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Archive for September, 2009

Fighting the Homework War

My kids are all back in school which means they are bringing home homework—every day. I heard yesterday that the reason for this is that the superintendent of our school district decided that all the children in the district, regardless of grade, should have homework ever day. The rationale is that it’s to prevent students from falling behind. I am not sure whether I agree with that. Depending on the environment the student comes from, supportive or unsupportive, I suspect it could lead to some students falling farther behind faster.

Whatever the reason, I am now spending hours at the dining room table working with my children on homework. The homework my younger girls bring home gets done pretty fast. Generally, it’s just one or two worksheets. My oldest is a different story. At first she claimed she didn’t know whether or not she had homework. By the time I found it all, she felt there was too much for her to do it all by the end of the week. As a result,we spent most of last week in a take-no-prisoners battle over doing homework. I tried logic with her (there aren’t a lot of jobs for middle school dropouts), bribes, threats, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement—you name it. Homework consumed my evenings. Along the way, I found I had a few myths that needed to be dispelled.

  • Myth #1: I can gather them around the table, and they will work while I go from child to child, helping. It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? Well, the truth is that they all want my help at once. Also, if I get caught up in helping one child, the rest are guaranteed to wander off and play until I can rope them back together again.
  • Myth #2: If I spread it out over the days of the week, it won’t take up too much time on any one day. You’d really think it would work that way; however, the truth is that not all days are created equal. Some days are busier than others, and the homework has to be shunted to the next day. These conflicts can come from the schools themselves, who schedule open houses and PTO meetings during prime homework time, not realizing that if I’m there talking to teachers, I am not at home helping with homework. Regardless, of what happens during the week, everything is due on Friday. So Thursday evening ends up entirely devoted to finishing it all off.
  • Myth #3: The homework from my daughter’s middle school should only take an hour and a half per week. This one came from my daughter’s principal. I have the handout to prove it. I don’t know where he gets his numbers, but they’ve got to be based on the assumption that the child perfectly understands the problem, concept, book, etc. (Which kind of makes me wonder why he/she would need homework.) If the child doesn’t understand what she is doing, it takes a LOT longer. I spent hours last week teaching my oldest daughter everything I know about fractions—so much so, in fact, that I am beginning to wonder what, if anything, she is learning in class.
  • Myth #4: If I tell them that they have to finish their homework before watching TV or playing computer, they’ll work hard and get it done faster. Okay, this has worked with the younger two. Unfortunately, my oldest has already figured out that by the time she gets done with all her homework it’s bedtime. There is no time left to watch TV or play computer.

I have one belief that I have yet to put to the test.

  • Myth #5: If I establish homework routines now, they will become habits and will continue even if I am not around to supervise. I have no idea about this one. I haven’t gotten there yet. I do know that in previous years when I taught night classes, nothing of that sort happened while I was out of the house.

A friend of mine told me that her mother, who was a teacher, believed teachers should be able to teach the students what they need to know in the seven hours that they have them at school. And I must admit that it seems unfair to sit the kid down after seven hours of learning, which is nearly equivalent to a full-time job, and expect them to do even more work. Nevertheless, that’s what I do—every day.

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Lost in Cyberspace

                I spent most of yesterday writing a blog entry about, well, writing. I worked very hard on it, and I thought I saved it, but when I opened the file this afternoon to finish the entry, it was gone. Welcome to my nightmare. I love the computer. I can edit. I can revise. I can rearrange whole sections of my manuscript without having to retype the whole thing. Best of all, I don’t have to decipher my own handwriting. And I can save all my work with the press of a button…maybe.

                Yeah, I know. I should back everything up regularly—and I do. Every one of my books is backed up frequently in several different mediums. I learned this costly lesson when my hard drive crashed and took the most recent version of my manuscript with it. I had to reenter the whole thing using the hard copy (thank heavens I had that). But this blog entry was something I was doodling on. I meant to come back to it later. And I clicked on save. I even checked to make sure it had saved, and there it was under my docs –“Stuck in the Middle.” It just had nothing inside. When I opened the document, the page was blindingly empty. (And yet Word still took several minutes to run a virus scan and check for errors.)

Here’s the thing I can’t understand: Why did the program go to all the trouble of creating a file if there was no actual document being saved? It seems like a cruel ploy to get my hopes up—which leads me to believe that I might have gremlins. I am researching them for my current work-in-progress and they seem to like to wreak havoc with anything mechanical or electronic.  (Did I mention that my hard drive completely recovered and still works? The only permanent casualty was all my information.) My oldest daughter has been building fairy houses all over my yard. Maybe she’s attracted the wrong sort of fairy.

My husband, who is something of a computer guru, has promised to try to find my lost blog entry in whatever corner of cyberspace it has been banished to. However, I couldn’t help noticing that he didn’t sound all that hopeful. Still, I will let him try, and, if it works, I’ll post both the blog and where he found it. In the meantime, one of my daughters just informed me that she’s lost her homework. I looked at her and said, “Me, too.”

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