Nice to know we’re not alone

I came across this editorial in the Manila (Philippines) Bulletin over the weekend. Of interest to me:

First, we must address the quality problem that plagues our basic and secondary education because this system is what feeds students into the college level. Our students’ performance in Math and Science are particularly worrisome. In the Trends in International Math and Science Study or TIMSS, our performance continues to be poor: Out of 45 countries, we ranked 41st in Science, and 42nd in Math. We are behind Tunisia and Morocco, and ahead of Ghana and Botswana.

I have two general reactions to this: First, I’m glad we’re not the Philippines. Second, it’s nice to know the same discussions are going on in other places.

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Going the Wrong Direction

Hm.

Do we live in the 21st century or not?  Teachers are so reticent to embrace new technology, yet so eager to bring students back to “our generation.”

My curiousity was peaked by this column in the L. A. Times.  I’m not trying to (re)ignite the tech war here, but really?  Rather than teach kids to “follow the slower rhythms of classroom dialogue,” shouldn’t we be embracing the technological innovations available to us?

My favorite?  Students “will chronicle their experience in journals.”  It would be a shame to use a blog, wouldn’t it?

Hm.

What is your intent?

My son is in first grade.  He loves it most of the time.  Every Friday, the first grade teachers at his school send home a packet of homework, five days worth, that is due the following Wednesday.  I would much prefer that they send it home during the week and leave the weekends alone, but that’s how it is.

The homework tasks are usually very similar.  They consist of:

  • A set of spelling words.  Students need to use each one correctly in a complete sentence.  The set consists  of some spelling words and fewer high-frequency words.
  • A sheet of words with the same vowel sounds to cut out and glue into the correct category.
  • An addition facts practice sheet, usually themed around one common fact (e.g., adding zero, or 2+3 = 3+2 = 5).
  • A nice Venn diagram activity that involves frogs and rabbits.  They have used this one all year, categorizing the frogs and rabbits in several different ways.
  • Some other reading or writing activity appropriate the current literacy theme.

Homework is good.  I have made my feelings about drill and practice quite clear in previous posts.  Here’s my question: What are the teachers doing with the information?  For what purpose is the homework issued?  What is the intent?

This became a concern for me when my son turned in his spelling words one week.  In a rush to get the assignment completed on Tuesday night, I had not reviewed his work.  One of the words was “so.”  His sentence was, “I am so never going to pet a snake.”  Homework returned with the comment, “Nice job!”

Here’s what I’m getting at: Give homework.  But make it meaningful, and be sure to give productive feedback to kids.  Does it double the teacher’s time in grading?  Yes.  But that’s what we do.