Managing Homework

I'm fascinated with the type and level of involvement of parents in their children's homework. Is this fair the child or his peers?

Managing homework

At a friend's school, parents complain each year about a certain student's science fair project. Her parents both teach chemistry the university level, and each project features expensive equipment and a graduate level thesis. This student always wins first place.

I have no problem with this. What fun the parents must have working with their child. Of course it's not fair. But we all have our specialties.

Some parents do their homework with their child every night. The homework is flawless, and it counts for a sizable percentage of the grade. Is this fair the child's peers, let along the child? What is the right level of parent involvement in homework?

The answer is heavy involvement

If you can get away with it, do as much of your child's homework as you can. By 'doing as much' I don't really many doing anything. You can help by reviewing and raising the bar. If your child answers a math problem, ask them to describe 3 ways to do it better or faster. If your child writes a sentence, encourage them to work on it until it would pass for a quote from the New York Times.

Thanks to this approach, my kids won't let me see their home work, share it, discuss it, or let me know what subjects they have at school. I suppose this is a victory for independence, but when I was allowed to 'help' with homework, their work quality was much higher and they learned much more.

The teachers in our program make a concerted effort to wean the parents from doing their children's homework during 5th grade, and by 6th grade the teacher effectively blocks parents from the homework process. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for my schedule. Homework doesn't matter before 6th grade, and by then I feel guilty allowing my child to turn in sloppy, incomplete, mistake ridden work that pales in comparison to the flawless homework completed by the parents of his peers.

The homework killer

A large percentage of high school students will fall apart physically and mentally during high school AP exam because of the homework killer. They get their homework off of chromebook, do their homework on chromebook, and spend 5 extra hours doing homework because chromebook has social media and chat apps. 2 am bed time is followed by morning coffee - in high school - which is followed by the general disintegration of their life, not to mention the pressure of falling grades.

My youngest has friends across the city, country and world. He opens something on his computer - like a game or programming application, then dials up his friends on Discord and away they go. Can I say 'dial up' and not come off like I'm born in the 19th century? He's been using one of a dozen email accounts for 3 years.

The Chicago Public School system gives every child a gmail account in 5th grade. As expected, the students undergo a year of frequent misuse, abuse, and overuse of email. We went through this with the older child. Not the younger - the younger got through his first year of email use and over the hurdle to mature use without mishap. I know this because 9 year olds are sloppy with security and I read much of it. Here is an example posting: emoticon, emoticon, 20 exclamation points, why aren't you online emoticon.

To manage technology, I set certain ground rules in preparation for high school.

  • I lectured them on why technology is the homework killer.
  • If I catch them misusing technology, I will threaten to ban them from life from all forms of technology, which I have done 53 times and counting. I will also lecture them further, which is worse than the unfulfilled threat of ban.
  • All devices must be charging in my bedroom when I go to bed, which is getting earlier.

Technology in action

I place a heavy emphasis on learning and effort. I place zero emphasis on grades before 6th grade. For us, grades count in 7th grade toward high school selection; your grade may vary. 5th grade is a special year because it falls between the rigorous At Home Schooling program in grades 1-4 and the new level of seriousness we give school in 6th grade. It's a blow off year for us.

While my older son was more than happy to turn in blank math homework on his way to a D, my 5th grader refuses to take me up on my offer. My competition, his teacher, is unusually inspiring. Last night, he couldn't find the word 'dispersion' in the book he is reading at school, and not just because he didn't bring the book home, but because the google books search couldn't find the word. We switched to google books because I'm sick of having to find words in his books so he can finish his homework before 9 pm.

He pulled up his friends on Discord, friends who actually brought the book home, and they couldn't find it either, probably because it is an inane time wasting homework exercise. Then he emailed the class and none of these kids could find it either. By the way, he doesn't use his school gmail account because it is monitored.

Finally, he emailed his teacher complaining about the issue. I strongly warned him not to explain how he couldn't find the word, but he wanted to prove his case. So you're basically telling your teacher that you are cheating? 'No, I'm demonstrating the thoroughness of my result,', he said. He's about to encounter learning experience number 1.

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