be working to solve real-world based problems to establish a solution that they then can explain or communicate back in the form of a presentation or written response. They are doing math in a real world way. Not a worksheet way, but a way that allows them to create a path of their own with guidance from me, the teacher.

I have been explaining to the parents of the kids in my classroom, that I'm having to re-teach the kids how to learn. I'm taking away the 30 to 40 minute lecture/lesson with 10 to 15 question homework assignment, and replacing it with group work on a single dynamic real-world problem that is the lesson, and the assignment all wrapped into one. The result of this change is that my students are working at a higher level than any 7th grade year I've taught. They are applying an understanding of math concepts that is sticking better than before, and it's amazing to watch. And on top of it, I'm owning the responsibility of my students' learning, and I'm not placing it on the parents to help with homework every night.

The advice that I have for you, the parent, in this homework nightmare situation is to take control. If your elementary school student is spending hours doing homework every night, talk to the teacher and to the principal. Demand an explanation beyond, "to prepare your kid for middle school." See how homework factors into the classroom grade. For my oldest, it wasn't even entered in, it was simply busy work! Ultimately, as the parent you are the boss of your child's education. The school, the teachers, and the administrators work for you and your kid. If the homework is damaging the family life you want to have, then it's time to change. I give you permission to speak up! So, now you have to.
Good Luck!

And please leave a comment about your homework nightmare, or how the teacher or admin you spoke to handled your request. Thanks!